For the first time since the impasse over the crisis following the promulgation of Nepal’s new constitution, high level leaders from all six major political parties (three agitating parties, coalition of two ruling parties, and the opposition) have come together in a live televised debate hosted by Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation and partner organisations today at 4 PM. Partnering with Samriddhi for this historic event titled “A debate for the solution (of the national crisis)”, were Facts Research and Analytics, Avenues Television, Himalaya Television, News 24, and Sagarmatha Television, Broadcasting Association of Nepal, Annapurna Post, Nepal Samacharpatra and Rajdhani National Daily.
The debate was telecast live across Nepal through four national televisions (Avenues Television, Himalaya Television, News 24, and Sagarmatha Television) and numerous radio stations. Agitating groups and ruling state forces have been polarized on key issues of the disagreement and despite rounds of formal and informal talks, little progress has been achieved.
This event hosted by Samriddhi, Facts, and other local media partners is the first time when the agitating political parties and ruling parties have come together in one platform to address the impasse in open air, among 250 live studio audience and millions watching live from their homes.
The ongoing crisis in Nepal, which has cost over 50 lives and billions of rupees in economic damages, took shape when Nepal’s constitution was promulgated on Sep 20, 2015. The constitution that came in after a decade of Civil war and another decade of political process constituting two Constitution Assemblies was expected to usher in a new era of democracy and prosperity by embracing a federal republic system. However, protest sprung in Terai (the Southern belt bordering India) mainly regarding the demarcation of state boundaries and electoral representation, among other issues chiefly regarding inclusion and identity.
Protests in the Terai region intensified more than two months ago when agitating groups decided to cut off supplies to the capital by blocking the highways and custom points from where goods enter the country. The crisis took a more severe shape when India got onboard with the agitating groups and imposed an unofficial economic blockade two months ago, although denying it publicly.
Nepal is almost entirely dependent on imports from India for all basic things. It is not only Nepal’s largest trading partner and the sole supplier of oil and cooking gas to the state owned monopoly importer Nepal Oil Corporation but also the point of access for almost all imports to a landlocked Nepal. Nepal’s economy, which recently suffered the blow of a devastating earthquake in April 2015, has been further paralysed in the wake of the political crisis. Households are going without cooking gas, roads have emptied in lack of vehicle fuel, essential supplies such as medicine are in short supply, informal markets are rampant and the very core of survival of Nepalese is threatened signalling an imminent humanitarian crisis if the political groups do not resolve the problem.
Representatives of political parties speaking in the event were:
- Hon. Mr. Upendra Yadav, President, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum, Nepal
- Mr. Ashok Rai, Co-president, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum, Nepal
- Mr. Mahanta Thakur, President, Tarai Madhesh Loktantrik Party
- Hon. Mr. Laxman Lal Karna, Co-president, Sadhbhawana Party
- Mr. Manish Kumar Suman, General Secretary, Sadhbhawana Party
- Hon. Mr. Ram Sharan Mahat, Central Committee Member, Nepali Congress
- Hon. Ram Chandra Paudel, Vice Chairman, Nepali Congress
- Mr. Narayan Kaji Shrestha (Prakash), Vice-president, United Nepali Communists Party (Maoist)
- Hon. Mr. Madhav Kumar Nepal, Senior leader, Nepal Communist Party (United Marxist Lenninist)
- Hon. Mr. Bhim Rawal, Minister for Defense, Government of Nepal
Summary of the discussion:
Renowned media personality, Mr. Bhaskar Raj Karnikar opened the discussion by welcoming all the leaders to the forum and emphasized that this initiative puts ordinary Nepali citizens at the center stage of the ongoing crisis and aims at creating a platform which provides an opportunity for the political leaders to address the Nepali people directly and put forth their views and positions clearly.
Two journalists Mr. Tikaram Yatri and Mr. Prem Bania moderated the program. The moderators conducted first round of discussion on the developments so far and what is holding the leaders back from arriving to an acceptable conclusion.
Madhesh based leaders emphasized on two important aspects of the negotiation that has been going on in the past three months. One is regarding the issues raised in the protests (such as provision of citizenship, demarcation of federal states, political representation in state institutions, autonomy to the states). The other is regarding creating an environment for dialogue by not suppressing the ongoing protest by deploying the Army or Armed Police Force.
Mr. Mahanta Thakur, President of Tarai Madhesh Loktantrik Party shared – like the national anthem said during the beginning of the program, we are all flowers of the same garland and the ongoing Madhesh movement is working to make sure we remain so by making Nepal an inclusive state for the Madhesi population also.
Talking further about the issues in the current protest, Hon. Mr. Upendra Yadav, President, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum, Nepal pointed out that enough autonomy has not been given to the states in the new constitution. He also shared that Madhesh has always been an “internal colony” of the ruling leadership at the central level. Hon. Mr. Laxman Lal Karna, Co-president, Sadhbhawana Party, also shared that the provisions for citizenship should be as the Interim constitution.
Mr. Mahanta Thakur, President, Tarai Madhesh Loktantrik Party, also added that Madhesh is the representation of Nepal’s diversity as all caste groups reside in the region. But despite this, historically, Madhesh has always been polarized.
In response to Mr. Ram Sharan Mahat (of Nepali Congress)’s comment that the new constitution has given many rights and the challenge is now to deliver on them, Mr. Thakur shared that rights are many but representation is lacking.
Mr. Mahat made further comments on how the protests should be taken from the streets to the parliament and solutions should be sought through parliamentary discussions. Echoing Mr. Mahat’s opinion, Mr. Narayan Kaji Shrestha (Vice-president, United Nepali Communists Party (Maoist)) shared that the only way to resolve the crisis is through political negotiation and not through the streets.
Acknowledging that the first attempt might not be a perfect one when it comes to the constitution, Hon. Ram Chandra Paudel, Vice Chairman of Nepali Congress commented that we might not have got the State demarcation right and it is best to change that slowly through discussion and dialogue.
There was some heated debate when the discussion was brought down to some specifics by presenting the bullets from the past agreements made by the parties and other facts concerning the recent protests. However, following question and answer with the audience (question was selected by an editorial team among the written questions submitted by the participants), all leaders expressed an urgency to resolve the ongoing crisis as all sides are undergoing immense suffering. Hon. Madhav Kumar Nepal (Senior Leader of CPN UML) highlighted that the current crisis is hurting the socially and economically marginalized the most. Mr. Ashok Rai, Co-president, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum, Nepal, also expressed his distress on how peace has been elusive following the promulgation of the constitution and how it has not addressed inclusion adequately.
Hon. Bhim Rawal (Minister of Defense) expressed his willingness to sit for a dialogue for as long as it takes to come to an acceptable solution. Hon. Upendra Yadav proposed formation of a political committee to draft solutions in three months but also warned that a solution is far-fetched if the mentality of the leaders does not change.
Making a short remark in the end, representing the private sector, Former President of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Kush Kumar Joshi pointed out “we were all so united and helping each other out when the unexpected earthquake struck, but in an expected problem as the current one, we are divided.” He also highlighted the huge costs incurred by the political impasse on businesses, entrepreneurs and the economy.
Stay tuned for video clips and detailed account of the discussion.