As the deadline for the drafting of the constitution and the CA’s expiration date draws closer, looking back at the successes and failures in Nepali politics since 2006 is worthwhile. The complexities of the broader and ideological divide between parties and groups are playing out in the form of political bickering and elusive consensus on all major issues. This week, The Post’s Bidushi Dhungel and Gyanu Adhikari spoke to author and civil society personality Devendra Raj Panday about the agenda of the 2006 movement, how they have taken shape since then, the crucial differences among interest groups and about the dearth of leaders in the country. Excerpts:
To begin with, you haven’t been speaking publicly for some time now. Is there any reason for this silence?
Especialy during 2005 and 2006, we were happy about the movement that led to the process we are all in right now. But on the other hand, if those with whom we had mandated the task (of peace and constitution), are not going to understand the gravity of the situation and do their job, then there’s little use of people like me ranting and raving. Second, I consider myself and all of us to be stakeholders of the process, but they don’t see us that way. We have no
alternative to the parties either and they have seen this—we can’t ask them to leave and tell them they are failures. Besides, they are people that have made sacrifices, and have been in politics for a long time, but even they have been unable to deliver. And all this leaves very little for me to say.
Why is the peace and constitution-writing process stuck?
Well, they say it’s over rank, but I don’t believe it. It simply doesn’t take this long unless you want it to get stuck. All these hurdles were expected. If you haven’t really internalised what the movement for democracy in 2005/2006 was all about and you haven’t internalised what the demands of the peace process were all about, then you are bound to end up where we are currently.
What is it exactly that should have been internalised from 2006 Jana Andolan?
I’ll say that in two words: historical necessity. The movement for 2005/2006 and its mandate for peace and democracy, with all other things attached to it, like inclusion, rights, minority rights, federalism etc, are all historical necessities in my opinion. But the leaders don’t see it that way. If this much is accepted, then the rest is possible through compromise. We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task, but it’s not impossible if the will is there. The constitution would have been done after one extension if the will was there. People like me are not being fooled by them.
If there is no will, then what’s the motive to be a part of the process?
Certain parties and groups were dragged into the agenda for change. To begin with, they weren’t looking for change on the scale that happened. The Maoists also realised that after 10 years of conflict, the end was nowhere in sight and found compromise with the seven parties more convenient then. But when this was done, they weren’t convinced that they could move forward with their agenda within a liberal democratic framework. The parties should have done the convincing but instead they hoped that the Maoists would simply disappear after the peace agreement, but obviously they weren’t going to simply vanish into thin air.
What interest groups and forces at work do you see now?
The division between interest groups in Nepal is based on whether or not they agree with the idea that 2005/2006 movement and its demands for radical social change. There’s one group (comprised of NC and UML) which sees 2005/2006 movement as a movement to bring Maoists into confidence and transform the Maoists into forces just like themselves—so that’s one interest group. They keep telling the Maoists “Correct yourselves Maoists, correct yourselves,” which basically means “come, be like us.” But people like me think, if they are going to be the same, then why did so many Nepalis have to die? Why did the people suffer? Why did so many get displaced? Why did so many disappear or get hurt?
What do you mean by radical social change?
Monarchy to republicanism—what could be more radical than that? Second, we want enduring peace that leave as little room as possible for further conflicts in society. For that we need to bring together all these groups, which for so long we dismissed with slogans like ‘unity in diversity’—look at how that’s turned out. Matters of language, religion, sex, and ethnicity—all of it—can no longer be seen in the old way. Every Nepali has to feel that they have a stake in this country, that they have a voice, they are members in society, that their interests will be taken care of by the state, and if not, that they can challenge the state. This is what I mean by radical change.
With regards to constitution making, do you see the deadline being met?
Realistically, the constitution is not going to be drafted, I don’t think. For all the reasons I have just said. I do hope I am wrong. At the cost of being castigated by many of
my friends, I now say that we need a constitution, a federal democratic Nepal’s constitution with as much of what we talked about before as possible. On this note, I also want to mention that one of the problems is that in Nepal, we have the habit of seeing the constitution drafting as a one-off thing. But actually through the process of amendments, over time we can make it more democratic, more inclusive, more progressive etc. This is not to say that everything should be left out. For example, there is talk of state restructuring as a whole being left out, which I am opposed to, but the details of it, the borders etc can be changed with time. In India, even today, states are being added. So this is an evolving process and that needs to be understood.
Since 2006, what do you see as substantive achievements?
Superficially at least, we see the composition of the CA, which is inclusive. But on the other hand, while the CA composition is to be welcome, substantive participation is not indicated by deed. If there was substantive participation,
we wouldn’t be where we are in the constitution-drafting phase. So while I commend the CA, its limitations are apparent. The other thing is, the rights granted by the 1990 constitution have been furthered since 2006. The demand side has widened, but the constraints on the supply side are stopping the constitution drafting process.
Do you see the civil society facilitating the “historical necessity” as you say, sometime in the close future?
Well this is possible and there are even those that claim it has already taken that role. The problem is that there is no civil society scrutiny in Nepal and that’s part of the reason we haven’t been able to move forward on peace and constitution. The other problem is that agenda like inclusion, for example, haven’t come across as political agenda but more as NGO agenda. That’s not a good thing. And for all this to take shape, they too need to see the historical necessity for change. And then there’s also the lack of leadership which we often talk about. We are engaged in a nation-building exercise, afresh, and that needs to be realised. For that, we need leaders. But many think the nation-building exercise has already concluded with the territorial integrity secured by Prithvi Narayan Shah. A lot of this is Panchayat hangover—that there is a country and a king and that’s enough—even I thought that until I realised its flaws.
Is there a potential for a new leadership emerging?
The problem with us is that the oldies themselves claim to be the youth leaders. And even those that are young have already been socialised into the same kind of framework as their predecessors. Look at Akhilesh Yadav in UP—he told his dad that he refused to accept those with a criminal record as a candidate. That’s the kind of thinking we need. But our leaders have very narrow ambitions and mindsets—cars, bungalows, foreign trips, preferably with the spouse etc. We need young people with new ideas and new mindsets.
Do you think federalism, once implemented, will create new leaders?
Naturally, the government needs to go closer to where the the governed are—that’s the reason we need federalism. Centring everything in Kathmandu and talking about a whole country doesn’t make sense. Even those that come to Kathmandu become Kathmanduites over time and forget their roots—changing their language, food habits, everything. But really we need more cities Kathmandus elsewhere. And then leaders will emerge too.
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