Intro : Nepal constitution drafting process dates back to 2008, and most of the public is desperate to see the job finished. Especially, after April’s devastation, the political leaders felt the urgent need to promulgate the constitution in order to rebuild the nation.
The current Constituent Assembly suddenly dropped the initial proposal of federating Nepal into 14 provinces, half of them on the basis of ethnicity. They decided to curve out 7 federal states by arbitrarily demarcating of province vertically in the new draft constitution which triggered fresh protests throughout the country starting from district of Kailali that turned violent. Since the election to the first assembly, Madhesi and Indigenous movements have struggled a lot to push ‘federalism’ to the top of the national agenda. Madhesh Pradesh movement resulted in 53 deaths in 2006-7, saw the blockade of highways that are the lifelines of the pampered capital and finally, in March 2007, Prime Minister G P Koirala signed an accord with the leaders of the movement, conceding “Madhesh Pradesh”. Disregarding all the previous achievements, sacrifices and accords in the Constitution assembly and initiating a top-down fresh Constitution making process in hurry now is nothing short of arrogance and opportunism.
Prithvi Narayan Shah unified the country geographically, but the subsequent rule by the Ranas, Panchayat and now ‘Pahari rulers’, as the Madhesi term them, in the name of democracy, have not able to unite the country socially or economically. The rulers believe that difference can be overcome by suppressing it rather than respecting it. Baring one or two objective journalists, most of the media also belonged to the same caste and side with the rulers. They term the current agitators as the disgruntled lot. For the Kathmandu rulers Madhesi are Bharatiya and Himali are Tibetans. Gorkha’s final conquest of Nepal came to an end in 1796 after three long vicious and cruel battle fought between the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley and the invading Gorkhali king Prithvi Narayan Shah. The Battle of Kirtipur also saw the cruelty of the Shah’s victorious army by cutting-off 865 noses and lips of the defeated people of the Valley who put up a fierce resistance. Monarchy ended in Nepal on May 28, 2008, and was replaced by Republic. Much water has flowed under the Bagmati Bridge in these years but what has not changed are the Kathmandu Centric rule and the arrogance and the cruelty of the Pahari rulers, often described as ‘Bahunbad’ by anthropologist Dor Bahadur Bista. Ten years (1996-2006) of civil war or People’s war waged by the Maoists which was basically a social evolution for equality, justice, end of monarchy and establishment of Republic killed 15,000 civilians. The war of apartheid brought the Indigenous people, Dalits, Madhes, Himali and other historically suppressed group together on one side and fought to change the status-quo Kathmandu centric rule. With the intervention of Government of Bharat a comprehensive Peace Accord was signed on November 21, 2006. The accord said “to end discriminations based on class, ethnicity, lingual, gender, cultural, religion and region and to deconstruct the centralized and unitary structure of the state and to reconstruct it into an inclusive, democratic and forward looking state. A high level commission will be formed to suggest on the restructuring of the state. Final decision regarding the restructuring of the state will be made by the constituent assembly.”
Although, the accord was signed due to public pressure but the Pahari rulers, from the day one, hatched their own plan which was to disband the Maoists army, play with democracy sentiments but somehow ensure that the caste supremacist is well camouflaged and power continue to remains in their hand. China’s strong objection both overtly and covertly about the indigenous and Madheshi people’s agenda of “ethnic federalism” and the principle of strong provinces as endorsed by Bharat and many international community, has further boosted the agenda of the Pahari rulers and even levelled the agitators as ‘separatists’ out to divide the country. It is worthwhile to notice that the entire exercise from the day of the accord till this day was to maintain the Caste supremacists, Kathmandu centric rule in the name of peace and democracy.
As per the accord, during the first Assembly, a High level state restructuring Committee of the constituent assembly was indeed formed and submitted their final report suggested 14 states which includes two states for Madhes and two Himali states. The indigenous people demand that this proposal should follow the next natural course of parliamentary procedure, meaning debating in the parliament and voting because they know full well that Madhes/Indigenous combine will get 2/3 majority. The Pahari rulers of the upper caste party of NC and UML, insisted of having 5-6 federations with demarcations drawn vertically, advocated on consensus and not by majority votes in the parliament. Discussions outside the parliaments in hotels and resorts followed for so many months which bear no fruit and ultimately leading to the parliament dissolution on May 7, 2012.
Once again the election for a second Constituent Assembly was held in November 19, 2013 where the Pahari rulers ‘in close coordination with Bharat’ as alleged by Maoist supremo Prachanda, got 2/3rd majority in the assembly. Prachanda even blamed the ruling parties for election fraud and demand an independent enquiry, which did not get any support from the international community. In 2006 Prachanda could dictate terms because he had 19,600 confirmed PLA fighters residing in different cantonments but in 2013, he was a lone fighter without any army and the rulers knows pretty well how to contain him and invoke the vulnerability of his caste.
Impact of Modi’s visit
The coming to power of a BJP Government in Delhi has initially boosted the moral of the Pahari rulers for many people believed that BJP is a right wing Hindu party that would favour a status quo in Nepal with restoration of a Hindu raj. Much to the dismay of the rulers when Prime Minister Modi actually visited Kathmandu on August 3, 2014 and expressed his views, the Kathmandu rulers realised that today’s Bharat is different. Modi told the lawmakers on what he thinks a constitution to be. He said “It is important to have a pre condition for writing a constitution. When writing constitution, it is important to have a ‘Rishi Maan’ (a visionary mind like a sage), which can see far beyond, which can assess the problems ahead, a mind that can provide security to its citizens even after 100 years.” He further said that Constitution should be such a document which is all inclusive, where every citizen of Nepal, poor or rich, literate or illiterate, who lives in the village or in the town, whether in hills or in the Tarai or anywhere, should feel that this constitution is a garland of flowers where even the essence of his individual flower could also be felt. These direct interactions with the masses cleared so many misconceptions created for years against Bharat by the Nepali media and the Pahari rulers.
Earthquake- Strike the iron when it is hot
The devastating earthquake of April 25, 2015 shocked the nation and the greatest damage was inflicted on the 16 districts mostly inhabited by the indigenous people of the Himali region. The Pahari rulers concluded that this is the best opportunity when the Tarai Madhes people would be busy for the rice plantation season and the Himali indigenous people would still have not recovered from the shock. A weary international community will also be happy for any kind of constitution as long as there is stability. Exactly after 44 days of the earthquake while the aftershocks were still felt, leaders of Nepal’s four major political parties prime minister Koirala, CPN-UML chairman KP Sharma Oli, UCPN-Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and Madheshi Janadhikar Forum Loktantrik leader Bijaya Kumar Gachchhadar decided to grab the opportunity and “Strike the iron when it is hot” by inking the 16-points agreement at Baluwatar. The new constitution will have six federal states, vertically divided from the Himal to the Tarai, so that the political relevance of the Kathmandu centric leaders remains intact.
They also decided to do away with the word secular, citing public opinion. Had the Pahari rulers started this exercise of “fastest track drafting Constitution” immediately following the earthquake, they would have succeeded to pass, for hardly anybody had time and energy to protest but internal vested interested adjustments within the rulers took 44 days when the iron is no more hot to strike. People are awakened and the genie of the indigenous/Madhesh Pradesh is already out of the bottle. No power in the world will be able to put it back. The situation is very unpredictable.
Jamyang Dorjee (The writer is former editorial consultant, Radio Free Asia, Washington and retired civil servant, Government of Sikkim)