RAM KUMAR KAMAT
The federalism debate continues to polarize politics. The Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML are battling hard to prove that they are not anti-federalist forces.
Herein, a little needs to be said about the UCPN-M, before the federalism commitment of the NC and the UML is examined carefully. Although the UCPN-M formed ethnic fronts during 10-year insurgency, the party, however, never made federalism a major agenda except seeking the restructuring of state in a forward- looking manner in the 12 point agreement and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The Maoist 40-point-demand only called for the formation of autonomous governments in ethnic communities’ dominated areas. The Maoist party never tried to pass any resolution on federalism in the Interim Parliament; it did not pressure the NC and the UML to incorporate federalism in the Interim Constitution. It was the three weeks’ Madhes movement that secured inclusion of federalism in the Interim Constitution. Had identity-based federalism been sacrosanct for the UCPN-M, it could never have agreed with the NC and the UML to go for 11-pradesh model. It was the pressure from ethnic CA members and the Mohan Baidhya group that the UCPN-M made a U-turn on the 11-pradesh model.
As far as the NC and the UML are concerned, they continue to reject ruling parties’ charge that they are anti-federalists, but the question is whether they are truly committed to federalism. Only a few days ago, UML General Secretary Ishwar Pokhrel said his party embraced federalism after the 2006 movement, but, if that was the case, why did the party debate on federalism only after the dissolution of the CA and decided multi-identity-based federalism was its official line. The NC has formed a panel after the CA dissolution to form its views on federalism.
A dissident leader of the UML recently said that at the time of the drafting of the Interim Constitution, he lobbied hard within his party to incorporate federalism in it, but the influential leaders dismissed his suggestion saying it should be left for the CA itself. The opposition parties’ argument that they want to carve out states on the basis of identity and economic capability is also self-contradictory for they first favoured only 6-8 Pradeshes, then they agreed for 9 and eventually for 11. The NC which has supported 6- Pradesh model, both in the thematic committee of the CA and the State Restructuring Commission, agreed for almost double that number in the run-up to May 27. UML which voted for 14-pradesh model in the CA’s thematic committee later backtracked from it. Had the NC and the UML been truly committed to federalism, they would not have stalled debate on federalism for three years until the formation of State Restructuring Commission. These parties never presented their formal blueprints of federal units in the CA.
Federalism requires restructuring of geographical areas and administrative services. How can the NC, which was adamant on not altering the boundary of any district or zones, claim that it is a proponent of federalism? The NC and the UML’s support to undivided far west campaigners in the run-up-to May 27 remains no secret.
All parties have agreed in principle that identity and the economic capability are the main bases for federalism, with identity being the major criteria. By choosing to carve out five Pradeshes across Madhes, the NC and the UML made it clear that they would accept federalism only when it renders Pradeshes weak. The opposition parties are now talking of multi-identity-based federalism which was not a dispute until a few months before CA dissolution. This clearly indicates that these parties have not whole heartedly supported federalism yet.
The NC and the UML forced the Maoists and Madhesi parties to form SRC but the irony was that they started refusing the 10-Pradesh model even before the commission made its report public. Their disregard for the opinion of the majority members both in the SRC and the thematic committee of the dissolved CA is well-known to everybody.
The UCPN-M and the United Democratic Madhesi Front kept arguing that they were ready to put issues to the vote but the opposition parties did not allow it because they feared that their own CA members from Madhesi, Indigenous nationalities and Dalit communities could vote in favour of either 10-Pradesh model as suggested by the SRC or 14-Pradesh model as suggested by the CA’s thematic Committee. Had the NC and the UML been truly committed to federalism they would have spoken louder than any ruling parties about settling unresolved issues through voting. It was not due to lack of time that CA did not settle federalism. Months before the expiry of the CA’s term, the NC and the UML started saying that unsettled issues should be resolved through ‘transformed parliament’ and the real intention behind this argument was to break unprecedented alliance of Madhesi, indigenous nationalities and Dalilt which could only be done in a parliament where whips work. Those that continue to call for parliamentary elections want to control their MPs so that they do not violate their parties’ whip.