The Capital Conundrum
The government designated the provisional locations for provincial capitalslast week. Such cities as Biratnagar, Jankapur, Hetauda , Pokhara, Butwal , Surkhet and Dhangadhi have been fixed for the provincial capital for Province 1 to 7 respectively. The decision came in for harsher criticism and violent protests in different parts of the country since as argued and contended by the protestors the viable, appropriate, convenient and strategically important locations for provincial capitals have been missed out, neglected and superseded. Dhankuta, Doti and Dang have witnessed a spurt of the violent incidents where the protestors have been spearheading theagitation in different forms expressing their rejection to the decision taken by the government.
In other locations too, the government decision has been meted out with stiff opposition though the forms of protests and agitations seem to be less strident and violent. The people's preference and choice for owning and hosting provincial capital in their adjoining or nearer localcities or locations should beconstrued as obvious and natural since it has strategic meaning,value and significance for them . The provincial capital city holds out potentials for growth and development in different spheres and aspectsincluding physical, economic, social, politicaland administrative infrastructures which eventually can transform and catapult the locations into provincial hub and conglomeration of differentactivities.
Moreover, the politicians especially from the major contending and competing parties are also responsible for whipping up popular discontents and frustration with the decision. The party leaders had promised that they and their respective parties alone could make it possible to define and fix the locations like Dang, Dhankuta, Doti, and Birgunj as the provincial capitals during the elections. Most of the candidates had made it an electoral issue, and used and employed all kind of rhetoric to persuade the votes to their favour. The locals in these places and locations were also confident that their respective places would be anointed as the provincial capitals. However, much to their dismay, they found that the government decision was contrary to their expectations and did shatter and spurn their demand.It should be the reason why the decision was rejected by the people with kneejerk reaction and consequently retaliated with stiff resistance and opposition.
However, it should be borne in mind that the decision taken by the government is very ad hoc and transient which is meant only to facilitate the process for inception and legitimisation of the provincial structures established in accordance with the provision of the constitution . Moreover, this was also needed to set into motion the political process for the election to the National Assembly. The election to the National Assembly would complete the process for formation of the bicameral federal parliament consisting of the House of Representatives and the National Assembly. This will pave way for the formation of the newgovernment- a new political innovation for federal Nepal that had remained a centralised unitary state for centuries. Similarly, the new provincial governments will be formed soon which will spearhead the process for institutionalisation of the federal polity in the country.
As mentioned above, since the provincial capitals designated, the other day, by the government provide an interim arrangementonly, it will be the responsibility of the incumbent new provincial parliament to vote for the new capital for their respective provinces. According to Article 288 of the Constitution, the provincial capital will be decided and fixed by thetwo-third majority vote of the provincial parliament. Constitutionally, the responsibility for determination of the capitals for the respective provinces lies on the provincial parliament. Similarly, it is also the task of the provincial parliament to define and give name to the provinces.
Giving name to the provinces was a very delicate, sensitive and contentious subject at the time of writing constitution because different communities had their vested interests to prevail and fight in defining nomenclatures according to their cultural and communal identity. With different contrasting perspectives competing and contradicting each other dismissing possibility to arrive at meeting point, the responsibility for it was carefully and prudently left for the future provincial parliament, too. It is likely that the issues related with defining identity and nomenclature and deciding for the permanent site for provincial capital will be highly controversial and spark off protests and agitations during the upcoming days, too.
It is therefore that the provincial parliaments need to take the likely explosive scenarios into account and take decision to avert any kind of confrontations and popular resistance. The Left Alliance which is poised to form the succeeding government both at the federal and intermediate levels has indicated that it does not uphold and support the decision taken by the incumbent interim government in designating provincial capitals and may reverse it. UML party president K.P. Sharma Oli who is tipped to take rein as the next prime minister has hinted at it. This has been corroboratedby Maoist leader Prachanda too, saying that the major decisions including appointments for key posts taken by the interim government, headed by NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba, will not be owned up by the new government.
At any case,the new political dispensation will have to confront with such delicate, emotive and sensitive issues. In order that the decisions have broader consensus and support, consultation and deliberation with social and political stakeholders is important. Moreover, overall strategic consideration in addition to the balanced and judicious allocation of resources of the country should be taken into account while taking decision on provincial capitals and many other issues.