Saving The Constitution
Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
The decision reportedly made by three major political parties Tuesday to put the controversial constitution amendment bill on hold and go ahead to local elections is a bold step to bring the derailed political process back on track. This decision, if implemented, will stop the ruling and opposition parties from hurtling down the road of a head-on collision. But the challenges ahead are so enormous that this gesture of collaboration should be welcomed only with caution.
The commitment of the ruling coalition towards holding local election has been reflected by its initiative to register the local election bill in the parliament. But there are already lingering doubts about the proposed bill achieving a breakthrough as it mentions about holding election under the new structure, which again requires fixing federal boundaries, over which the whole political process has stuck. This shows that instead of embracing workable alternative wholeheartedly, the government still appears to be tempted to hold a card of deceit up its sleeve.
The decision of the ruling coalition to register constitution amendment bill on December 25 as an inevitable step towards accomplishing remaining tasks of constitutional amendment, had pushed the country to the present day impasse. The amendment proposal, which suggested separating four hill districts of Province No 5, namely, Arghakhanchi, Palpa, Gulmi and Pyuthan and part of Rukum, to make them part of Province 4, set off protests from opposition parties and the people of mid-western region creating a situation of turmoil.
The protests of the local people of Province 5 have been going on for more than two weeks demanding the withdrawal of the amendment bill. Hundreds of thousands of people have hit the street to oppose the separation of hill districts from the Terai districts. The scale of opposition which the registration of the amendment bill has triggered is a clear indication that the ruling coalition had created additional problems in the name of resolving discontent.
The political storm which the amendment bill triggered is still raging. The mid-western region has remained unquiet and is agitating against the decision of the coalition to register the amendment bill which, instead of strengthening the bond among the diverse communities, has sought to sow the seeds of conflict between the people of hill and the Terai.
The registration of the constitutional amendment bill proved a costly indulgence which created a deeper rift between the ruling and opposition parties and pushed the possibility of collaboration among major political actors farther away just when it was needed to make implementation of the constitution a success.
The ongoing political transition has met a stalemate because of the failure of the ruling coalition to convince the people who are likely to be affected by the amendment if it is ever materialised. It also miserably failed to bring the main opposition party on board regarding the implementation of the constitution.
Constitution amendment is a process, which every democratic government adopts as a means of updating the obsolete constitutional provisions and meeting the growing aspiration of the common people by adopting new constitutional principles. But there should be valid reasons and rationale to justify the need to amend the constitution. The serious protest of the people which has rocked the mid-western region shows that they are not convinced of the rationale for the proposed amendment of the constitution. The people of these areas view Madhes and the hill as a symbiotic whole and do not even imagine that the hill and Madhes can create sustainable life if they are separated from one another. This psychology and the emotional attachment of the people must be respected for any federal restructuring to be successful.
The ruling coalition had made a very serious mistake by proposing amendment to the constitution as a means to appease external powers and to weaken the main opposition by outdoing it in carrying out revolutionary reforms. But contrary to its expectation, the amendment proposal could not catch the imagination of the people. Instead, it created such a backlash that both the coalition partners have lost their political base and have stigmatised themselves by letting their commitment to national integration appear weak and inconsistent.
In fact, the demand for the amendment of the constitution so soon after its promulgation was not a proposition emanating from the grassroots. The ruling coalition should not have been so eager to amend the constitution only to please external powers bent upon making this country a failed state and Madhes-based pseudo revolutionaries, who see their future in a racially and parochially segregated restructuring of the country.
It is strange, how the ruling coalition fails to see their utterly vengeful politics which has been sowing seeds of malice and hatred towards diversity and is seeking to turn communities into tribal enclaves eager to protect themselves in cocoons of isolation always fearing to face the globalising values of humanity.
The rise of spontaneous mass in the mid-western region against the registration of the constitutional amendment bill and the absence of significant movement developing in the Terai in support of the type of federal structure proposed by the Madhes-centric forces shows that the federal demarcation is not the immediate concern of the people. Federal demarcation of the type proposed by the Madhes-centric forces will inevitably dominate political movement of the future, if it reflects the aspiration of the people. If not, it will be relegated to the dust heap of history.
The ineptness of giving priority to restructuring of the provincial boundaries can also be proved by the fact that there is no public outcry for this. Only a few politicians already discredited among the people for holding jaundiced view towards glorious history of Nepal’s unification and the legacy of cultural and linguistic diversity are demanding for it. Their discordant voices have been already drowned in the echo and re-echo of harmonious voices of nationalism that are reverberating in the air.
Belatedly though, the coalition of the CPN (Maoist Center) and the Nepali Congress has given positive indication that they are not ready to lead the county off a cliff by following a course which is full of treacherous pitfalls, unforeseen obstacles and booby traps laid by the enemies of the Nepalese nation. In the present situation, holding election is the only way to legitimise the hard-won constitution and save the country from plunging into a hiatus of uncertainty opening space for interference from the external forces.
The Madhes-based political forces have already threatened of chaos, violence and unrest if the government decides to go to election without meeting their unfair and irrational demands. The coalition government and the main opposition should not tremble at their hollow threats and forge collaboration to face any kind of challenges to save the country’s first ever constitution drafted by elected Constituent Assembly.
Election is must
The Nepalese nation is on the verge of taking a leap into a new era full of grand possibilities. The present generation leadership has a unique opportunity to lead the nation in such historical moment of transition. If they want to survive the waves of social change, they need to demonstrate exceptional leadership ability to navigate the country out of the transition. They will fulfill this responsibility if they devote their entire wisdom and energy to hold election at all cost.