Almost after ten years of political struggle the new constitution of Nepal came into existence with a tinge of conflict.
The protest is going on in Nepal after adopting the new Constitution. Almost after ten years of political struggle the new constitution of Nepal came into existence with a tinge of conflict. The violence has threatened to tear apart the ethnic fabric of this country. The seemingly arbitrary boundaries of the six province model were engineered by the big three parties for their own electoral benefits. The fundamental demands of Tarai groups were initially asked the major parties to include the five Terai districts – Jhapa, Sunsari, Morang, Kailali and Kanchanpur – into a Madhes province. The major parties did not accept the demands stating that these districts were inhabited by the hill people, and therefore there was no need to include them in the Terai provinces. Bharat has been concerned and disturbed.
Half of Nepal is under political unrest, the Terai region is paralysed by protests, curfew has been imposed in many parts and the army had to be called out. The wide opened border with Nepal will have spillover effects in Bharat, especially Bihar which is connected with the Tarai region of Nepal and it is in the mode of Assembly elections.
Since August this year, Bharat’s Prime Minister categorically requested the PM of Nepal and other leaders to bring a inclusive Constitution that should eliminate ethnic differences or community dominance against one another. It will have violent ripples. When Nepalese leaders did not heed the words of Bharat and jumped to final conclusion of demarcating Nepal under seven districts ignoring the interest of Tarai people, violence ensued and engulfed the Tarai regions. Last year, when PM Modi addressed the Constituent Assembly in Kathmandu, he said the Constitution should be such that people from Himal, pahad and Terai can own it. At the end of August, soon after violence in western Terai, Modi spoke to his Nepal counterpart Sushil Koirala and urged him to find the “widest possible agreement” for the Constitution and initiate dialogue.
Basic Problems within the New Constitution
Bharatiya officials stressed that the provision for delineating electoral constituencies based on population was an issue of concern for them in the new Constitution. The new Constitution has a provision to delineate electoral constituencies based on ‘geography and population’.
The Interim Constitution had increased the first-past-the-post constituencies to 240 from the previous 205. The Constitution, besides being a means of social change, can be a tool for social transformation. Every Constitution in a democratic nation is as much a political document as it is legal. One of the major characteristics of an ideal Constitution is the fact that it reflects the socio economic scenario of society. The Constitution is being endorsed by all not by the majority. The Constitution of Bhutan and Bangladesh are agreed by all. Nepal is an exception, more than 60 MPs did not endorse the Constitution.
Constitutionalism is the basic value of the Constitution and other important factor to analyse the Constitution’s cohesiveness. Rule of law, independence of the judiciary, separation of the powers with checks and balances, periodic election, adult franchise, democratic process and limited government are the core and fundamental values of the constitutionalism. The recent conflict and political vendetta create a divisiveness in the polity of Nepal. Therefore success of the Constitution becomes apprehensive. It takes no hesitation in mentioning that each individual living in Tarai and Madhes must be able to recognise the Constitution as not just a mere document but a guarantee of their rights, freedom and justice.
Bharat’s Major Concerns
However, New Delhi has good reason to be concerned. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar held discussions with Nepal’s President and Prime Minister and leaders of all the major political parties including those who had opposed the constitution in its current form. “We urge that issues on which there are differences should
be resolved through dialogue in an atmosphere free from violence and intimidation, and institutionalised in a manner that would enable broad-based ownership and acceptance,” the statement said. Bharat shares a 1,751 km (1,088-mile) open border with Nepal through which people pass freely but which has often concerned the country’s security agencies because of its use by smugglers, human traffickers and terror suspects.
Bharat has always played a
constructive role to bring peace and development in Nepal. There are certain sections which are deeply engrossed in Nepalese politics to run hate Bharat campaign. This time also some leaders are trying to blame Bharat for ills in Nepal. That will definitely affect the Bharat-Nepal relations.
Journey of the Constitution Making
The formulation of the Constitution was painful exercise which continued for almost 7 years and consumed hefty amount 150 billion. Yet, it continues to polarise Nepali society, even more sharply than before. The Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav had repeatedly told the leaders of these three parties — the Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist — that the promulgation would be unwise without the involvement of the Madhesi representatives protesting the arbitrary demarcation of provinces.
The first CA was elected in 2008 and dissolved in 2012 as it failed to deliver the Constitution despite several postponements due to bitter differences among political parties on matters of federalism, government, judiciary and elections. The second CA was elected in 2013 and political parties pledged to deliver the Constitution in one year. Federalism remained the bone of contention but the 16 point agreement was a breakthrough, resulting in the present constitution. In the 16 point agreement, top leaders of the major political parties represented in the CA – the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (Democratic) – agreed to federate the country into eight provinces and promulgate a constitution.
Fundamental Features of Nepal’s New Constitution
The Constitution was meant to bring together its diverse “nationalities” into one common fold: It was to bring the people of pahad and Terai together. The new Constitution has 37 divisions, 304 articles and seven annexes. The seven provinces will be finalised by a high-level commission within a year. Cow has been declared the national animal of Nepal in its new Constitution. With the promulgation of the new Constitution, there will be fresh election to the top posts like President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament within a month. The Assembly would dissolve and convert into a regular Parliament. According to the new Constitution, the executive rights of the country shall vest on the Council of Ministers while the President would be ceremonial head-of-the-state. The preamble of the new constitution says: “Realising a dream cherished by the Nepali people since the past 65 years, the new Constitution will formally take the country towards a federal structure from the existing unitary structure that remained rooted in the country for 240 years.” The new statute has proposed to federate the country into seven federal units, which will be one of the significant changes to occur on the basis of the new constitution. The preamble of the Constitution also mentions people's competitive multi-party democratic system, civic freedom, fundamental rights, voting rights, full press freedom, independent, fair and competent judiciary and building of a prosperous nation with the commitment to socialism based on rule of law.
Future Challenges in Nepal
The Madhesi and Tharu mainly live in the southernmost part of Nepal, an area known as Terai. Terai accounts for about a fifth of Nepal’s land area but is home to slightly more than half of its population, with the two ethnic groups making up just over a quarter of this. Their main demand: representation equal to their population and federal redistricting that maintains Madhesh and Tharu provinces.
The Terai-Bharat relationship is sensitive. Bharat has a Nepal policy, and not necessarily a Kathmandu policy and Terai policy. That is why it was keen to see a harmonious constitutional settlement. But as the gulf between the two parts of Nepali polity increases, the Terai will increasingly look to India for help and support. And Bharat will find it difficult to ignore these voices. Therefore, there are multiple challenges with Nepal.
The new Constitution is expected to come into force after being unveiled by President Ram Baran Yadav. When the Constitution becomes effective, the Constituent Assembly that approved it will become a full-fledged Parliament. Mr Koirala is expected to hand power to KP Sharma Oli, a senior leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), who would lead the coalition government till new elections are held at a still-undisclosed date.
Dr Satish Kumar
(The writer is Head Centre for International Relations, Central University of Jharkhand, Ranchi)