Prof Madan Kumar Dahal
Senior Economist & Member Nepal Nagrik Manch
The dissolution of Constituent Assembly (CA) at midnight on Sunday May 27, 2012 (Jestha 14, 2069) without promulgating new constitution was the biggest catastrophe in Nepal’s political history that shattered the hope cherished by the people to live in peace with dignity in new Nepal. To recall the then King Tribhuvan had made Royal proclamation to hold election for Constituent Assembly back in 1951, but that went into vain due to extreme political wrangling among the political parties. With the recent fall of CA it is justified that ‘history repeats itself’. This entire episode is attributed to total failure of the political leaders that plunged the entire nation into oblivion with increasing risks and uncertainties resulting in jeopardy to sustain peace and stability, democracy, and development in Nepal. Unfortunately, there are no courageous leaders and the parties to openly admit the blunder that they played with the sentiments of approximately 30 million people for more than four years with huge spending estimated to be Rs. 14 billion but without delivery of the new constitution. This is the most dreadful, reprehensible and unforgivable political crime that exposed to extreme incompetence encapsulated by impoverished knowledge and wisdom, and lack of farsightedness of political leaders to effectively deal with the crisis facing burgeoning nation-state.
The existing political disarray has given rise to strong emergence and domination of the petty Kabila leaders over national politics with unwarranted growth of regionalism in the terai as well as hilly areas engulfed by ethnic anarchy, bloodshed and violence all over the country. The basic tenets of federalism has lost its track to fiscal federalism that calls for empowering lowest unit of governance through judicious distribution of resources what is available in terai, hills and mountains without any disruption. In Nepal, the nexus among divergent ecosystems such as terai, hills and mountain is organically interlinked like nail and finger that can’t be separated at any cost. And, therefore, the territory of any province during restructuring of the state must have north south axis adjacent to India in the south and China in the north, which would be instrumental to attract spillover economic effects from both neighborhood economies.
Some critical issues have emerged with far reaching consequences in the post-CA dissolution arena of Nepal. The major political parties in opposition comprising Nepali Congress, UML, and other small parties including a section of Madheshbadi party led by Upendra Yadav have intensified their demand for a consensus government to kick-off the future course of action in Nepali politics. The opposition stalwarts have shown their strong reservation on pronouncement of CA election by the caretaker government without galvanizing consensus among the political parties and also there is apprehension that PM has not yet resigned on the ground of morality, for CA collapsed with extremely frustrating performance of CA members. Unfortunately, the sitting PM, merely a head of the care taker government, is totally reluctant to tender his resignation and pave the way for smooth political transition through consensus among political parties. However, the legal experts are of the view that the incumbent government will automatically get exit with the emergence of a national government based on consensus among political parties.
The Election Commission (EC) has shown its serious concern and made its plea to the President that election could be held only after amendment of the existing Interim Constitution, for which there is no CA and CA members survived to amend the constitution. A group of political leaders are strongly campaigning for holding referendum to decide on the crucial issue of federalism based on one caste/ethnicity confined to a few but eight indigenous communities out of 118 caste/ethnicity groups. A few Nepali congress activists close to Sher Bahadur Deuba camp have started signature campaign to reactivate CA even for a day primarily to amend the constitution and set a common strategy for future course of action.
The former adibashi-Janjati and Madheshi CA members from the UML and Congress parties have threatened their high command to defect and forge a new party to fight for identity (one caste/ethnicity) based restructuring of the state, if their demand is not urgently met. The Madheshbadi parties are strongly insisting on their bottom line of establishing one Madhesh-one Pradesh and they seem to be in no mood to compromise at less than what is their bottom line, while Tharus are struggling for a separate Tharuhat-Tharuwan Pradesh particularly in the Western terai region. A few Madheshbadi fanatic leaders have often threatened to lead agitation, if their demand for one Madheshis–one Pradesh is not considered and also warned to face grave consequences resulting in disintegration of terai from Nepal.
The people in Western Nepal continued their marathon strikes, bandh and agitations for about a month demanding indivisible Western Nepal, and so was the case with the people from Karnali Pradesh. The Janjatis have made strong protest in Eastern Nepal with a demand for including three districts from eastern terai namely Sunsari, Morang and Jhapa in Limbuan Pradesh and otherwise to face a serious outcome. A few leaders representing minority communities from remote hills and mountains have categorically threatened to crush media if they do not subscribe to their ideas and write against them. The Diasporas are also divided with mixed reaction on federalism and NRN’s efforts yet confined to ensuring privileges with little emphasis on expediting investment in mega-projects.
Most surprisingly, the apostles of civil society, human rights activists, and intellectuals have remained silent spectators in recent times for unknown reasons with their credibility rating down to zero. The role of lawyers is also limited to occasional aggressive posture and demonstrations to press the government and political parties for devising national consensus towards viable political exit through a meaningful dialogue. It is also alleged that NGOs and INGOs have been instrumental to engineer political instability in Nepal through huge funding to indigenous and janjati communities for establishing one-caste/ethnicity based autonomous state with ensuring advance rights and right to self- determination. Why are western blocks and powers terribly engaged in destroying social and cultural equilibrium in Nepal leading to a threat to national sovereignty and integration? This is the prime question. However, over the years, media have been robustly instrumental in promoting socio-political renaissance in Nepal. Currently, people have shown high esteem to the President and Supreme Court, for they have always stood by the people and nation to eradicate existing socio-political evils through their wise counseling.
The private sector has urged political parties to work in tandem for maintaining ethnic, social, cultural as well as political equilibrium among the communities for sustaining peace and stability in the country and to create investment-friendly environment and spur economic activities. However, the role of private sector is conspicuously limited to sponsor venue at expensive resorts and organize sumptuous cocktail dinner with futile deliberations among leaders to justify its proximity and further cementing relations with the leaders. The major weakness of the private sector is that they are terribly engaged in appeasing political parties and the leaders in power to maximize benefits through campaigning for increasing tax-shelters comprising exemptions and deductions in income tax, VAT and customs duties on the pretext of fostering trade and investment.
The recent trends in macroeconomic indicators suggest that merchandise exports have declined resulting in growing trade deficit; foreign assistance inclined to downward trend on the contrary to commitments; economic growth is likely to compress below the revised target of 4.5 percent primarily due to inordinately low capital expenditure with oscillating performance in the share market; FDI is siphoned off to other attractive destinations in South Asia, and indigenous investors are largely indifferent to speed-up their efforts toward industrialization due to vulnerable political situation. Except internal revenue mobilization, remittances and balance of payments situation, all indicators have shown that Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world attributing to growing inefficiency, rampant corruption and poor governance. Unfortunately, state is exploiting the people, for tax burden is relatively high employing GNI per capita criterion that calls for designing a competitive tax structure to attract FDI as well as indigenous investment. More than two-third goods are imported from India alone on which a series of taxes are levied on consumption, intermediate and luxury goods such as customs duties, VAT, mark-up to compensate under-invoicing, transportation costs, and plus profit against the poor provisions for public goods and services to the people. The Nano car, a private sector product of India (TATA) costs IC Rs. 135,000/- in India and its price is as high as NRs. 950,000/- in Nepal.
Most surprisingly, the apostles of civil society, human rights activists, and intellectuals have remained silent spectators in recent times for unknown reasons with their credibility rating down to zero. It is also alleged that NGOs and INGOs have been instrumental to engineer political instability in Nepal through huge funding to indigenous and janjati communities for establishing one-caste/ethnicity based autonomous state ensuring advance rights and right to self- determination. Why are the Western blocks and powers terribly engaged in destroying social and cultural equilibrium in Nepal, a threat to national sovereignty and integration? This is the prime question.
The role of neighbors and international forces is always crucial to determine peace, stability and prosperity in Nepal. In this context, the southern neighbor is highly proactive and its emissary is often hobnobbing with the leaders of different political parties including the former King (telegraphnepal.com), while northern neighbor seems to be relatively quiet with an objectivity to watch and see. Unfortunately, India’s foreign policy towards Nepal especially during post-conflict era badly failed to help neutralize political impasse and end-up prolonged transition, which is indicative of growing inefficiency of the so-called Nepal-experts at the helm of South Block. The representatives of EU, Scandinavian countries, the US and other donor communities are also mobile but with no substantial and fruitful result. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon showed his concern about timely formulation of the constitution as per the aspiration of common people in Nepal and also deeply regretted for the dissolution of CA without writing constitution. The recent visit of Samuel Tamrat, special envoy to Un Secretary-General is a continuation of UN concern over the deplorable political situation in Nepal.
National politics is extremely fluid that some political forces are strongly propagating for holding referendum on federalism; a few are actively engaged in intensifying their propaganda to revive CA for a short duration with a view to amend Interim Constitution to ratify holding of re-election of CA; some are terribly waiting for fishing in mud water to capture the state-power leading to dictatorship; and some are desperately awaiting for the return of the dragon. Under the circumstances, transition would continue with indecisive political dilemma with adversely modulating natural course of economic growth in Nepal. In fact, it is not democracy or for that matter political parties but political leaders totally failed to prove their credibility and, therefore, there is crisis of leadership with growing inefficiency, mounting corruption and poor governance.
The Report of International Watch Dog, Transparency International, and the Annual Report submitted by office of the Auditor General to the President explicitly revealed that corruption is rampant and deeply rooted among politicians in power, bureaucracy, police, and judiciary is also no exception. The extremely poor performance in hydropower development despite the open door policy to award license against huge kick-backs; existence of large number SOEs having monopoly market with huge subsidies, grants and transfer payments; frequent crisis of petro-products including cooking gas; imports of fertilizers with critical shortage, internal revenue mobilization from customs points and international airport, increasing flow of foreign grants and loan with humiliating 3.5 percent growth, and distribution of a large chunk of resources from treasury to party-workers from back doors are some noted examples to originate corruption on a greater scale in Nepal. In the context of hydropower development, policy makers never realized that mega hydro-projects would be successful only when India would provide its market to export surplus electricity.
More alarmingly, corruption is getting momentum with secret but implicit auction of all top-level government positions with lucrative remuneration and perks and appointments are strictly offered not on merit but preferably to Afno Manchhe (own yes man) comprising kith and kin and political workers on priority against installment-payments, which is applicable to all parties. The tumultuous environment in private sector-led financial institutions in recent times with poor balanced sheet and P/L accounts is also attributed to growing corruption and a threat to survival for these organizations and, therefore, private sector is also a party to promote corruption. In addition, anarchy and impunity have rapidly grown over the years with strong emergence and domination of muscle power at national politics. The dismantled CA had a few notorious members facing life sentence with confiscation of entire property on the charge of murder as per the judgment of the Supreme Court and, most unfortunately, they are gracefully protected by their leaders and political parties they are affiliated with. At this critical juncture, the government, political parties, people and the economy are extremely weak in Nepal and, therefore, it is important to exhibit the solidarity among the political parties and leaders including all segments of society.
The prolonged transition with growing political risks and uncertainties fueled by high cost economy, subsistence agriculture, and alarmingly increasing dependence particularly with India coupled by inefficiency, corruption and poor governance have given rise to scope for unforeseen doomsday in both political and economic fronts. The country’s level of risk rating, doing business situation, corruption index, state of economic freedom, human rights and democracy, and failed state index are all indicative of Nepal being in danger zone that might lead to state failure, for the political parties and leaders are openly opposing the verdict of the Supreme Court in many a cases. There is a saying: “You can’t change donkey by washing a cow” and, therefore, time has come that people must improve their capacity to understanding about what is good and bad and decide accordingly and punish the guilty with reward to novelty.
The people must have a sense to support and recognize merit in all spheres of life and promote goodwill among all communities to foster enduring peace and stability in the country. We must find out a Nepali domiciled leader with great statesmanship to exhibit if not at par with but proximity to the stature of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mao, Abraham Lincoln, and above all the Great Prithvi Narayan Shah, founding father of the nation. Let’s take the inspiration from them. At this moment, it is President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, the chief justice and other judges of the Supreme Court, and officials of the Commission for investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) have established a high level of credibility and command esteemed respect in the society.
Considering existing volatile political situations it is imperative to drive for a consensus among major political parties primarily to amend the Interim Constitution and urge the President to: (a) constitute a new consensus government with a view to maintain law and order, run day to day administration, and hold election of the parliament within a year for a fixed tenure of a maximum five years, the number of directly elected representatives not exceeding two hundred (200); and (b) empower the new cabinet to constitute a high-level Commission comprising eminent jurists headed by former chief justice to formulate the constitution within three-months, which should be endorsed by newly elected members of the parliament by two-third majority.
The members of the new cabinet should not be allowed to contest the forthcoming election for parliament. Since CA is a great failure, it would be extreme blunder to revive or hold re-election for CA and there is no guarantee that the same people would be able to formulate the constitution. It is like “Cat willing to go for pilgrimage after eating 1,000 rats”. In fact, it is not CA but learned experts should write constitution inconformity with the aspirations of the common people and with the spirit of institutionalizing Federal Democratic Republic order in Nepal.
The proposal for referendum to establish the one caste/ethnicity based federalism would create adverse impact on communal harmony with never-ending bone of contention that is likely to speed up repulsive polarization, intractable rift and jihad type of hatred among the communities. The referendum on any critical issue would be justified only when political, social and economic status of the people is at high level to understand the efficacy of referendum and its implications. The referendum would be acceptable only if the proposal is endorsed by the people with more than 90 percent of the total polled votes. There is also danger that protagonists of this idea may run after a series of demand for referendum on various small issues raised by different petty political groups that might lead the state to bankruptcy. The revival or re-election for CA would be a share blunder to repeat the same stereo type notorious political game plan between the major political parties that completely smashed CA with a great failure to deliver the goods (constitution) and services.
The major political parties must galvanize consensus for a national government with a given timeframe. It is pragmatic that President should immediately constitute a 15-member inclusive cabinet based on consensus headed by a highly esteemed political personality comprised of representatives from political parties, intellectuals and experts, senior citizen including cross sections of the society with clean image and domination of younger generation. The tenure of the new cabinet should be for a period of one year with special assignments to maintain law and order, run day- to-day administration, and hold general election for the parliament for a fixed tenure of a maximum five years, which will also promulgate the new constitution immediately upon accomplishment of the said election with approval from the members of new parliament by two-third majority. However, it is also imperative to amend the particular article of the Interim Constitution through a Decree by President to enable the new cabinet for holding election and seek fresh mandate from the people. Peace must prevail; democracy must sustain; and development must speed-up in a burgeoning economy like Nepal. Otherwise, what is said by Archimedes that: “water finds its own level” would come true.
At this crucial juncture, I’m optimistic that President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav will use his wise conscience, knowledge and wisdom to strike at existing political impasse and rescue from the dungeon of prolonged transition engulfed by increasing risks and uncertainties that might lead to untold misery and sufferings. It is, therefore, crucial that Rt. Hon’ble President, the custodian of the constitution, should urgently take initiative in consultation with eminent jurists for inducting a viable but democratic option based on consensus to maintain political, economic and social balance and establishing Federal Democratic Republic order ensuring communal harmony, peace and stability, and economic prosperity in the country.
In view of volatile political situation prevailing in the country especially after the dissolution of CA, there is a need to scrap existing plan and programs and declare plan holiday until the emergence of elected parliament. Alternatively, it is important to design an emergency plan, budget and programs for one year with a view to urgently address the crucial problems facing the economy comprising inflation, unemployment, inordinately low productivity in both agriculture and manufacturing sectors, and poor infrastructure with alarmingly growing load shedding as high as 19 hrs during the winter. In the 21st Century, no economy can grow and survive without adequate infrastructure especially energy. When a house is set ablaze, the urgent priority should be to call fire-brigade for extinguishing fire and, thereafter, the long-range planning for the construction of a house of your choice with full of modern amenities could be expedited later. Therefore, at the moment, the top most priority should be to gradually reduce the load shedding hours and meet the current domestic demand for 1,200 MW within next two years.
The President must play the prudent role to constitute the government based on national consensus in consultation with and at the support of political parties, neighboring economies particularly India and China and international power blocks. More recently, I was invited by the Rt. Hon’ble President to solicit my views on current economic issues especially with reference to formulate the budget for FY 2012/13 by a caretaker government through ordinance. I suggested for developing a consensus among political parties to formulate the budget through ordinance, for caretaker government has no authority to prepare the budget on the contrary to international practices and against the spirit of the Interim Constitution.
The expected new change must be instrumental in increasing efficiency and competitiveness, decelerating corruption, improving governance, utilizing effectively forign assistance, and strengthening economic relations with neighboring countries and other partners of development to make a quantum jump in the economic front in Nepal. Hope political parties and the leaders would rise to the occasion ensuring prosperity in Nepal with a democratically elected government in not too distant future.
Finally, this is the high time for every Nepali to effectively use common sense to identify and explicitly distinguish between:
(1) good and bad;
(2) truth and false;
(3) angel and devil;
(4) ethical and characterless;
(5) honest and corrupt;
(6) noble and fraud;
(7) kind and ruthless;
(8) messiah and shylock;
(9) pious and criminal; and
(10) friend and enemy.
If we want to serve humanity and live a dignified life, please consider the above specified propositions and strongly support good people everywhere and boost up their morale irrespective of caste, creed, sex and ideology, and totally condemn, discard and boycott notorious people without any fear. Can we do this? Please rise to the occasion for building a new Nepal in theory and practice. This is the only way we can come together to exhibit solidarity and triumph over misery and sufferings facing ultra-poor in Nepal. This is the biggest but last opportunity for all of us to jointly work for motherland ensuring a better future for next generation. June 11, 2012. Kathmandu.