It appears apparent that the issue of federalism has become a hard nut to crack. In fact, the political dispute over the same is hampering the implementation of the new constitution promulgated a year back.
The advocates of federalism claim that it will ensure equality and devolve power to the local bodies and strengthen grassroots democracy.
But the intention behind the agenda of federalism is not what they are trying to make out to be. From the outset it the agenda has smacked of shady ethnicity and blinkered regionalism.
So much so, it is now acting as a tinderbox of big disaster in the country. The government’s recent proposal to amend the constitution to remove the hilly districts from Province Number 5 is a case in point. The very move has triggered massive protests across the province. The local political parties, students, business community and civil society members are up in arms against it.
The main opposition as well as the second largest party, the CPN-UML, has termed the amendment proposal as treachery and vowed to foil it at any cost. So, the chances of the ruling parties garnering the required majority to endorse the bill in the existing equation are very thin.
On the other side, the very step to register the bill has violated the constitution that prohibits the transformed parliament from changing the boundaries of the provinces. Without first securing the approval of Provincial Assemblies of the related provinces, boundaries cannot be altered.
Many believe that the amendment proposal was registered at the parliament by the ruling Nepali Congress and CPN-Maoist Center to suit the parochial interest of Madhes-based parties. Such parties are hell-bent on making two provinces based solely on the territory of Terai. If this happens, they will then advocate for merging them to carve a single Madhes province. The main motive behind is to hold a tight grip over the center as Terai has strategic traction. Some experts even indicate at the possibility of them claiming a separate nation. ‘Apart from spreading communal hatred between the hilly and Madhesi people, the Madhesi leaders have been openly warning that Terai may secede from Nepal. This proves that their ultimate intention is to jeopardize the territorial integrity of the country.”
The Madhesi leaders have rejected the amendment proposal, which is primarily aimed at appeasing them, just for public consumption. They may vote for it if they become confident about its passage from the parliament, which will only facilitate the separation of Terai from the hills.
It is becoming crystal clear that the country’s experimentation with federalism is taking a catastrophic turn. It has pitted one Nepali against another by fanning out ethnic hostility.
The issue of federalism was foisted upon the Nepalese from outside and its advocates are looking to set the stage for territorial secession in the long run. Majority of Nepalese are also disinclined towards federalism given the country’s small population and territory, and diversity. As there is a big question mark over the relevance of federalism, it should be decided through a referendum.