Constitution born out of strife

On <g data-gr-id="78">Sunday</g> September 20, 2015, Nepal formally promulgated its Constitution, after a long wait. India extended its best wishes to the people of Nepal. India has supported a federal, democratic, republican, and inclusive constitution throughout the process of constitution-making in Nepal. India was quick to point its concern regarding the ongoing violence against the promulgation of the Constitution in the southern Tarai region bordering India in which at least 40 people have been killed.  Out of the 598 lawmakers only 537 signed the document; in short 61 lawmakers did not sign the document. Those opposing were the Madhesi parties and the splinter group of the main opposition party the Communist Party of Nepal - Maoist. These parties have given a bandh call and said they would be observing it as a black Sunday and that they would never accept the Constitution.

Nepal’s Constitution has been born in strife. Protests have been the order of the day which do not behove well for the Constitution. This is a Constitution which took seven years in the making and two constituent assemblies. The three main sticking points are <g data-gr-id="94">creation</g> of the provinces, secularism, and to a less extent, the discrimination against women. The core issues for the Madhesi people are the creation of the provinces, coupled with citizenship and <g data-gr-id="71">under representation</g> in the Parliament. The initial plan of the Constituent Assembly (CA) was to federate Nepal into fourteen provinces, but it has now decided to have six provinces and another one to be added later. This has set a trend of violence especially amongst the Madhesi people, who wished for <g data-gr-id="92">ethnic</g> based provinces. As per the protestors, the majority parties have let down the Madhesi and the Janajati people and other marginalised people. There have also been violent protests also against not declaring Nepal as a Hindu state.  Chairs have been flung at high ranking members of the CA. The Madhesi parties have been boycotting voting on the draft Constitution. Discrimination   against women has not seen violent protests, and citizenship being exclusive still remains a grey area.

The 17lakhs Tharu community wants Tharuhat and they live in four districts. The old idea was to have 14 provinces half of them on the basis of ethnic communities. The big four Nepali Congress (NC), the Maoist (UCPN), Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (Democratic), and the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) decided to have six provinces for all of Nepal with the names to be decided by two third majority of respective provinces. The problem is that the plains consist of 22 districts, 17 per cent of the area and 51 per cent of the population and have only one-third representation in the CA, whereas the politics is hill dominated. 

Initially, there was a lot of delay on account of lack of consensus. There was growing public anger against the political class especially after the traumatic events of the <g data-gr-id="87">earthquake .</g> The four parties that signed the sixteen point agreement in effect left the contentious issue which lies at the heart of the problem regarding the provinces to a federal commission. What will be the names of the provinces, and what will be their respective boundaries? The names of the provinces will be decided by a two-third majority of the respective Assemblies. Needless to <g data-gr-id="86">say,the</g> smaller parties took the matter to the Supreme Court which ruled in their favour and the lawmakers responded saying it was a case of   judicial overreach.  Nepal’s population is roughly divided into two, <g data-gr-id="90">hill centric</g> or those who call the shots, and plain-centric (Madhesi), and both feel this issue dilutes federalism and some lawmakers feel that they are defying the Judiciary. Instead of sorting out the problem is this going   to open another can of worms as a lot of unfinished agenda is still left.

The preliminary draft of this Constitution was discussed with the people of Nepal, but one is not sure how much of people’s suggestions are incorporated.  The total time frame for this exercise was thirty days. Some of the suggestions received were for directly elected Executive, declaring Nepal a Hindu state since rejected, academic qualification for lawmakers.  Another recommendation that came was to finalise the demarcation of the federal units and promulgate a complete Constitution, also rejected. The people also wanted the name of the Madhesi movement in the Preamble of the Constitution. Some other suggestions received were pension scheme for farmers above sixty years and designating rhino or elephant as national animal.

Seeing the worsening situation Mr. S Jaishankar was sent on a special last ditch effort by the Indian PM two days prior to the promulgation. He met the entire top brass of Nepal and was told that the CA has participation of 90 per cent members and enthusiastic voting by over 85 per cent members. As the people have extensively backed the Constitution Nepal feels that the demands of the disgruntled parties could be addressed by forming a federal commission. The official Nepalese view as stated by Mr. Oli is that the demands of the parties which are dissatisfied with the Constitution-writing process could be settled through dialogue and consensus after its promulgation. Is this a case of over-confidence?

It is hoped that the Constitution will bring political stability, which is so essential for economic development, prosperity, and <g data-gr-id="76">good</g> relationship with its neighbours. The private sector of Nepal has welcomed the Constitution. Nepal needs to exploit its huge potential of hydro electric power by selling it to power hungry India and Bangladesh. It needs a sound Constitution for ensuring development at the local level and the agriculture sector which are all starved for reforms. The international community needs to wait and watch. India needs to maintain a strict vigil on the <g data-gr-id="73">boundary,</g> because the Madhesi have strong Indian links. Will the Constitution in this shape lead to <g data-gr-id="63">ethno</g>-nationalist conflict? India needs to observe carefully.

(The writer is a retired Brigadier)

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