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Good, bad and ugly

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Evaluating Bikram Sambat 2072

The year 2072 of the Bikram Sambat started in the worst possible way for Nepal. Only 12 days into it, the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck. In this and subsequent aftershocks 9,000 people lost their lives, 22,000 were injured; altogether 600,000 families across 11-worst affected districts were rendered homeless. The long-feared calamity had arrived and the county didn’t know how to respond—in fact, it still doesn’t. It was hard to find a silver-lining in this darkest of clouds that had descended over Nepal. But there was one. In the aftermath of the earthquakes, the three biggest political parties in the country—Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN (Maoist), plus other fringe parties—decided that politics as usual was not an option. The devastated country had to be brought back to its feet. This, in their reckoning, was possible only if they set aside their individual agendas and agreed to work in the broader national interest. This meant finishing the stalled constitutional process so that everyone could then forge ahead, together, in rebuilding the devastated country.

It was thus that the second Constituent Assembly on September 20th was able to promulgate the new constitution of Nepal. It should have been a joyous occasion. For the new constitution was the culmination of the 70-year-old dream of Nepali people to write their own charter. But the fringe Madheshi parties boycotted the CA on the eve of its promulgation. While urban hubs like Kathmandu wholeheartedly welcomed the constitution, in parts of Madhesh it was greeted not by deepawali but by blackouts. The Madheshi parties and sections of Madheshis and Tharus felt that the new constitution had done nothing to change their status as ‘second class’ citizens. Bereft of the kind of support they enjoyed at the time of the first Madheshi Uprising in 2007, the Madheshi parties decided to take the easy way out: blockading major border points with India to disrupt vital supply lines of Kathmandu. This form of protest was chosen because it didn’t need many people to enforce, and the task was made easier as India too seemed keen to punish the establishment in Kathmandu for daring to bring a constitution without its express approval.

The crippling economic blockade lasted for four and half months, bringing the national economy on the brink of collapse. The embargo was lifted—first by India and then by the Madheshi parties—only in the second week of February, following the twin amendments of the new constitution. But as we enter 2073, the Madheshi parties are threatening another round of agitation as they feel that the Oli government is not doing enough to address their remaining gripes with the constitution. On the balance of things, even with the new charter, Nepalis won’t like to remember 2072, the year of two of the worst crisis in Nepal’s modern history. Nor has the issue of constitution been resolved. The Oli government undoubtedly deserves credit for bravely standing up for our national interests. But on domestic front, it has been a failure. Fuel supplies haven’t eased, two months after the end of the blockade. Black marketing in essentials continues. Most importantly, most of the 600,000 people displaced by earthquakes continue to live precariously, without permanent roofs over their heads. We hope that in 2073 Oli government finally gets down to the business of governing. We also hope that there is progress in implementation of new constitution. With 2072 behind us, it is up to the major political parties to give their countrymen a new reason to hope. Here is wishing all our valued readers a happier 2073.