Following media reports that the government has finalized provincial capitals for the seven provinces, people have taken to the streets in various districts demanding their places be declared provincial capitals. Every district and city aspires to be provincial capital, and some of the senior politicians are adding fuel to the fire on this debate. Leaders who will soon be heading important federal ministries are proactively supporting protests in their home districts for the capital fight. Involvement of senior politicians only complicates the process and millions will suffer from vandalism, and days of unrest and strikes. This uproar for and against declaring certain cities as provincial capitals, as we have maintained in this space before, is hard to justify. For one, provincial capitals declared by the current government won’t be final ones. The full session of provincial assembly will decide on the name and capital of its province. Thus it will be up to the elected members of the respective provinces to decide where the capitals should be. It is rather needless to fight over this issue on the streets. Politicians from different parties must sit down and resolve the issue before it spirals out of control.
While it is natural for any city to demand the capital, it is not the end of the road. Provincial capital in important tourist and historical city might dilute and damage the aesthetics and beauty of the place, thereby severely damaging the long-term economic prospects of a city. Or that a city with little infrastructure could get a facelift with the injection of new projects to make it a full-fledged provincial capital, shifting population and other pressures from already over-populated cities. The whole process to name a place provincial capital must be carried out in full transparency so that the elected provincial members can explain the decision to their constituency, thereby reducing chances of public unrest over the issue. A party with full control of a provincial assembly should resist the temptation to bulldoze the opposition when it comes to sensitive issues like voting on capital and name of the province.
Provincial assemblies have to set the right tone from the get go. The assemblies will need to address poverty, infrastructure needs and urgent issues facing the region. If parties begin fighting on issues like province capital, then other agenda cannot be moved forward effectively. It is not difficult to understand that these protests are politically motivated. If we keep squabbling over the provisional capitals, the debate over the names of the provinces is also likely to flare up in the days, which will make provincial governments difficult to function effectively. We, therefore, urge parties to exercise caution and ask the public to remain calm and engage in healthy debates rather than destroying public utilities and mindless strikes, crippling country’s economy and movement of people. With the success of elections of three tiers of the government, we have fully embarked on the path of institutionalizing federal democratic republic system. If we fail to carry forward this agenda with caution, it will open floodgates of protests and counter protests, the last thing that Nepali people want.