PSAARC-India organised a panel discussion on Nepal's Constituent Assembly Election 2013 on 15 November 2013. Dr Arjun Karki, Vijay Pratap, Prof Sangeeta Thapliyal and Maj Gen Ashok K Mehta discussed various aspects of the Constituent Assembly Election.
Introducing PSAARC and the panel, Rakhi Sehgal said that PSAARC is a platform which brings together progressive and democratic people and mass organisations, to ensure that the SAARC works for the common people of SAARC countries. Since its formation, not only has the SAARC failed to work as per its mandate, failed to keep its promises but it has also been held hostage to the vagaries of the India-Pakistan relations which has affected the working of the SAARC.
Highlighting the importance of the Constituent Assembly Election for a democratic future of Nepal, Prof Thapliyal who also chaired the discussion said that although Nepal is in a phase of democratic transition , the transition has gone on for too long [since the 1950s] and it looks like it has become a permanent feature of Nepal's politics. In 2008, elections were held for the Constituent Assembly in order to write a constitution. By this time the Maoists had come to the centre stage of Nepali politics. All the parties came together and there was consensus that the constitution would be written. The Constituent Assembly had the mandate to write the constitution within two years but it did no't happen. The Constituent Assembly was extended 4 times and later dissolved. Vijay Pratap described the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly of Nepal as unprecedented in history. He said, it was for the first time in history that people of all sections and classs of society were represented in a Constituent Assembly. But chances are low that the new Constituent Assembly would be as representative. He said, in Nepal the communist parties share 62 per cent of votes. Which means that the majority of the country has left of centre inclinations. In Nepal twenty per cent of the people are politically active and this percentage is big if political parties mobilize people to transform the country. Currently, Nepal is unable to assert its sovereignty. The parties which are boycotting the election should, post election, play a positive role in pressurizing the parliamentary parties to deliver a constitution in a timely manner.
Dr Arjun Karki from Nepal, suggested that it was unfortunate that a big group is boycotting the election. Although their demand of keeping government and judiciary separate has merit, it is now too late to settle this issue before the election. There is mass frustration in Nepal which will influence the result. It is possible that royalist forces might make significant progress. It will happen not because people are sympathetic to monarchists or royalists but out of sheer frustration. In the last election many supporters of the Congress, UML and royalists voted for the Maoists out of frustration. Similarly, they might not vote for the maoists this time out of frustration. Many in India talk about Nepal-China relationship or India-China-Nepal relationship. It is a misconception that in this equation Nepal is in a 'strategic' location. There is no consensus about national interest among political parties. These parties think that India is in Nepal to defend Nepal's interest! The reality is India is in Nepal to defend its own interest. Its the same with China or other countries. Against this background it can be said that this election is the last opportunity for Nepal. If it fails to promulgate a constitution in the given time frame it will be declared a failed state.
Maj Gen Ashok K Mehta said although the Baidya group is the largest party and is boycotting elections, there is chance of it taking part in the election. It seems the Baidya group has decided to oppose the election by resorting to violence. It was felt that even if their demand for a round table conference and other demands were accepted, the group would not have participated in the election and elections would have been unnecessarily delayed. Therefore it was decided to go ahead and hold the elections. The Baidya group's claim that the decision for election was taken under foreign influence is baseless, argued Maj Gen Mehta. The reality is that the international community, India and the majority of the people in Nepal want elections despite their frustration and disappointment with the political entities because they want to end this period of uncertainty. So it was the right decision to not wait for them to transform themselves claimed Maj Gen Mehta.
He further added that Nepal has had four written constitutions. The interim constitution of 2007 makes a very interspersing stipulation about the consensus. Unfortunately that consensus has not been obtained. Since the year 1728 more than 800 constitutions have been written. More than 50 per cent of these have failed and the basis of instability is that either they were mischievous constitutions or they have not led to political stability. So it is important to have political stability. Moreover, there are brand new actors on the national level such as maoists, madheshis, the marginalised and the dalits. These brand new set of actors collectively far outnumber the aggregate of the old actors. Therefore the international community is dealing with a new set of political actors with whom they have no expereience, he remarked.
Maj Gen Mehta also pointed out that the talk of intrusion of India in Nepal is true to some extent because of Nepal's location. Whatever happens in Nepal has a geopolitical impact on India. He argued that whatever India does it does for its national interest and in the interest of the Nepalese people. The Government of India does not want to repeat the mistake of 2008 when it supported the Congress party over the UML thinking that the former was the larger of the two. Therefore this time the Government of India does not want to put all its eggs in one basket. Finally he said, India also doesn't want to see a hung house for the wish of the people of Nepal and of the internaitonal community to see a constitution will again be belied.
In the open session, the participants asked questions on issues related to the Constituent Assembly Election and future of democratic transformation of Nepal. The discussion ended with the vote of thanks by Jamal Kidwai.
People's SAARC (PSAARC) India Secretariat
O-63, Second Floor, Lajpat Nagar II
New Delhi 110024