Murari Sharma: Nepal’s democracy is at stake

The proposal to amend Nepal’s constitution for the second time within a year has polarised the country. It has divided the political parties, the Nepali population, and even the neighboring countries. At stake is Nepal’s democracy.

Obviously, the ruling coalition is pushing the amendment to accommodate partly the demands of the Madheshi regional parties. These parties want to make Hindi a national language, to open the highest posts to some naturalized citizens, to allocate the upper house seats based on population, and to separate hill and Terai states.

But the amendment has no future. The Madheshi regional parties have said they will not accept the amendment without further changes to accommodate all their demands. The opposition has vowed to continue preventing the discussion in the house and protesting in the street.

Foreign backing for and against has made the amendment even more toxic. India has openly sided with the Madheshi regional parties. China has tacitly supported the opposition to thwart India from furthering its strategic advantage in Nepal.

In this situation, one expects the government to find a compromise acceptable to all sides. But Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has failed to do so.

Dahal’s legendary arrogance and propensity to self-harm have come in the way. They had sunk him and his government in 2009. This time, they are preventing him from seeking a common ground, which will be possible only all three sides move to the middle.

Besides, the coalition itself is putting Dahal in a tight spot. Sher Bahadur Deuba, the leader of the Nepali Congress Party and the largest coalition partner, has been waiting for his turn to replace Dahal. He seems in no mood to give credit to Dahl for the safe-landing of the Madheshi regional parties, in view of the elections in the early 2018.

Even for Deuba, it is not going to be a smooth sail. The Madheshi regional parties, which lost significant ground in the 2013 elections, would not want to hand him victory and cement their previous loss further in the next vote. The opposition leader KP Oli, who has become popular due to his anti-amendment posture, would want to cash his popularity for his party, not for the Nepali Congress.

Such bickering between democratic leaders and parties has given room to neighboring countries to advance their self-interest in Nepal at the cost of Nepal. When they were together, they promulgated the new constitution in 2015 despite strong external opposition. They reached the 16-point agreement prior to the promulgation of the constitution in the similar circumstances.

However, the problem before us is not beyond resolution. If all sides come together, then there will be either no problem to resolve or it would be easy to solve. But if anyone suggests that the current impasse is caused by only one side, they are either partisan or lying.

People and institutions are guided by self-interest: Self-preservation and self-promotion. Such self-interest may range from eating and drinking to keeping immigrants out. You will fail if you ask people to forgo their self-interest, as they define it for them and not as you define it for them, at their cost.

Whatever we say and do is motivated by self-interest, and the collection of self-interest is the national interest. Even this preachy article is self-promotion aimed at advancing the national interest.

In other words, you cannot divest self-interest from the national interest. So we who claim to be in the middle should be practical and fair to all sides. Otherwise, the extreme right and left will threaten democratic institutions and even hijack democracy itself.

For example, Donald Trump won the presidency in the USA because the mainstream candidates failed to recognize the self-interest of the common people. The Brexit and the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany also fall in this category.

Nepal has seen it all. Now former King Gyanendra has issued a statement indicating that he is prepared to save the country. The fringe Maoist parties and Terai separatist groups are fishing in troubled waters. The disgruntled people may throw their support behind these fringe elements, as they had done behind the Maoists only a two decades ago.

So the government must take a step back and begin discussions with all sides in the present impasse to find a common ground before it is too late. Otherwise, Nepal’s democratic institution and democracy will suffer an unspeakable damage in the days to come.

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