The agreement among Nepal's four major political formations — the Maoists, Nepali Congress (NC), Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) and Madhesi Front — on the formation of a unity government could not have come a day too soon. A new constitution has to be promulgated in a little over three weeks. The Maoists will lead the government till it is finalised; the NC will lead the next government at the time of constitution promulgation with the mandate of holding the first elections under the new statute. This marks an important milestone in Nepal's political history as it revives the political consensus that had got fractured ever since the 2008 Constituent Assembly elections resulted in a surprise win for the Maoists. Four majority governments have been formed in the past four years, but this only deepened the polarisation. Progress in the peace process has now created grounds for a consensus. This new unity comes at a time when Nepal needs it most. In theory, being in government and opposition should have been no deterrent to working together on constitutional issues. In practice, however, politics acquired a ruthlessly competitive edge not conducive to consensual constitution making. The latest agreement will give all sides a stake in government, greater ownership in the new constitution, and enable them to tackle the transition following the adoption of the new statute.

The constitution will institutionalise the new political values of Nepal — democracy, republicanism, secularism, federalism, inclusiveness, social justice, and measures to address regional, caste, ethnic, class and gender based discrimination. The most contentious issue to be resolved is the nature of federalism. Mainstream national parties led by hill elites should recognise that the identity-related aspirations of marginalised communities — especially the ethnic groups and Madhesis — need to be taken into account while creating federal structures. The conservative elements in these parties seem reluctant to share any power. They must not be allowed a veto. At the same time, the Madhesi groups should know that a single province across the entire southern plains is not acceptable to diverse communities who live there. Indeed, the constitution must protect minority rights within the new provinces regardless of which group forms the dominant community there. In a low-key but effective manner, India — led by an able ambassador — has played an enormously constructive role in encouraging all sides to come to a compromise. It must continue to engage with all actors, and put its political weight behind the new unity formation.

Keywords: Nepal politics

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