A Pandora’s Box of Sixes and Sevens

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A Pandora’s Box of Sixes and Sevens

--By Akhilesh Tripathi 

You could now say the proverbial Pandora’s Box is open and evil as well as interesting things are coming out. Anger is gushing out, for sure. One can see and feel that anger in the vandalism and burning of party offices, public and private vehicles, bandas, protests, police firing, deaths, curfews and communal tensions. Most recently in Tikapur, Kailali where eight policemen were killed. Those dead include an SSP and two Inspectors of Nepal Police. Curfews were still in place in several places in the Terai districts when this article was being written. Still, protests were going on at various places in the Terai-Madhes.

Confusion and uncertainty are spilling out. Agreements are being made but are proving to be very short-lived. The country’s major parties agree on an eight-province model of federalism, announce a six-province model, and within two weeks, are forced to redraw the boundaries of seven states. And with the latest agreement on the seven-province model, the fourth faction of the four-party alliance severs ties with the alliance and decides to support the agitation in Madhes and other parts.

Is the seven-province model the final one, at least for some time to come? Nobody knows for sure, though this is included in the revised constitution draft submitted to the CA.    

The Maoists insist on a 14-province model for federalism but ultimately, it seems, are ready to agree on a 5, 6, 7, or even an 8-province model. One question that comes out of the Box is: what was the armed insurgency for? Are the parties at sixes and sevens or are they trying to take the country there? 

Those protesting against a federal model they do not like are brutally suppressed; More than a dozen have already been killed and dozens others injured. Curfews are being clamped across cities and villages. The state, even in the so-called republic era is resorting to autocratic ways, pointing guns at its own citizens, killing them and threatening to kill more if they come out of their houses. The agitators too have been barbaric, burning policemen alive and attacking and killing them with knives, spears and axes.   

People in the Mid-west and Far-west seem to be happy after the three-party deal on the seven-province model. But Tharus, Madhesis and Janajatis are not. Tharus want kanchanpur and Kailali in their Tharuhat province. Similarly the Madhesis want Sunsari, Morang and Jhapa in their Madhes province. Fulfilling these demands means leaving those who have just been satisfied and made happy, dissatisfied. 

Is federalism really the panacea for Nepal? Or is federalism seen as the magic wand that will develop Nepal automatically? We have already come this far without really trying to answer these questions. But these are still valid questions and federalism is perhaps like a fancy dress which we would like to wear but unfortunately it doesn’t fit our body. And if we try to force our way into it, we are sure to tear the fabric! But the purpose of this article is not to delve into these issues. 

What can be said for sure is federalism was not an agenda of the April 2006 Uprising. The issue of federalism was included in the Interim Constitution only after the 2008 Madhes Movement. And it is the so-called Madhesi leaders and parties representing Madhes that are unhappy with the seven-province model. You can see the irony here, leaping out of the Box!

After federalism was established as an issue, the UCPN (Maoist) tried to give it an ethnic hue (if we continue with the fancy dress metaphor!) and advocated the delineation of provincial boundaries along ethnic lines. Much of the four-year term of the 1st CA was wasted as the Maoists kept insisting that this be taken as the basis for federalism. Then suddenly came the “One Madhes, One Province” demand. And demands and demonstrations for other ethnic states – Limbuwan, Magarat, Khambuwan, Newa, Tamuwan, Tharuhat etc. 

But the results of the second CA elections showed that the country’s political landscape had changed. And so had the political equations. The so-called traditional and democratic forces – the Nepali Congress and the CPN (UML) – were back in the driving seat. Other forces as passengers, if they so wished. Prachanda-led Maoists and Gachchhadar-led Madhesi Forum saw that the only way to get a hand on the wheel was by clinging on to the front seat. 

However, all those who were left in the backseat were not ready to be just passengers. They accused the drivers of taking a wrong turn by signing the 16-point deal. UCPN (Maoist) and Gachchhadar’s Forum were accused of betraying the 30-party opposition front and were expelled. Betrayal sprang out of the Box. And with it, the well-known blame game.

One other dubious statement to come out of the Box is what we could label as the Rs 5 million award! Madhes-based parties have announced that the family of a person who dies while protesting for their cause will receive Rs five million in compensation by the state government to be formed. Enticement, too, has jumped out of the Box! And again, with it, the language of confrontation.

“Constitution will be written now. The protest by a few hundred means nothing,” roared KP Oli in the capital recently. 
“Madhes will burn now. The seven-province model is not acceptable to us,” the so-called messiahs of Madhes roared back. They have even ignored a plea by President Dr Ram Baran Yadav to hold talks with the government or the three-party alliance.

The so-called foreign friends of Nepal have been eagerly helping, with both hands so to speak, the country to put on the garb of federalism ever since it was announced. But both the host and the guests haven’t been able to do it. Is the federalism garb really not a good fit for Nepal? Or can this garb be worn with a bit of twisting and turning? But will it ultimately be comfortable since that is the purpose of a dress?  

The two-day Banda by the Janajatis could not leave an impression; it was defied in most parts of the country. How the Madhes will burn in this rainy season is yet to be seen. And yet to be seen, of course, is how and when the new constitution will be issued.

As old as the story of Pandora’s Box is, still hope was the last thing to come out of it. The mythology ends on that bright note. Will it be the same for Nepal?

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