With Madhesi parties deciding to boycott local polls scheduled for May 14, Nepal is heading for another political crisis. The boycott decision came after the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre)-led government tabled fresh amendments to the Constitution in Parliament. Ever since the country adopted the new post-monarchy Constitution in September 2015, Madhesi parties have been demanding a redrawing of federal boundaries to reflect the fact that the community, residents of the Terai area, and other minority groups are in a majority in some new provinces. The government led by CPN(M-C) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, with the Nepali Congress part of the coalition, came to power in 2016 on the promise of accommodating these demands to the extent possible and forging a reasonable consensus across the political spectrum. The government had also initiated amendments that went some way in addressing Madhesi concerns, such as the formation of a federal commission to look into a redrawing of federal boundaries, and the recognition of local languages as national ones. These amendments were, however, rejected by Madhesi parties, which stuck to a maximalist position. The opposition Communist Party of Nepal (Unified-Marxist-Leninist) also rejected them, though for being too giving. Unable to forge any consensus, the government came up with the fresh amendments as a signal that it is willing to concede some of the Madhesi demands in return for their participation in the long-pending local polls. But the absence of substantive efforts to address the federal question has resulted in a Madhesi boycott.
Nine years have passed since elections to the first Constituent Assembly were held. Beyond Nepal’s transition from a constitutional monarchy to a republic, the lack of consensus on other issues pushed the finalisation of the Constitution far beyond the original remit of the Constituent Assembly, which was to have concluded the process in two years. The new Constituent Assembly elected in 2013 was less amenable to changes, especially to the state structure, and the Madhesi parties refused to accept the finalised Constitution in 2015. The impasse on the state restructuring issue has given rise to disturbing trends — jingoism, that sees Madhesi concerns as reflecting the interests of external actors such as India, and voices of secessionism among Madhesi forces who suggest that the Nepali polity is incapable of addressing the plain-dwellers’ concerns. This political battle of wits has taken away much- needed focus from the dire state of the economy, which is yet to recover from the shock of the devastating earthquake of 2015. Local elections are seen as a way to allow for a much-needed administrative presence everywhere, but this cannot happen without the participation of all political forces, especially Madhesis. The government has its task cut out to manage a compromise.
Source: The Hindu, April 13, 2017