A tryst with Nepali destiny

In the last year, seminars and conferences in Kathmandu have begun to include categories of people that would never have been there a few years ago. This photograph of a meeting on the challenges to the Constituent Assembly elections, held in mid-July, brought together confident, demanding activists representing a multitude of regions, faiths, ethnicities, languages, castes, ideologies and classes. This hall is what the Constituent Assembly will look like, said one observer.
There is a unique experiment in nation-state-building underway in a corner of Southasia, where a people and a country enjoy a chance given them to redefine state-society relations. While the dangers of failure do loom, there are also immense opportunities at hand: to create a polity that responds to the demands of pluralism and democracy, while also providing social inclusion amidst a demographically ultra-diverse population, where essentially everyone is a minority. The people of Nepal today have the opportunity to learn from both other Southasian experiences and those of the rest of the world, as they put behind them ten years of insurgency and a history of exploitation and Kathmandu Valley centralism. But most importantly, in drafting a new constitution – elections to a Constituent Assembly will be held on 22 November – they are being given the chance to learn from their own half-century of modern-day experience, accumulated since Nepal opened itself to the world with the end of the Rana oligarchy.

It is a privilege to be a Nepali at this hour: to be able to see and to give one's input in the fashioning of a political system that provides space simultaneously for national and communitarian identities; and on that basis, to evolve a pluralistic democracy, which brings political stability and an economic boost at long last to the entire populace in mountain, hill and plain. Nepal, in reality the oldest country of Southasia, achieved democracy only in 1990, but is only now going about the process of 'nation building'. That process must move the people quickly from self-awareness to articulation, activism and then to the act of drafting constitutional text. There is no way around the compressed timeframe, as there are dangers of mayhem, anarchy, foreign interference and inter-community strife if the current momentum is lost.

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Himal Southasian