People were getting increasingly skeptical about the registration in the Parliament and approval by it of the much awaited amendment proposal because great annual festival of Hindus like Dashin,Tihar and Chhat had passed and with them had gone numerous self-imposed deadlines of Prime Minister Prachanda and a number of amendment related warnings of Madhes-centric parties. In recent times, Prachanda was making lots of publicity-oriented noise about it, discussing with leaders of different parties including those of Madhesi parties, ostensibly to reach consensus on the amendment proposal. The interesting aspect of the amendment has been that no party seems to be having one unified voice. Many thought, Parchanda would do some more homework before registering the amendment proposal in the Parliament. Contrary to this expectation and in the midst of serious inter-party differences side by side with intra-party division of opinion in major parties, the government registered a seven-point bill in the evening of November30,2016, containing very much opposed proposal of taking all hill districts out of Province 5.In order to help readers guess what the post-registration scenario would be like, an attempt is made here to touch upon some aspects of amendment and positions of parties and those of leaders in each party.
Prime Minister Dahal’s effort to take the consent and mandate of the agitating Madhes- based parties in recent days appeared to have borne some fruit as a number of Madhesi leaders, assembled at his official residence, asked him to register the amendment bill in Parliament and that they would discuss it further on the basis of the proposal itself. Soon after the news of this tiny piece of somewhat positive development spread, Upendra Yadav wasted no time to make it clear that they could not support the proposal on changes to provincial boundaries. He also made it very clear that they cannot support the amendment bill if registered without addressing all the demands of the Federal Alliance in a package and without reaching prior agreement. Leaders of Madhes-centric parties have seemingly different views on the decision of Maoist Center and Nepali Congress. While Upendra Yadav wanted a package deal, some other leaders appear little bit linent.Interesting point to note,however, is that even those who suggested that the bill should be registered are still noncommittal about taking part in polls once it is put to vote. May be Madhesi leaders, who often accuse major party leaders of cheating them, are planning to dupe Prachand this time.
UML has been expressing strong opposition to government’s plan of amending the four provisions of the constitution relating to provincial boundaries, marital naturalized citizenship, representation in the national assembly and the language of official business.UML Chair Oli has been taking strong exception to the government’s plan of splitting Province 5.Terming the proposal anti national,Oli had requested Dahal not to register the proposal. While UMl has rejected the proposal and taken to the streets, leaders of the governing parties also have started expressing their discontent. Notwithstanding the intention of NC(top leaders’) to go ahead with the amendment proposal including revisions of the provincial delineations without support from UML,many lawmakers of the party are unhappy with the decision and have made it clear that there is no problem with existing demarcation of Province 5.Leaders of Dr. Sekhar’s status had expressed serious reservations about the proposed amendment and some NC leaders went to the extent of warning the concerned against taking hill districts off Province 5.It appeared that NC leaders were positive about other aspects of the amendment proposal related to citizenship, representation in the upper house and formation of a language commission but they are still opposing the new delineation proposal.Further,some leaders like Rayamajhi in the Maoist Center had threatened to quit the party if the Chair registers the amendment that seeks to create Province 5 covering land area from Parasi to Bardiya and detaching hilly districts from it. It is interesting that party leaders, both central and local, with divergent thoughts on other issues have joined hands to launch protests at the district level against this move. More frustrating has been the fact that even those Madhesi leaders who are said to be little positive about the proposal have refused to own it, throwing cold water on Prachanda’s untiring efforts to woo Madhesi forces. A frustrated Prime Minister, Prachanda, was said to be somewhat convinced that the amendment in the present state will not solve problems that it intends to. Therefore, many thought he would take a decision on the proposal after adequately talking to Morcha leaders, RPP leaders and allowing Deuba some time to revisit the proposal. In fact, people knew registering the bill without unambiguous support coming from disgruntled Madhesi leaders on the proposed change, the entire purpose of the proposal would be defeated, which could also invite direct confrontation with UML.Looks like frustration and disappointment prevailed over wisdom and patience prompting Prachanda to take on Oli whose party has decided to obstruct House proceedings.
Prime Minister may have been little encouraged by the recent merger between RPP-Nepal and RPP, which could be helpful to the ruling coalition in getting the amendment proposal passed by two-thirds majority, even if UML decides to vote against it. In the mean while, however, one should not be mistaken that it will be difficult to garner unconditional support from political parties, be it UML or the new RPP.Oli is still furious with Prachanda that the latter withdrew support to his government without any convincing reason and could be looking for an opportunity to lead the next government.RPP also cannot be blamed if it aspires for a larger share in the government, in keeping with its recently inflated size. Likewise, Madhes-centric parties also would not like to be blamed and accused of being permanent agitators creating instability in the country and thereby hurting the economy. Most of us are aware that our leaders are known for their ability in smartly camouflaging their vested interest with catchy slogans and preaching. A power-deal, therefore, will have to be struck, which may pave way for the creation of a national unity government the leadership of which, to start with, could be taken by NC, the largest party in the Parliament. It is time that Dahal and Deuba concentrated on a broader power sharing deal more than anything else because this could pave way for the implementation of our constitution and also allow some attention to the economy which is getting external as well as internal jolts of varying magnitude since long.
The devastating earthquake and the painful blockade imposed at the behest of Madhes-centric parties badly shook the economy which was just little away from registering a negative growth last fiscal year. In terms of growth, a positive change is likely to take place this year because of rain from the sky and its positive impact on economy, more specifically on rice production, but overall economic situation is far from satisfactory. Demonetization of Rs. 500 and 1000 notes in India has created some problems here in Nepal, too. It may be noted that in an attempt to crackdown on black money and counterfeit currency, Government of India declared these tow denomination notes demonetized.Althoug it would not be wise to ridicule this bold step as some parties in India have been doing, some supply-related deficiencies have been noticed in handling the post-demonetization situation which has turned chaotic. If adequate quantity of new and some old notes were printed and ATMs fed with the right size notes, problems would not be as serious as they are now. It may be noted that the new bills were different from the demonetized ones in size, making it difficult for the machines to accept them without adjustment. Supply of new notes to machines and people waiting for hours in long serpentine queues has remained the basic problem, paving way for the opposition parties to take to the street. Taking into account the problems faced by the people, government had to let the use of demonetized notes continue for some time in certain installations for specified purposes. Currently, this decision has adversely affected economic activities, tempting prominent economists there to suggest that expected growth this year could decline by as much as 2 percent. Nepal’s economy has also been hit as the number of Indians coming to Nepal and expenses incurred by them have begun to decrease. Another problem is with regard to an arrangement to let Nepali holding banned Indian notes swap them with legal bills in Nepal. It may be noted that Nepalis were allowed to carry high denomination Indian banknotes worth up to Rs.25000. A request from our central bank here to their central bank and PM Dahal’s conversation some three weeks ago with his Indian counterpart for the swap has not yielded any result so far. Let us, however, not be impatient because we will definitely get positive response from Government of India which is currently engaged in the gigantic task of handling huge demonetization- related problems of both political and economic nature. We have to be, however, careful that ours is a small economy with little shock-absorbing capacity and is currently experiencing a decline in remittances, the lifeline of our economy. Despite this decline, foreign exchange reserve of the country still approximates Rs.1054 billion, enough to fund merchandise import requirement of the country for 14 months.Generally,a reserve position that can fund merchandise import for 8 months is considered reasonable. Let us pray this ray of hope in the midst of disappointments does not suffer sharp erosion soon. In order to check further decline in the economy, our leaders will have to adopt a conciliatory approach to resolve the burning political problems and give some attention to the economy. May be we need to learn from Donald Trump who defeated Hillary Clinton to become the US President, going against opinion polls, bitter criticism from the democratic leadership and intellectuals and the reluctance of many noted Republicans to support him. After election, he is conciliatory, both in words and actions, and has vowed to unite a nation deeply divided after the polls. He has picked for important positions some of his bitterest critics. The lady, Indian American, chosen to represent US in the United Nations is an example. We have meaningful things to learn from Trump. Hope our leaders will do well by mending the existing inter and intra-party cracks soon to build this nation. Let us pray the amendment row does not inflict further injury on the already shaken nation and the wounded economy.