Control The Spreading Fire

People want a new constitution as soon as possible but they too want to be sure that the document passed by two-thirds majority in CA is implemented without spilling much blood. It may be noted that the protest-related death toll has reached 29 and t

Sept. 11, 2015, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 09, No. -6, September 11 2015 (Bhadra 25, 2072)

The deadly earthquake of April 25 was devastating in that it caused massive destruction of property and lives but it had some positive impact in the sense that it brought ever quarreling leader together, albeit temporarily. Opposition parties vowed to cooperate with the ruling ones in rebuilding the nation and framing of the constitution. An ordinance was passed to create the Reconstruction Authority and a meeting of the donors was hurriedly organized, which made huge commitments. This quarrel-free period, however, did not last long as leaders reverted back to their differences on the contentious issues of the constitution, mainly the state restructuring issue. Because leaders have consumed years differing on issues, now it looks like it’s the turn of the people to disagree with political leaders on their proposal. The decision of the four parties to federate the country into six provinces was not at all well received by the people because people in Surkhet and other far flung areas such as Jumla, Rukum and Salyan agitated. They were against the inclusion of some parts of mid-west Nepal into the proposed province number six that included most of the far-western districts. Outrage and protests broke out in several parts of the country including Madhes.  Two protesters were shot dead in Surkhet.In the wake of violent protests that broke out in several places of Nepal against the six-province model, a new proposal to federate the country into seven provinces was floated two weeks after the earlier announcement, adding one more state to the federal map. This redrawing done without adequate homework could not provide a solution because the situation took an ugly turn, which is exemplified by the gruesome killing of 9 people,8 police personnel and one toddler, in Tikapur of Kailali on August 24,2015 by Tharuat agitators demanding a separate state for themselves. The nation seems to have come to a standstill: important places in the country are burning and curfew is clamped in areas such as Tikapur,Dhangadi,Bara,Parsa,Rauthat, Janakpur,etc and several areas in the country have been  declared riot-hit places. Army has been deployed to prevent further loss of lives and property.Kailali, Bardiya, Surkhet, Bara, Parsa, Rauthat and Saptari have witnessed collateral damages in the restructuring-related current agitation. Thousands of protesters are also seen marching streets of Kathmandu and other places occasionally demanding declaration of Hinduism as the national religion in the new constitution. Activists of the group in favour of secularism are also flexing their muscles from time to time. Some ethnic groups such as Limbus and Magars have also launched fresh agitation demanding separate provinces for their respective groups. Protests of varying type and nature have spread across several districts in the country. Current dispensation has not turned a deaf ear to the ongoing protests because those responsible are urging people to exercise restraint from time to time but it has also become very clear that it is futile to keep on experimenting with number (of province) and demarcation game endlessly. Therefore, the draft constitution was thoroughly discussed and time was allocated for registering amendments to it. The major political parties also decided to jointly introduce amendments to address the concern of agitators. While Maoist CA members were not barred from registering amendment proposals independently, NC and UML members were restricted from doing so. Expectedly, the three major parties have decided to go ahead with the seven-state model and also made it clear that grievances of Tharu,Madhesi and Janajati will be addressed through  commissions to be set up after promulgation of the constitution. This could be taken as a suitable move to facilitate approval of the constitution bill without wasting too much time, but the worrying fact is that Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik (MJF-L), a signatory to the sixteen-point agreement, has decided to withdraw from the constitutional process, after the three party registered the amendment, alleging that the concerns of various agitating groups such as Tharus, Madhesis, Muslim, Dalit and marginalized communities have been ignored. With this decision of MJF-L that it will not take part in any activity related to the constitution preparation process,Madhesis have been further distanced from the major three parties, making its preparation and timely implementation all the more doubtful. Whatever little semblance of Madhes was there in the group has also been wiped out with the formal walking out of MJF-L, which happened after the deliberations on draft constitution and amendment proposals started on Tuesday(September8,2015).RPP-Nepal has also indicated that they could also walk out of the process. There is, however, no dearth of people who believe that MJF-L headed by Gachhadar would not pose a serious threat to the process and can be talked back into the group (four-party alliance), which is likely to run the show in the country in days to come.Indeed,the temptation to share and exercise power is often irresistible in developing countries like ours.

People want a new constitution as soon as possible but they too want to be sure that the document passed by two-thirds majority in CA is implemented without spilling much blood. It may be noted that the protest-related death toll has reached 29 and the government is finding it very difficult to handle the situation, with the fire of agitation spreading fast. Whole of Nepal has suffered on account of current protests but the condition of far-west, probably the most backward region of the country, is pitiable because it has been witnessing prolonged period of bandhs and ugly protests organized by two groups of people with demands that appear poles apart. Ever since the talk of new constitution began some eight years ago, the row between those wanting an undivided region and those wanting the plain part of it to be taken away for the creation of an ethnicity-based province is still on. It suffered in the past when the region was brought to a halt for more than a month and is suffering even now with the bandh hitting about a month’s mark and the place witnessing the heinous act of assassination of so many people in Tikapur.Deals were struck with two groups in the past and the same could be done one more time again, which could provide temporary relief but not the lasting solution. With the long existing racial harmony between the two groups (Tharus and those from the hilly districts) seriously threatened and demarcation row still continuing there and in other parts of the country, the days ahead are not likely to be free of major problems.

Prolonged political complications often ruin the economies of nations, which has been clearly witnessed in Nepal. Contrary to our expectation that the economy will take a positive turn after the budget, initial indications are that it will be difficult to achieve the targeted growth of 6 percent because the nature has not cooperated (inadequate and untimely rain) and protests have taken an ugly and violent shape, bringing economic activities in the country to a halt. Information made available by the concerned suggests that 2000 industries in Terai have ceased to operate, incurring a loss of Rs. 1.25 billion a day. We should, therefore, be happy if the recent growth projection (5.5 percent) of Asian Development Bank is achieved in this fiscal. It is estimated that Nepal could lose about Rs. 25 billion worth of paddy output this year, leading to further increase in rice and paddy import, which went up by 43.4 percent last fiscal year. It is definitely a setback for Nepal Government which recently made public its wish of making Nepal not only self reliant in rice but a rice exporting country by the end of the third year. Supply-related problems are likely to exert pressure on inflation which is still below double digit level. A sharp rise in food inflation is likely to make the life of low income people miserable during the festive time. When the whole world is worried and shaken by the slowdown in Chinese economy, Nepal has no time to think about this because the government is somewhat sunk in serious internal problems of political nature. Even the largest economy in the world, US, which is currently strengthening, is worried about the slowing demand in China, let alone major commodity producers/exporters such as Brazil, Venezuela, Indonesia, etc.It may be noted that China still consumes about half the world’s metal such as iron, aluminum, zinc and is a great guzzler of gas. Slackness in Chinese economy is likely to adversely affect global growth, which has not shown positive signs in recent times. Further,continued slide in value of many currencies in Asia has fuelled speculation that a crisis of the 1997 type that happened in Asean countries and South Korea could reoccur. Economies get sick occasionally and become healthy again after treatment, but in our case it seems the ailing economy of Nepal has not received proper medication for it to be robust. Medicines recommended do not go beyond prescription level. Declaration of current fiscal as the budget implementation year, basically to expedite development work and the hurdles created right in the beginning by the worsening law and order situation in the country adequately show how difficult it is to administer the prescribed doses of medicine. This nation is already set on fire and the wisdom would be to try and control the fire by ensuring maximum participation of political forces in the constitutional process and not add imported kerosene to the burning fire by bulldozing voices of descent and resent. Maoists are in favour of addressing the concern of the agitating parties and a strong group in Nepali Congress also wants the agitating parties to be on board the constitution drafting process. It would be nice to take some time, if required, to douse the burning fire, likely to engulf the entire nation soon, so that the nation could be taken towards a period of relative peace and prosperity. Surrounded by wise counselors and dynamic associates, Prime Minister Koirala is expected not to lose much time in controlling the potentially devastating fire. May Lord Pashupatinath continue to save us and this nation?

Dr. Tilak Rawal

Dr. Tilak Rawal

Dr. Rawal is former governor of NRB.

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