A Need For Tuning In Priority
Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
Even after a year of tireless effort of the Nepalese people to implement the constitution promulgated on 20 September 2015 by an unprecedented 92 per cent majority of the elected representatives, the constitutional battle between its defenders and detractors appear to be far from over.
After making an impressive initial gain in solemnising some of the crucial constitutional appointments, its implementation process has hit a number of snags threatening to set at naught the sacrifice made by the Nepalese people in their quest for a constitution drafted by a Constituent Assembly.
The sequence of events that have unfolded in Nepal’s political landscape following the proclamation of the constitution shows that a synchronised attempt is being made by the enemies of democracy at home and abroad to condemn Nepal to perpetual poverty and instability. Creating hurdles in the path of implementing the constitution is a strategy adopted to achieve that goal.
The conspiracy to subvert the Nepali constitution had become clear during the run up to the proclamation of the constitution. When the Nepali people were rejoicing at having a new constitution, a flurry of activities, ranging from the boycott of the CA and the visit of Indian foreign secretary to pressure Nepal for the postponement of the constitution, were taking place in the country.
Strangely, both the external and domestic opponents of the constitution had a common refrain. They said that Nepal’s constitution was not inclusive, it had not assured full proportional representation and those foreign men and women coming to Nepal through matrimonial relation were not given equal rights of citizenship.
This was a gross distortion of facts. They had turned blind eyes to the fact that the new Constitution of Nepal had maintained the highest standard of democratic characteristics. They had pretended not to notice that this constitution was one of the best in the world both in terms of content and the procedure adopted.
When the constitution was promulgated a large majority of the Nepalese people welcomed it by observing illumination. Those who were hell-bent in subverting the statute, organised protest which culminated to violent campaign in some pockets of the Terai leading to the death of 50 odd agitators and security personnel in a time span of five months.
To prolong the protest, the agitators resorted to diabolical measures like blocking transport lifelines and essential supplies to the Kathmandu Valley. When their highway-centered protest lost steam because of declining participation of the people, they launched border centric movement along the no-man’s land at the connivance of the Indian authorities. Bringing the situation from a push to shove, India imposed a state of undeclared blockade with a clear intention of bringing Nepal on its knees.
The Nepalese people maintained dignified silence as a psychological response of a weak victim to a powerful perpetrator. Finally, the protest programme of the Madhes-based forces tapered off in the face of a total opposition from the people, a unified resistance against the unjust blockade synchronised by India to incite the Madhesi agitators and the support from our northern neighbour in gaining access to alternative source of supply. Finally, the Madhesi leaders were compelled to withdraw their movement followed by the lifting of blockade by India.
In response to the above initiative of the agitating forces, the three major parties in the parliament introduced first amendment to the newly promulgated constitution further liberalising the provision for acquiring naturalised citizenship and introducing a clause to give population the first priority in delimiting constituencies.
The first amendment of the constitution was a great initiative taken to widen the support base of the statute and increase its acceptability. But as anticipated, the amendment could not satisfy the disgruntled groups. In spite of this, the implementation process of the constitution was moving ahead with a tangible programme of action until the Oli government was changed in the wake of formation of a fresh coalition between the Nepali Congress and the CPN-Maoist Centre.
With the ascension of new coalition to power, the implementation of the constitution has lost momentum. As the deadline for the implementation blows hot on the neck- with less than 17 months to hold the three tiers of election- the coalition has diverted its attention towards placating the Madhes-based forces and India by introducing another amendment to the constitution.
The declining support base of the Madhes movement and India’s dedicated wish that Nepal broadens the ‘ownership’ over the constitution by bringing the disgruntled forces on board, shows that amendment of the constitution is not a Madhesi agenda. The heavy foot print of interference it bears shows that the question of amendment is not a natural obstacle to the implementation of the constitution. It is an artificial ruse created to subvert the constitutional evolution in Nepal, render it devoid of elected local bodies and to ensure dangerous political vacuum by dragging it to the stage where the present legislature parliament expires without electing a new parliament.
The issue of amendment of the constitution has been brought on focus not because it is the only way to ensure ownership of the Madhesi People over the constitution. It has been brought to focus because it is the surest way of fomenting civil unrest in Nepal by introducing demarcation of federal provinces against popular sentiment, perpetuate instability by keeping political alliances fluid and ruin prospects for strengthening democratic institutions in Nepal.
The present coalition government has paid a lip service towards holding three tiers of election within February 21, 2018 but its lackadaisical mobilisation of resources and its failure to intensify dialogue with political stakeholders reveals its lack of will for moving along the path of taking the nation’s destiny in our own hand.
At the present context, going for election requires courage for standing against foreign dictation. KP Oli’s government had made great strides towards leading nation’s politics on a course of independent decision by taking substantial steps towards addressing national issues independently. The Oli government had also scored considerable achievement by successfully signing agreement with China on trade and transit opening a world of opportunity that had remained closed for Nepal. The plan of putting Nepal on the plank of ‘One Belt One Road’ imitative of China had opened a possibility of developing Nepal as an economic corridor linking Central and South Asia.
Regrettably, the looming prospect of renewed conflict and instability has become a stark reality because of the existing coalition’s imprudent decision to tie itself with the agenda which is not based on popular feeling. The leaders of the present coalition do not appear to realise that no amount of amendment of the constitution will satisfy the disgruntled groups as the fulfillment of one set of demands will pave the way for the emergence of another because the source of disgruntlement has a wider ramifications.
Another point to pay attention to is that amendment process will not lead us to the implementation of the constitution. It will raise more questions than offering answers to existing problems. It will expose its feebleness and raise question on its credibility. A constitution is subject to amendment only to make it conform with the changing realities and aspirations of the people. The present discourse on amendment is not reflective of popular aspiration but a response to coercion.
Sense of priority
The need of the hour is to focus on election. The coalition government should set about enacting necessary electoral laws without wasting time and start the process of election. Conducting election will not be possible in all the districts and constituencies in the present context. But even if we succeed in holding election in fifty per cent of the constituencies, it will protect the legitimacy of the constitution, safeguard it from going defunct and afford time for amendments to address the concerns of the disgruntled groups. It is high time the major political stakeholders tune in their sense of priority and focus on holding election which is the only way to prevent the country from sliding further to the edge of a precipice.