With less than a week to go before the scheduled end of the extended term of the Constituent Assembly, the mad - and, by any yardstick, unwise - rush to complete the writing of the constitution by the deadline seems to lead us all to nowhere. The much touted agreement amongst the major political parties to divide the country into 11 states which will jointly form the federation to be known as the Democratic Republic of Nepal seems to have run into troubled waters; so much so that the Maoist party chief, whose bait all the political parties seem to happily swallow with just a slight show of resistance (for public consumption), is now seeking a revision of the earlier agreement to which he himself was one of the signatories.
The fact that a revision of the agreement is being sought even before the ink could dry points to the flawed manner in which our political parties have gone about the all important process of writing the constitution. Most of us learnt in our schools that only fools rush in where angels fear to tread; but our leaders are no fools as they are responsible for bringing such a "momentous" change in the country within a span of a few months after the signing of the 12-point agreement in New Delhi in November 2005.
The agreement accomplished its goal within a span of less than one and half years - something which 10 years of the armed Maoist insurgency and over 15,000 Nepalese deaths failed to do. Within 16 days of the general strike called by the seven-party alliance, King Gyanendra gave up power on April 22, 2006, testifying to the great wisdom of our leaders. Thus, the sagacity of our leaders is well established.
The Constituent Assembly elections held in 2008 had mandated the wise leaders to draft and proclaim a generally acceptable constitution within a two-year period. The leaders after the election forgot their main responsibility and began lusting after power and taking official decisions by the government that have long-term consequences for the country, forgetting again that a government formed under the Constituent Assembly is merely an interim government and that it is there to carry out day to day administration and to ensure that law and order prevails in the country.
After waiting for 46 months to come to meeting points on various issues confronting the writing of the constitution, the three major political parties with the participation of one big regional party got down to the serious task of writing the overdue constitution.
The result of the long wait is there for all to see. Various groups claiming various identities have risen up and by taking to the streets brought to the country to a halt, as it were, demanding that their demands be incorporated in the new constitution. I have always maintained that no matter how well a constitution is written, it cannot satisfy all. And when dissatisfaction embraces a large number of communities, things can go seriously wrong.
The present unrest that has manifested itself in various forms of street protests including bandhs and violence against media persons could well be a prelude not merely to political instability but also to far dangerous street violence among different communities in the streets. Security personnel alone will not be able to control mob violence nor would any of our present day leaders be able to do so. Hopefully, in a country that has had communal harmony for a very long period of time, such a scenario will never materialise for such an event would be disastrous for the country and for the people.
The western parts of Nepal were paralysed for weeks, and the paralysis was transferred to the capital in the recent days. The bandhs called by different groups are not really "calls" but enforced through use of violence even as security personnel silently stand by and witness the going-on. As a result, bandhs have become a legitimate weapon for the political parties and for different vested interest groups.
There are allegations that the unrest and general strikes in different parts of the country taking place these days have the tacit backing of the political parties. One argument is that under such conditions, the government may be able to impose a state of emergency and thereby extend the life of the Constituent Assembly whose term ends later this week. The emergency might just be a legitimate excuse to extend the CA term. But how are the present breed of our wise political leaders hope to reconcile their differences and also to accommodate the demands that are making so much noise?
If they believe that they can just issue a make-believe constitution now with all the remaining issues to be settled after the election of a national assembly, they might get over the issue for the time being. But it will continue to haunt the country for years to come. This is because half-baked constitutions are no solution to the country’s problems, which were initially brought about by the parties themselves as they promised to deliver to the people something which they knew they could not. In making such a promise, they exploited the people to gain what they thought to be their own political goals, forgetting again that the people will demand of them what they were promised.
Promises were made a plenty, again forgetting that there are scores of ethnic groups in this country and it would be virtually impossible to translate such promises into reality. As a result of the short sightedness of our leaders, the people every today are living in fear as to what will happen next in their own neighbourhood, especially in areas and localities where they are a minority community. It is up to the leaders and their parties to ensure that the communal divide that now seems to be brewing and could turn explosive is nipped in the bud and to ensure that the present happenings in the country is not a prelude to a national disaster.