Devastated by a major earthquake in April and subsequent aftershocks in May, over nine million people of 14 districts are still living in uncertainties. Even so the government shows no clear vision on reconstruction. Following the political disputes, as Nepal’s constitution writing process is in the final stages, half of the country’s southern plains has come under agitation. Showing concerns about earthquake victims no longer seems to be on anybody’s agenda. In the name of promulgation of new constitution, leaders of Nepal’s three political parties have been showing insensitivity to address the problems faced by the people in the earthquake affected regions and settle the political issues of the southern region. Whether it produces a new constitution or not, the Constituent Assembly will see a stumbling block on its way to resolving the political crisis.
“No one will hold us back from promulgating the new constitution. If we cannot promulgate the new constitution now, there is a threat of revival of the regressive system,” thundered UCPN-Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda. "Forget about the relief of the earthquake victims and agitating political parties in Terai and Madhesh, what we need now is a focus on promulgating the constitution at the earliest.”
Although the earthquake victims are surviving through the generous food aid and support of UN and other humanitarian, multi-lateral and bilateral agencies, top leaders of three parties, including UCPN-Maoist Prachanda, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and chairman of CPN-UML K.P. Sharma Oli are confident about promulgating the new constitution by the end of September as their first priority.
“Let us promulgate the new constitution by the end of September at any cost. Once Nepal has a constitution, it can settle everything else. When the nation is bleeding without the constitution, the people will need to sacrifice for the cause of the nation,” said CPN-UML leader K.P.Sharma Oli.
For the leaders of the three political parties, nothing seems to be more urgent than promulgation of the new constitution any time soon and sharing the power as per their agreement. However, Nepal’s situation is going from bad to worse. Leaders are losing their credibility and state is facing tough challenges. As political leaders depend on the mobilization of all security forces to maintain order till the promulgation of the new constitution, incidents of over use of forces will be likely.
After the decision of Madheshi Janadhikar Forum to withdraw from the CA process, the crisis is further complicated as three party leaders do not have a solution at all as the constitutional debate has already taken place in the CA for finalization of the bill.
A human rights group led by advocate Dinesh Tripathy has already issued a statement saying that there was over use of force against peaceful demonstrators by the Police.
Plains Under Seize
With the earthquake of April 25, Nepal’s remote villages in the north and center are cut off from rest of the country. With the agitation of Madheshis and Tharus, Nepal’s southern plains are cut off from the rest of Nepal as well.
Following the announcement of the new draft and delineation of borders for seven provinces in the last one month, 29 persons were killed in various incidents, including in police firing, and hundreds of others injured.
Relying on security agencies, Nepal Army, Nepal Armed Police and Nepal Police, Nepal government is running the administration in the southern twenty-two districts with force.
However, security forces are overrun by agitators. With the growing threat from regional parties, Nepal Police and Nepal Armed Police have already pulled out their posts from the border areas and deep inside southern region. As the use of force is in saturation, nobody knows how long the security police will keep control of the agitators.
Contradictor y to the claim of the government, many government and bank officials have left the terai for their safety. As tensions intensify in the southern region, over 200 hundred district judges and employees are in Kathmandu requesting chief justice to make necessary arrangements for their settlement till the end of violence and uncertainty in terai.
Schools, colleges and industries have been shut down and markets have come under seize for last 28 days. The highways are empty with just a few dozen of buses plying on the road under tight escort by Nepal Armed Police and Nepal Police.
According to the Nepal Police post in Thankot, the number of trucks entering Kathmandu has gone down by over 85 percent. “In normal times, over 900 trucks enter here and now it is just over 100,” said Thankot Police Check Post.
Except a few hundred truckloads of goods, all the customs posts are virtually empty with no revenue collection from the posts from export and import. According to a report, there is almost a twenty kilometer long queue of loaded trucks and other heavy vehicles in the Indian city of Rafaela.
Till writing this story in the morning of September 9, major economic hubs of the southern plains are either under curfew, crisis zones or prohibitory orders leaving the cities under security. Even the life in the eastern hills of Nepal is at a standstill due to the agitation by Limbuwan Liberation Front.
As leaders of the three parties and leaders of south-based political parties are still sticking to their stands, showing no signs of compromise, no one can say when the situation will normalize. Even in this grim situation, the ruling parties have yet to show any concrete political move to find an outlet.
“If the leaders of the three parties do not listen to us and promulgate the new constitution, we will make life stand still in Terai and other areas,” said Mahanta Thakur, leader of Terai Madhesh Loktantrik Party. “This is the struggle for right. Given the stand of three parties, this agitation is a do-or-die for Madheshis."
Despite facing a strong pressure, the three parties have shown no point of compromise for dialogue. With the support from the three party leaders, chairman of Constituent Assembly Subhas Chandra Nembang has already tabled the bill and amendment proposals at the CA meeting.
CA chairman Nembang has also fixed the date for discussions on the constitution and issues up for amendment. “There is no option for me other than to move ahead. The CA will produce the new constitution within ten days after completing its procedures,” said Nembang.
Leaders of other ruling parties hold similar views. “It is impossible to meet all the demands and accommodate them in the constitution. There is no way now other than to promulgate the new constitution,” said CPN-UML leader K.P. Sharma Oli. “The door for negotiations will open only after the promulgation of the new constitution.”
As the ruling parties and agitating forces are hardening their stands, the possibility of negotiations seems a long way off. If things continue, the supply of essential commodities in the hills will be affected. Due to the scarcity of supply of construction materials, development activities in the hills suffer.
With the scarcity of commodities in the market, Legislature Parliament’s Trade, Industry and Consumer Protection Committee has ordered the government to maintain the supply of essential commodities. “The government should supply adequate cooking gas, petroleum products and other essential goods,” said Bhisma Raj Angdambe.
With almost three weeks of general strikes, the supply of petroleum products is gradually declining. “We have enough stock for another two weeks,” said executive director of Nepal Oil Corporation Gopal Bahadur Khadka.
So far as the supplies of other commodities are concerned, officials of Ministry of Trade Supply are confident that they can manage products for another few months. "We have deposit of salt for nine months, sugar for three months and food stuff for another four months,” said Sambhu Ghimire, joint secretary of the Ministry.
People at Risk
Although the political deadlock continues and the government is managing some sort of supply in the urban areas, including Kathmandu, the overall situation in the country is getting worse.
Nepal has to pay a high cost for the month long disruption for all kinds of activities. From education to economy, it will affect the livelihood of people. By allowing the National Reconstruction Authority Ordinance to die, three major political parties have shown that they can sacrifice everything to save their political agenda.
“Had the government tabled the ordinance replacement bill, we would have disrupted the Legislature-Parliament,” said UCPN-Maoist leader Giriraj Mani Pokharel.
With the dissolution of the Authority, Nepalese politicians have not only lost their credibility in front of the international community but also have shown that they are insensitive towards genuine causes of the people.
As the doors for negotiations are virtually closed, the deadlock will end at a high political cost. As the leaders of three parties are taking every constitutional issue, the agitation will challenge the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly. As in the past when the agitation entered the phase of hype, it washed away the constitution, monarchy and parliament.
Given the tough stands taken by both the factions, with agitating parties gaining ground, the likely victims of this agitation will be the Constituent Assembly and three major parties, which have maintained a long hegemony in the political life of Nepal.