A new Nepal?
At last a new constitution is almost ready with the endorsement of 157 articles and a seven-province federal model by 90 <g data-gr-id="64">per cent</g> of members of the Constituent Assembly. If all goes well, it will go down in the history of the land-locked Himalayan state as a milestone in the struggle for ending a feudal order that forced the people to accept Nepal as a kingdom whose state religion is Hinduism. The new charter vouchsafes federalism, secularism, citizenship provisions, fundamental rights and the state’s directive principles and policies. Coincidentally, the promulgation is scheduled to be made on 20 September when Greece goes in for a snap poll, the outcome of which will have a far-reaching effect on the future of the Eurozone.
Ninety per cent of law-makers accorded their consent to the promulgation. But three major parties of the CA, – Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – who together have 222 of the 335 directly elected members of CA and 391 out of 601 members (including those nominated by parties) according to proportion of votes received in the national election in 2013. The intentions are beyond doubts as the <g data-gr-id="51">draft</g> Constitution comprising 302 articles is most democratic of constitutions of SAARC countries.
Usha Kala Rai, former Coordinator, Women Caucus, Nepal, termed the initiative as “a progressive leap”, which has been possible due to the struggles of the Nepali people and their desire for change. One of the most important tasks assigned to the CA was to ensure that people enjoy the right to participate in all state organs based on the principle of inclusive proportional representation.
The People’s Movement (2006) and the 2007 Interim Constitution explicitly showed the wish to see a restructuring of the state based on providing equal and special rights to those who have been deprived of theirs for years. Women constitute one-third of law-makers in the new democratic order of Nepal although they are almost half of Nepal’s population. Nonetheless, 33 per cent block in the envisioned national legislature will act as a catalyst to the battle against “all forms of discrimination, oppression and suppression, and liberating the people”. But Rai did not suppress her resentment against the three major political parties, viz. UCPN (Maoist), CPN (UML) and Nepali Congress limiting representation of women at 33 per cent.
But the vested interests have not given up. They refuse to admit that the new Constitution is a legitimate document. A pro-Left daily in its lead editorial take welcomes the development but sounded a word of caution. It states, “although its legal legitimacy is a given, many still doubt if the constitution of the federal democratic republic of Nepal will be able to address the concerns of the marginalised communities that suffered so much under the unitary state. More than the shape and size of the new constitution, or the federal model outlined therein, this will depend on the political will of our leaders. Even the 1990 constitution had provided for “empowerment” of all marginalised communities through meaningful “devolution” of power. Had the political and administrative powers really been devolved, and had the marginalised communities felt empowered, the country, arguably, would not have had to go through a bloody civil war.
The apprehension is real. Sadbhawana Party Chairman Rajendra Mahato termed the upcoming constitution as one that favours “a particular class” – Khas people and <g data-gr-id="66">Koiralas</g>, <g data-gr-id="67">Dahals</g> and Olis – and has threatened to organise tougher than presently happening agitation. He went to Jaleshwo to attend a mass funeral of six people who died during the Madhes agitation the proposed constitution, the SP boss says, does not benefit the Madhes, Tharus, Dalits and indigenous strata. But the party has only seven members in the CA, out of which only one was directly elected in the 2013 elections.
The question is very simple, rather bluntly put across. What is the objective basis of such threats, given that the party’s mass support is negligible? A former member of CA, representing the UCPN(M) in the previous law-making body, smells a rat. “External inspiration is from not only a neighbouring country but western powers too to sabotage a broadly democratic endeavour to help Nepal move towards a democratic system without which we can’t struggle for socio-economic empowerment of our people, over 80 per cent of whom are economically and socially deprived for ages.” Things may not be smooth as over 12 parties have opposed the <g data-gr-id="70">draft</g> constitution. But the mass support to the making of a democratic constitution is beyond doubts. This mood of change for a societally rational system was reflected in the CA when <g data-gr-id="69">amendment</g> to the Article 61 of the constitution, moved by the pro-Royal family Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal Chairman was rejected.
However, India and the US hailed the progress made by Nepal in the constitution making process. India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and the US State Department Spokesperson John Kirby in separate statements urged Nepal’s political actors to ensure broadest possible consensus in the new statute. The two countries have to reflect this spirit in action. Democratic opinion in the SAARC countries hopes that the <g data-gr-id="46">seven year</g> battle at the CA will usher in an era of peace and socio-economic progress finally.