The fate of nationís seventh constitution has been thrown into limbo as the deadline of its promulgation is drawing ever closer. The major players are still divided over its key contentious issues. The ironic part is that major two opposition parties have not yet come up with their official stance on the federal structure that the new statute must clearly spell out. As there remains only a little over two months for accomplishing the historic task, they are trying frantically to form their opinion on it. After its stronghold was greatly eroded in Terai during the Constituent Assembly elections, the major opposition Nepali Congress is engaged in Madhes-centric symposiums, whose objectives, among others, includes charting out the number of federative units by clearly specifying their bases and assuring its voters that the party will not deviate from Madhes agenda. The situation of another opposition party, CPN-UML, is not very different either. It also organized a high-profile seminar to decide the number and nature of federal units but has not yet arrived at consensual conclusion on the matter.
There is growing nervousness and impatience in the wider section of the populace regarding the future of the new constitution and the CA that is assigned to draft it by May 27. A sense of pessimism is rife and optimistic sentiments are dwindling. Many are not hopeful about the timely issuance of the constitution as they have little faith in the ability of the parties. However, there are also people who are pinning high hopes on the promulgation of the constitution within the deadline. The increasing anxiety is seen in the activities of non-political actors that are piling pressure on the major parties to act promptly and honestly. They are visiting the door-steps of the top leaders and handing over memorandums to them, imploring them to realize the urgency of the situation. Although the non-political institutions have their responsibility to bring the political actors to their senses, it is primarily the political parties to be accountable for their assigned tasks.
Unlike in the past when the CA members were involved in pandemonium in the House for the extension of its term, a considerable number of lawmakers representing different political parties have banded together to assert their role now. The role of the jumbo CA was and is being confined to a bunch of leaders of major parties. The CA members, who represented miscellaneous ideologies, identities and groups, had no say on the outstanding issues and acquiesced to the bundles of deals and agreements struck by the big guns. With the time running out, they came to the front to solve the controversial contents. Though late it is indeed a positive step on their part and they must be rallied behind to expedite the constitution making process. They should be able to rise above personal considerations and strive for the consensus and common good of the citizens. Resembling the similar approach, some energetic lawmakers within the UML have also risen up, questioning the inaction of the leaders and ambiguity of their position. They have demanded with the leadership to make its stand clear on the disputed subjects such as federalism, the form of governance and the electoral system. The UML, in its recent national gathering, announced to return to its number one position but a leading lawmaker hit the nail on the head of the partyís top brass when he said: how could it be the number one party when it has not yet articulated its clear views on the key issues? This is a bitter truth and the UML must be ready to swallow up. Although the key of the peace process lies with the Maoists, the role of the two opposition and Madhesi parties has been always vital in constitution writing.
It has now become quite understandable that drafting the consensus constitution is a hard nut to crack. The constitution is basically a document of compromise that lays the foundation for the new social contract among the various political, social and ethnic actors. Accommodating the aspirations and demands of all social and political groups in the new constitution looks impossible given the radicalizing nature of the Nepali society. In the past, the Maoists went too far to radicalize the oppressed and passive segments of the population by selling out their many utopian dogmas and slogans. This has promoted only the right-seeking culture and undermined the duty-oriented ethos. The people have given unilateral focus only on their rights and ignored their responsibility towards the state. This is a reason why different groups are agitated to ensure their mini-identities. They have seemingly forgotten the common identity that binds all the people and strengthen nationalism and sovereignty.
The dispute besetting federalism could be seen against this background. For example, when the State Restructuring Commission suggested breaking Chitwan district and Far-West Nepal for the new federal set-up, the people from both places quickly went to protest the commissionís report. They are now rallying for an indivisible Chitwan and an integrated Far-West. On the other, different Tharu groups objected to the series of protests conducted by these groups. Carving out feasible federal units is a Herculean job. This will certainly strain the constitution making process even after the parties strike agreement on the form of governance and the election system.
Mired in disputes
Even before it is born, the crude draft of the new statute suffers from acerbic divisions and disputes. There is no guarantee that it will be greeted with cheers following its delivery. There are differing parties and groups, which are demanding the new statute on their own terms. No one is envisaging the new statute sans federalism but a political group under Chitra Bahadur KC is sure to burn it if it embraces federalism. The Mohan Baidhya faction of UCP-Maoist is determined for a janasambidhan (peopleís statute). If the new law of the land does not reflect their expectations, they will hasten to throw it into the dustbin. If the new constitution fails to guarantee the kind of federal structures as demanded by Madhesis, ethnic groups and Tharus, the latter will not hesitate to turn it into the scraps of paper by jeering and tearing it apart. These impending scenarios suggest that an indisputable and all-inclusive statute is unlikely no matter what kind of breakthrough the big-three and Madhesi Front make to bring it out.