Time moves quickly. Its been more than four years since I moved back to Nepal in October 2010 (read my first article I wrote about Nepal after my return). A lot has changed in Nepal and in the rest of the world in these four years. However, one thing has remained constant. When I moved back, the country’s Constituent Assembly (CA) was drafting a constitution for the nation, which was supposed to be promulgated in November 2010. Today, four years later and millions of dollars spent on the assembly, our CA members are still drafting the constitution and nowhere close to coming to an agreement.Some of you may have seen the images of our CA members vandalizing the assembly hall on January 19th after the minority parties objected to the speaker trying to move the proceedings forward to meet a deadline they had set for themselves. Watching the country’s lawmakers vandalize public property live on national TV was an embarrassing sight. More embarrassing is the fact that the country’s leaders seemed least bothered about how this is affecting the country’s image overseas. The leaders are instead busy pointing fingers at each other on who is to be blamed for this debacle.
The Maoist party, a communist party based loosely on China’s Chairman Mao’s ideology, is one of the key political parties in the country. They fought a bloody, 10-year civil war (1996 to 2006) demanding the end of monarchy and a new constitution. In 2008, when the first CA elections happened, the first action the body took was to abolish the country’s 200-year-old monarchy. However, even though the Maoists were the largest party in the CA, they were unable to pass a constitution due to disagreements with other major political parties.
When the first CA failed to deliver the constitution, the Assembly was dissolved and new elections were called in November 2013. The makeup of the second CA was vastly different than the first one. The Maoist party lost its advantage and was relegated as the third largest party within the CA.
The major point of contention among the political parties is how the country should be divided into different states. The previous model of five development regions, where the power was concentrated in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, was not effective. Each political party has come up with its own model of delineation of states. Some are demanding 13 states while some think that only three states will be economically feasible for the country. The parties demanding more states are doing so because Nepal is such an ethnically diverse country that they believe the states should be divided along ethnic lines where each major ethnic group will get their own state. The parties demanding fewer states believe that dividing the country along ethnic lines will lead to more divisions within the country. Some say that there is a genuine threat of secession of some states or even our big neighbors, India and China, using this division to their advantage.
One has to look back at Nepal’s history to understand why this problem is happening in the country. Nepal came into existence in 1768, when King Prithivi Narayan Shah of Gorkha (the first king of Shah dynasty) annexed the three small kingdoms within Kathmandu Valley into a single territory. We were taught in our history books that King Prithivi Narayan Shah unified the country and made it stronger, but the reality was quite different. In fact, it was the increase of British East India Company’s power in India in the late 1700s that led the King of Gorkha to annex its neighbors so that it could stand a chance to fight against the mighty British army. Though many of the small states within today’s modern day Nepal shared similar cultural traditions and religion, none of the states joined the modern day Nepal willingly. As the Shahs tightened their grip on their Kingdom, many of the people of these smaller states saw their power marginalized and their identity being homogenized.
Eventually, the British fought a war with Nepal in 1814 which resulted in a stalemate and the signing of the Sugauli Treaty with the British in 1816. Nepal lost about a third of its land to the British but managed to preserve its sovereignty. Nepal was the only country in South Asia that didn’t come under the direct rule of the British. However, Nepal had to forfeit all foreign policy-related decisions to the British. Though Nepalese proudly claim that Nepal has remained independent since it was founded almost 250 years ago, we were never free of foreign influence – first by the British until 1947, then by India, and now to some extent by China, the U.S, and Europe.
As the CA began drafting the constitution, history weighed heavily on them. On one hand, the several ethnic minorities in Nepal demanded more autonomy in their regions. On the other hand, foreign powers interfered in the process to make sure that their concerns were also addressed in the new constitution.
Blame of the failure of the CA to deliver the constitution has to be shared among the major political parties. They have put forth their party’s interests before the nation’s. The public also needs to share some of the blame as they have not adequately raised their voices and put pressure on the CA members.
The time has now come for Nepal to move forward so that it can provide livelihood to its 30 million people. Based on my lifetime of observation of Nepali political parties, and especially their actions over the last four years, I have come to a conclusion that a new political force is needed to truly bring Nepal to the 21st century. Our current political parties are either too corrupt or too divided to deliver a constitution that will hold Nepal together for the next 200 years.
Since March 2014, I have been actively involved with a new political party created by the activist youths in Kathmandu. Bibeksheel Nepali Party (Bibeksheel translates to having a higher moral code or conscience) is not a party with a specific ideology or agenda. We believe in doing what is right for the country by following a middle path, may it be economic or foreign policy, may it be social justice or human rights. Bibeksheel Nepali is all about executing plans efficiently and delivering on its promises. Though this is a small movement with limited resources and support, I strongly believe that a political party that represents the country’s youths needs to take charge if we are to ensure Nepal can progress along with its two powerful neighbors, India and China.
On January 22, when the CA failed to deliver the constitution as promised, Bibeksheel Nepali came out with its own draft of the constitution which we crowdsourced using the expertise of over a dozen volunteers (you can read more about Bibeksheel here). We came out strongly against the national strike called by the opposition and were attacked on the street by hired thugs. We are building a leadership academy where the next generation of leaders of the country can be trained. We are building a strong team to manage the party so that the leaders of our party can focus their attention on addressing the needs of the Nepali people.
In this dark time for the country, Bibeksheel Nepali has been able to show a glimmer of hope, especially to the country’s youths. Only time will tell whether we will be successful in our efforts. I hope that your thoughts and support will be with me and my friends at Bibeksheel Nepali as we take on the herculean task of building our nation.