Dialogue for Integrated and Affluent Nepal
Dialogue for Integrated and Affluent Nepal
By Professor Hari Bansh Jha
The 20-day Madheshi movement beginning from 19 January 2007 has been unparallel in Nepal’s history. Neither during the 1990 movement against the Panchayat system nor in the 2006 April revolution, was the life of the country as much crippled as during this time. The major political factions of Terai, including Madheshi Janadhikar Forum, Nepal Sadbhavana Party (A), and Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (Goit), and Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (Jwala Singh) had been the key players in this movement.
This time, the Terai movement appeared to be organised. Political players tried to cash in the suppressed feelings of the Madheshis caused by centuries old discrimination in political, economic and different other fields. It was for the first time in Terai history that the people joined the movement and exhibited rare solidarity for their right cause forgetting the feelings of castes, creed, gender, etc.
The main demands of the agitating groups have been: (a) establishment of federal system of governance and regional autonomy with rights to self-determination; (b) proportional representation according to population in the Constituent Assembly; and (c) representation of Madheshi people in state organs and programmes during the transition period.
Prime Minister GP Koirala touched upon certain demands of the Madheshis in his proclamation on 31 January, but it was inadequate to meet the aspirations of the people. It, however, opened the door for dialogue with the agitating groups.
A three-member Talks Team headed by Nepali Congress leader Mahant Thakur was formed on 2 February 2007, which officially invited all three agitating groups of Terai, i.e. Madheshi Janadhikar Forum, Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (Goit), and Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (Jwala Singh) to come for dialogue.
Following Prime Minister Koirala’s efforts to clarify himself on the Madheshi demands on 7 February 2007 and getting due commitment for this from all the eight political parties, the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum declared suspension of chakkajam and bandh for 10 days. But the dialogue with the agitating groups is yet to begin.
Leaders of Madhesh have taken Koirala’s address as their “partial victory,” which though positive, has not been able to address the demands of inclusive democracy, federal republic system of governance with right to autonomy and self-determination, and proportional representation in elections. Besides, they also feel that conducive environment for talks are not yet made as the high level probe team is not constituted to investigate the killings of Madheshis and the Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula has not resigned.
The Madheshi issue has become complex that there have been unprecedented causalities of life and property due to Terai movement. Dozens of Madheshis have been killed and hundreds of them have become wounded and crippled.
Moreover, a white paper on the Terai unrest prepared by Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) shows that 20 days of unrest in Terai cost the economy nearly Rs. 29 billion in losses. This included a loss of Rs. 2.50 billion on exports and Rs. 7.45 billion on imports. There was also a loss of Rs. 18.64 billion in industrial production due to the transportation closure, closure of industries and shortage of raw materials. In addition to the severe loss to agricultural sector, there was also a loss of revenue to the tune of Rs. 5 billion.
Under the existing situation, the dialogue should begin at Government’s Talk Team Level and also at the level of people. At this juncture, the Government Talk team and the agitating parties should be provided technical details on issues related to separation of political and economic powers between the centre and state under the broader framework of federal system. Technical details on proportional representation system also need to be provided to these groups.
Dialogue at people-to-people level is equally important – be it in the mountain, hills or Terai – among different ethnic groups. Such a dialogue should be initiated in both the rural and urban areas in all parts of the country. To begin with, people-to-people level dialogue should be organized in all district headquarters of Terai and in major townships in hills and mountain, including in Pokhara, Dhankuta and in Kathmandu.
Focus needs to be given to the positive aspects during the Madheshi movement in which one ethnic community helped the other in mitigating the crisis – in medical treatment and other ways. The goodwill rallies organized in various places are examples of social harmony among the Nepalese. In this respect, efforts made by agencies or individuals to cement the ties among the ethnic communities also need to be highlighted.
There could be many aspects in federal structure in Nepal that need to be discussed at the people-to-people level. In Eretria, an African country, it took three long years to come out with constitution as the people at the grass roots were involved more in constitution making process than the so called experts. In Nepal’s case, it will be better if the people in various regions of the country themselves decide the course of distribution of political power and the right of harnessing the natural resources among themselves as per the spirit of decentralization and federalism. Wider debates on some of these issues in various parts of the country would be of immense help in developing consensus for giving due shape to federal structure and thereby making integrated and affluent Nepal.
The larger problem today is more due to the limited size of the cake. Once the size of the cake is enlarged, the entire Nepalese population would feel a sense of ownership in national resources. In this respect, whatever innovative ideas that come for making Nepal affluent – be it through harnessing hydro-power, developing tourism, promoting agriculture, industry, trade or service sectors – all need to be given equal weightage. But it will be self-defeating if the innovative ideas of the people for making Nepal affluent is put in the dust bin. The planning commission and the government need to be honest and serious enough to execute such ideas coming from the grass roots level.
Depending on the local situation, seminars, workshops, debates and paintings could be initiated for this purpose. Dramas, video shows and festivals such as Holi could be widely promoted to enhance the feeling of oneness.
Outcomes of the dialogues in various parts of Nepal should be widely disseminated through the local and national electronic and print media. If possible, organizations like Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), International Crisis Group, International Alert, and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also need to be involved in the dialogue process as these organisations have wider experience in this area. Expertise of neutral countries such as Finland and Norway can also be useful in facilitating such dialogues.
Following the Madheshi Movement in Terai, such a dialogue at different levels is likely to promote social harmony, national unity and above all democracy in Nepal. Nepal needs to be built by the Nepalese. Outsiders would be of help only as facilitators. The demand of the day is to promote national integrity for which creating affluence is of primary importance.
(Prof. Jha is Professor of Economics and Executive Director of Centre for Economic and Technical Studies (CETS). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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