An Epoch-making Document
Promulgated by the Constituent Assembly (CA) on September 20, 2015, the Constitution of Nepal-2072 is undoubtedly the most forward-looking constitution of all the constitutions Nepal has had so far framed. As it has ensured inclusive, participatory democratic polity, the constitution has addressed aspirations of all the people. It is the constitution that institutionalised federal democratic republican set up by abolishing over 240-year old monarchy. In this sense, it is an epoch-making political document. The constitution has embodied all democratic norms and values including periodic elections, human rights and the rule of law.
Rule of people
As formulated by the body of the elected representatives of the people, the 601-member sovereign CA, the constitution has embraced the principle of rule of the people by the people themselves. In this respect, it is the constitution promulgated by the people themselves. Unlike in the past when the king used to endorse the constitution, this is the constitution endorsed and promulgated by the people through the CA. Therefore, it is the constitution made by the people. If we consider the immediate background of the decade-long armed struggle (1996-2006) and the people’s movement II of 2006 that demanded the election of the CA to end monarchy and bring in a new constitution, it is a constitution brought about by arduous struggle of the people. It is an outcome of the peace process that started in 2006. Similarly, if we consider political struggles for the formation of the CA to write a new constitution since 1950s, this constitution is the result of decades-long movements of the people. Likewise, if we consider the failure of the first CA to deliver the constitution in time and the way the second CA succeeded in promulgating it, the constitution is a document of political compromise among the main political parties.
In addition to institutionalising federal republican political system, the constitution has also enshrined inclusive democracy, which is the most prominent feature. How this inclusive democracy will function can be seen if we consider the number of women, dalit and other oppressed gender, caste, ethnic people elected in the local governments by the recently held local polls. If we read the guiding principles of the state, it is clear that the political objectives of the state is to protect freedom, equality, property and all citizens through the rule of law, embrace norms and values of fundamental rights and human rights, gender equality, proportional inclusion, participation and social justice. Moreover, necessary laws have already been enacted and implemented to ensure proportional participation of the people of all social strata in the state organs and public employment sectors. Even with regard to citizenship, language and culture, the constitution treats all equally, makes no discrimination.
Under fundamental rights, the constitution has ensured all forms of freedoms such as freedom of opinion and expression, freedom to assemble peacefully and without arms, freedom to form political party, union and associations, freedom to move and reside in any part of the country, to engage in any occupation, employment, establish and operate industry, business and trade. It has also guaranteed all forms of rights including the right to equality, right to communication, right to justice, right of victim of crime, right against torture, right against preventive detention, right against untouchability and discrimination, right to property, right to religious freedom, right to information, right to privacy, right to education, right to language and culture, right to employment, right to regarding labour, right to health care, right to food, right of women, right of children, right of dalits, right of senior citizens, right to social justice, right to social security, right of consumers, right against exile and right to constitutional remedy. One may question the implementation aspect of such oodles of rights because of the provision barring to raise question in court in this regard. But, then, much depends on the political actors or the political parties and the government as to how to ensure that all such rights and freedoms are enjoyed by people.
Because of the agitation by a section of the society, particularly the Madhes-based parties, some even today find the constitution to be incomplete. Although the constitution may not be perfectly complete as it is a document of political compromise, it does not make any discrimination against the Madhesis in any way. The Madhesis enjoy as equal rights as any other Nepali citizen is entitled to. Their grievances are related more to political power than to rights as such. Their demand to ensure rights of the naturalised citizens to be appointed to any key state posts is as flawed as to ensure a single province comprised of entire southern plains or separate the plains from the hills. But, even then, some political parties bought their ideas and tried to address their demands.
With regard to the constitution that needs to be mentioned here is that the relations between Nepal and India soured to the bottom because of this. First, India wanted to defer its promulgation. Second, the southern neighbour did not welcome it immediately when its demand was rejected, third, the regional power imposed an unofficial blockade for over six months. It is hoped that Indian rulers have realised their flawed perception about the constitution.
The constitution has some lofty visions such as forming a socialism-oriented economy and carrying out scientific land reform. Ensuring right to food, employment, health care, education and equal distribution of fruits of development are no less challenging objectives. Before the constitution was promulgated, the leaders used to repeat that economic revolution would begin with the constitution in place as the constitution would institutionalise achievements of the political revolution. Now, within a couple of months, provincial and federal elections are being held, and with this, it is expected a kind of political stability will be achieved. And then, the leaders will have to show how the economic revolution is to be achieved. But, then, with regard to meaningful implementation of the constitution for the benefit of the people much depends on how political parties interact, cooperate with each other in various issues enshrined in the constitution, a historic achievement of the decades-long political struggle.