State Restructuring In NepalIssues And Problems :Mukti Rijal
State restructuring issues have always remained at the core of the federalism discourse in Nepal. It has been almost nine years since the writing of the new federal constitution through the Constituent Assembly was debated in Nepal. Several issues like the electoral process and system, religious freedom, protection of minority rights, form of government and so on had been more or less thrashed out even when the Constituent Assembly that was elected in 2008 was alive and functional. But the question of state reorganisation and architecture of the federal constituents - the second tier of the government - had thrown a spanner and engaged the major political stakeholders in a confrontational mode during that time.
The issue had become a bone of severe contention and political antagonism. As a result, the Constituent Assembly elected almost seven years ago failed to deliver the basic law of the land. And the popularly elected body was allowed to brace for an unceremonious termination of its tenure. Implementation of constitutionThe same kind of challenge had perturbed and strained the Constituent Assembly elected in November 2013. But this CA somehow managed to deliver the constitution to the nation with the support of the overwhelming majority of the CA members. Even after the constitution has been enacted and promulgated, the dissonances and resentments have grown louder and turned violent, especially in Madhes. Hence the efficacy of the constitution’s implementation has been thrown into doubt and suspicion. The constitution was ratified by mustering massive support and endorsement of the members of the Constituent Assembly as prescribed by the interim constitution. But the ongoing agitation in Madhes and dissenting voices raised by the Janajatis have led some quarters to doubt on the legitimacy, acceptability and effective enforcement of the charter. Why has the question of state restructuring become the Achilles heel that pains and pinches when the issue concerned is put on the anvil? This question demands a dispassionate assessment as it may be a contributing factor in the uncertainty and instability of the political situation in Nepal. Several reasons and factors can be attributed to it. Firstly, Nepal has been a unitary state where the central authority has remained unlimited and consolidated for centuries. A coterie of rulers have been wielding absolute power in ruling the people. Even today this has not fundamentally altered, and the central governing authority has been concentrated in the capital of the country, and the power is exercised by a group and bureaucratic elites.
Historically speaking, Nepal has been a united and settled state. It has remained and crystallised in this form over two-and-a-half centuries, especially after the unification cum annexation drive mounted by Prithvi Narayan Shah. Needless to say, before Prithvi Narayan Shah brought them together, several petty kingdoms and principalities engaged in mutual acrimonies and duels along the elongated territory which is known as Nepal today. The creation of the unified state through annexation and consolidation of these petty states and principalities, which was carried out and accomplished under the drive of then King Prithvi Narayan Shah, involved several political, social and cultural repercussions and results. In fact, it brought about the process for rationalisation of authority even though the mode was not democratic and based on the consent of the governed. It heralded the replacement of a large number of traditional, religious, familial and ethnic political authorities by a single, determinate central authority. Against this backdrop, the bid initiated during the contemporary times in Nepal to cut and severe its settled territorial limbs into distinct and devolved fragments and units under the federal scheme of affairs should not be understood as an ordinary undertaking. It is so risky and delicate that it is bound to reproduce and re-create issues and subjects, which had been almost buried in the pages of history, in the days to come. The assertion and resurgence of the issues wedded into the ethno-political biases, traditional identities and regional ambitions permeate the reproduction of a revivalist and revisionist paradigm in the politics of the country.
The 10-year-long Maoist insurgency drew its sustenance from the revivalist and revisionist approach. It challenged the state creation process undertaken during the time of Prithvi Narayan Shah, interpreting it as being motivated to assimilate and liquidate the pre-existing cultural diversity and identity. In fact, the Maoist insurgency weakened the state, and its authority to maintain law and order was enormously challenged. What the Maoists did was to organise and incite the social and communal forces to revolt against the state to exert pressure on reorganising it in line with the primordial identities like race, culture and ethnicity.
The violent articulation of demands these days against the seven province architecture provisioned in the constitution has been motivated partly by the ethno-cultural thesis propounded and promoted by the Maoists among the communities. However, Nepal’s social demography is unique and special. No groups of people are in a majority in any territorial enclave or cluster. No delineation is possible even if one attempts to design and demarcate the provinces consciously and deliberately to allocate and gerrymander territorial clusters to suit the interests of one particular community. Dialogue and negotiationsThere is no other way and means than to have a comprehensive and holistic outlook in province delineation due to the composite nature of the country’s demography. Nevertheless, there is a need to engage in dialogue and negotiations with the revolting Madhesis and other groups to find appropriate ways and means so that constitution implementation is carried out in a collaborative and mutually acceptable approach.