Third Constitution Day : Safeguarding The Statute
Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
There are certain days in a nation’s life which carry both symbolic and historical meaning. The Constitution Day is such an occasion which symbolises people’s quest for a life enriched by the value of justice, equality and dignity. In democracy, a constitution is the core document that defines the system of governance, process of election, separation of power, system of checks and balances and the protection of people’s rights. Without a constitution, the dream of people for the right to life, dignity, equality and prosperity remains unfulfilled.
Almost all the democratic countries of the world have a history of struggle for achieving constitutional rights and freedom through a prolonged struggle. Nepal also had to achieve a democratic constitution after an unremitting struggle for over half a century.
Nepal is one of the few countries of the world which has a written history of more than three thousand years. During the course of its evolution, we find instances in which our ancestors have tried to regulate social life of the people through legal systems. Rulers like Jayasthiti Malla, Ram Shah, Prithvi Narayan Shah and Jung Bahadur Rana introduced an elaborate system of legal codes. But these legal mechanisms were not fully democratic as they reflected the time and context in which they were written. So they were rarely representative of the evolution of the social consciousness of the Nepali society. Many of them were at best the codification of the peremptory orders of the rulers, designed to quell dissent, channel economic gratification of the rulers and their families, and to achieve submission from the masses.
These laws, based mostly on religious precepts, did not meet the standard of democratic principle of constitutionalism, but they still represented a speck of order in a society where tyranny and violence were used as weapons to win silence and obedience from the ruled. In Nepal’s case, these legal codes, howsoever obsolete, formed the basis of constitutional development.
The first constitution of Nepal promulgated in 1848 by Padma Shumsher was a first ever attempt to lead the country onto the path of constitutionalism. But it was a constitution granted by a ruler of a dynasty which was not committed to the values of liberal democracy and the new wave of change challenging the prevailing global system where popular voices and aspirations had hardly any space for representation. Still, this constitution ushered some of the very essential democratic values in the country which provided a basis for the Nepali people to resist the attempts of future rulers to lead the country to the path of retrogression. Padma Shamsher was a liberal ruler within a built-in authoritarian state structure. As was expected, he could not survive the power struggle for long to oversee the implementation of his vision. But he was able to bring forth a historical document, which created a milestone in the evolution of constitutionalism in Nepal.
Nepali people’s struggle for democratic change is closely linked to their dream of living under constitutional supremacy. Their endeavour of the people for democracy and freedom has found its justification from the messages and lessons of great revolutionary events of the world history which have created compelling conditions to replace unlimited personal authority of rulers with the mandate of popular choice.
The first great people’s revolt which succeeded to overthrow 104-year-long Rana oligarchy had the objective of establishing constitutional system of governance. Late King Tribhuvan had publicly committed to let the Nepali people make a democratic constitution through a Constituent Assembly. However, the conspiracy of the regressive forces and lack of will of Nepali Congress, which was then in the mainstream of political reform, let the opportunity for democratic transformation of the country slip away compelling the Nepali people to suffer under absolute monarchy for more than three decades.
Nepali people’ s struggle for a system based on constitutional supremacy, reached qualitatively different level as a result of victory in the People’s Movement of 1990. It was a great historical watershed which brought an end to the autocratic monarchical system based on family succession. For the first time in history a parliamentary democracy with constitutional monarchy was established in the country. The people got a democratic constitution where the principle of people’s sovereignty was enshrined. However, there were some constitutional loopholes which were misused by the subsequent Shah kings when the country was in the midst of decade long insurgency.
There was a possibility of peaceful transition to full-fledged democratic system if the monarchy had accepted the popular mandate for a peaceful transformation of the Nepali society. However, the king’s ambition interrupted the process of peaceful political transition and dragged the country to the vortex of violent movement necessitating another trial of strength between the forces of constitutionalism and authoritarianism.
The people’s movement of 2006 was a political movement which galvanised all the democratic forces fighting for change and created a force strong enough to overthrow monarchy which was trying to entrench itself by reducing democratic values to naught. Finally, the cherished dream of the Nepali people to own a constitution was fulfilled through two consecutive constituent assemblies. When it was promulgated on September 20, 2015 with a two-thirds majority of the Constituent Assembly, both internal and external forces combined to subvert it. They questioned the competence of the sovereign parliament’s authority to promulgate accusing it of legitimising the exclusion of the Terai people. Creating a false premise for opposing the constitution, they did everything possible to turn it into a dead letter by undermining its implementation.
But the power of the people proved invincible. The first ever election held under the new constitution in December 2017 ensured the overwhelming victory of the left forces enabling them to form a government commanding two-thirds majority. This clinched the debate on the validity of the constitution and created condition for its successful implementation.
Now, the ship of the Nepali nation has reached the home stretch by successfully negotiating a rough stretch marked by stormy waves and hidden shoals. The credit for this goes to the able captainship of our prime minister KP Oli who has been leading the country to stability, rule of law and prosperous future. On this day, all the Nepali people should stand united and pledge not to allow anyone to tarnish the sanctity and sacredness of the constitution through the acts of betrayal and treachery.
Nepal is holding the fourth Summit of BIMSTEC next week. The regional body is expected to discuss various issues pertaining to connectivity, investment,...