Into: World is watching with eagerness the transition of Nepal to a full-fledged republic with a Constitution that aims to empower all segments of the society.
The small Himalayan country has already shown the world how to abandon the path of bullets and opt for ballot and to assimilate insurgents into the mainstream. In 1990, the first Jan Andolan (people’s movement) had brought multi-party democracy back to Nepal, but it was shortlived. The second Jan Andolan resulted in the overthrow of the monarchy in April 2006. The peace process that had begun led to the coming into force the Interim Constitution early next year in mid-January to manage the transition from an unitary constitutional monarchy state to a federal republic.
Earlier the elections in April 10, 2008 led to the formation of the first unicameral Constituent Assembly of 601 members–240 directly elected by the people, 335 elected through proportional representation and 26 nominated. It began its work on May 28, 2008, but could not produce a Constitution within a period of four years. Thereafter, the 2013 elections threw up a second Constituent Assembly of 601 members. The senior most member of the House and former Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa assumed chairmanship of the CA on January 20, 2014 and administered the oath of office to 565 lawmakers at the first meeting of the Assembly on January 21, 2014-the leaders of the Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist (CPN-UML) and Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) pledged to draft a new constitution within a year. Unfortunately, the self-imposed deadline is now over without producing any tangible results.
The young democratic republic is very sensitive to its sovereignty being encroached upon by interference by foreign powers. Multiple political parties (about 31) in the fray having different interests and representing different ethnic groups has made difficult for Constitution framers to arrive at a consensus as suggested by some world leaders.
Because Nepal is India’s immediate neighbour and shares borders with China, India needs to deal with its valuable partner with extreme caution. Not that it should remain indifferent, but should lend support if the government and the people of Nepal seek assistance
If we are to compare Nepal with Afghanistan in the South Asian region, the latter, being a war-ravaged country, had suffered a lot to come out of the dreaded Taliban regime and draft a Constitution within a span of barely two years. Afghan Constitution was drafted when foreign troops were present in that country. But this is not the case with Nepal – there is no presence of any foreign troops, the country is sovereign. The Nepali leaders on their own came to negotiate peace and the people gave up “bullets” for “ballot.
Moreover, Nepal also has the experience of drafting Constitution in 1959, 1962 and 1990–under Monarchy rule.. After the overthrow of the monarchy in April 2006, the experiment for drafting a new Constitution for the republic is in process. The Interim Constitution in place to facilitate transition from unitary constitutional monarch state to a federal republic has also undergone some amendments.
Though the political leadership has agreed to the concept of federal democratic republic, the debate over the form of federalism and creation of different states has become a contentious issue. Two competing proposals are on the table – one is territorial and administrative federalism and the other is identity-based federalism. In the proposal for territorial and administrative federalism, creation of seven provinces has been proposed, namely far-West, Lumbini, Karnali, Gandaki, Bagmati, Janakpur and Koshi. The critics of this proposal say that if it’s implemented high castes will dominate over the under privileged. And the advocates of the proposal for creation of 10 identity-based provinces say that it would do justice to several ethnic groups.
The other issues on which the leaders are failing to reach a consensus include the details of the form of governance, electoral system independence of judiciary, and system of direct and proportional representation. The Madhesis (people of the plains) issue has also become a contentious issue. Due to closeness in culture with some neighbouring states in India, many mistake them to be pro-Indian even though they have been Nepali citizens over several generations.
One can hope that Nepal drafts a vibrant Constitution enough to do justice to the cross section of its cultural and ethnic diversity. A vibrant Nepal will not only be in the interest of India, but also South Asia.
Ashok B Sharma (The writer is senior columnist)