Tug Of War Over State Capitals

Uttam Maharjan

With the conclusion of the elections to the House of Representatives and state assemblies, the formation of the Federal Parliament, the Upper House and state assemblies is in process. However, there has emerged some debate. The ordinance related to the election to the Upper House has been submitted to President Bidhya Devi Bhandari for endorsement. But the CPN-UML has vehemently opposed the ordinance, reasoning that the Parliament should be formed first and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba should clear the way for this, whereas the Nepali Congress is arguing that the Parliament cannot be formed without the formation of the National Assembly. The lawyers associated with these political parties have also voiced arguments in line with those of the concerned parties.

Sticking points
The President has expressed her displeasure over this debate and has urged the political parties to come to consensus. But the parties are sticking to their guns and want to have their way at any cost. The other sticking point is the election system for the National Assembly. The UML and the CPN-Maoist Centre favour the first-past-the-post system, whereas the Nepali Congress wants the single transferable vote system. The Nepali Congress is fearful that as the left alliance of the UML and the CPN-Maoist has the largest number of parliamentarians elected in the elections, it cannot win many seats in the National Assembly.
Despite a shameful thrashing in the elections, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has not quit the government on moral grounds; instead, he is reiterating that he will not quit the government till the ordinance on the National Assembly has been endorsed. The Nepali Congress is also exerting pressure on President Bidhya Devi Bhandari to endorse the ordinance. Now, the process of forming seven state assemblies is also taking place. But no state has been named yet. It is incumbent upon the state assemblies themselves to christen their states. For the states to operate like clockwork there should be capitals, the centres of state administration from which all the work of the state assemblies will be carried out. The government is also preparing to declare temporary state capitals.
In the meantime, the locals from various states are waging protest programs demanding that this or that place be declared the capital of their state. The leaders of various political parties also assured the locals during the election campaigns that they would make this or that place a state capital in order to win the elections. This is one of the reasons for the locals to carry on agitation programmes.
Protest programmes have arisen in all states except States 4 and 6. Pokhara and Birendra Nagar have been selected almost unanimously as the capitals of States 4 and 6 respectively. There is no debate about selecting the capitals for the above states. However, in other states the locals are carrying on protest programmes, demanding that the place of their choice be declared the capital of their state.
In State 1, the locals are demanding Dhankuta, Dharan, Itahari, Inuruwa or Biratnagar as the capital of their state. In State 2, there is a debate over whether Janakpur or Birgunj should be the state capital. Rajendra Mahato, the leader of the RJP-N, has said that the capital of the state will be Janakpur and the state will be named Madhesi State. Does a single person have the right to name the state and fix the state capital?
In State 3, the locals are carrying on protest programmes, demanding that Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Dhulikhel or Hetauda be declared the state capital. The debate over establishing the state capital is intense in State 5. Protest programmes have started in the state. One group wants Butwal as the state capital, while the other wants Dang as the state capital. Likewise, in State 7 the locals are demanding Dhangadhi, Attariya, Dadheldhura or Dipayal as the state capital.
The ongoing debate over the selection of the state capitals is not small fry. Even the political leaders are divided over the making of the state capital. The government and the political leaders should address the debate as soon as possible as we are on the threshold of forming the central and state governments. If not addressed immediately, the debate may bring about complications in the formation of the governments.
It is not reasonable to make a state capital on the whims of the people or political leaders. There should be certain criteria like infrastructure development that must be fulfilled for a place to be declared a state capital. The place should be convenient from all aspects. There may not be infrastructure development right now. But there should be potential for development of infrastructure in the near future. The governments, both central and state, should make plans accordingly to make state capitals sustainable for years. In this regard, help may be sought from experts.
On the other hand, the states should also be name appropriately. It will be prudent to avoid ethnic or other names that may invoke ethnic disharmony in society. Naming the states along ethnic lines may roil ethnic harmony existing in society. So, religious, geographical or other suitable names may be chosen. The government and political parties should strike consensus and speed up the formation of the Federal Parliament, National Assembly and state assemblies at the earliest. When the people and political leaders blow their own trumpets and procrastinate in the formation of the central and state governments, a wrong message may go to the international community, which will not augur well at a time when we are on the threshold of institutionalising the federal setup.

At a time when the people are expecting a stable government, even there is an obstacle of one kind or the other to the formation of the government. It has come out into the open that the UML and the Maoist Centre will run the government by turns. The Nepali Congress is also trying to form the government in coalition with other political parties. When the political parties are power-hungry, a stable government cannot be conceived of. This implies that the status quo ante cannot be broken so easily, which does not bode well for the country and its people. So, all the political parties should think anew about making the country prosperous by bringing about political stability and flooring the accelerator of development. For all this to happen, political consensus is a sine qua non.


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