Identity crisis in Nepal

Nepal is on the boil again with tensions arising over a constitution that is in the process of being drafted. The strike, called by the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, would have been unnecessary had the leading political parties shown a more imaginative approach in the constituent assembly. The strike has already brought life to a standstill across Nepal, with reports of sporadic violence that have resulted in damage to vehicles including many belonging to media persons. Despite the terms of the interim constitution making it clear that the new constitution was to be promulgated by 28 May 2011 this is not likely to happen in view of the current disaffection. With the constitution drafting deadline of 27 May approaching, these strikes have created an unnecessary crisis in this mountainous country. Nepal is witnessing this series of strikes by various groups who are fearful that their identities will not be protected by a new constitution which may emphasise unitary features or other principles of federalism over that of federal units based on ethnicity which they prefer. A part of the problem is that Nepal is not constituted of a homogenous population but has a diverse one comprising of various ethnicities among whom the the Madhesis are the most influential being of nearly 40 per cent of the population. These groups oppose a recent plan made by the main political parties to create 11 federal states that may not fully reflective of the ethnic populations of the areas. Others fear that if the states were to be  demarcated along ethnic lines, it could create a fresh source of tension in this country.  

There is no consensus on this contentious issue of the federal distribution of power. It has to be said that Nepal, in the midst of transition after the overthrow of the monarchy and in the process of drafting its new constitution, is at a historic juncture and must seize the opportunity to draft a constitution which may prove decisive for its future. It must ensure popular support for both the constitution and the constitution-making process within the country. It must take care that the new constitution is inclusive and protects the vulnerable, the minorities and the various ethnicities. Only if the process of constitution-making is transparent, representative  and participative will Nepal be spared much wrangling in the future and will its experiment in nation-building endure.
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