First Amendment To New Constitution And Target : Nandalal Tiwari
The new constitution, Constitution of Nepal-2072, was amended for the first time within 126 days of its promulgation on January 23, 2016. The amendment was made particularly to address some of the demands of the agitating United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF). Although the amendment does incorporate issues, such as ensuring proportional inclusion of the backward communities, including the Madhesis, in the state bodies and delineating electoral constituencies on the basis of population as raised by the UDMF, the amendment has failed to appease the agitating parties.
Initial reaction of the UMDF leaders to the amendment has been that it is partially positive but does not address their demands in totality. They have also brushed it aside as saying that the three major parties carried out the amendment unilaterally despite the UDMF’s objection. They have said they will continue with the nearly five-month-long protest programme that includes an indefinite general strike in the southern plains and sit-in at the border points. In a way, the amendment has missed its target for the time being.
No doubt, the internal dynamics of the three major parties played a role in the way the amendment was made without securing an agreement from the agitating UDMF. The original amendment bill was registered within two weeks of the promulgation of the new constitution by the erstwhile NC-led government. The UDMF had then also rejected the way the amendment bill was introduced and said that it would not address their demands.
However, rounds of talks were held ever since among the UDMF, the ruling parties and the main opposition party with a view to refining the language of the amendment bill through an amendment proposal on the bill and thus securing the consent of the UDMF or address its demands.
Although the talks between the UDMF and the major parties, including the main opposition Nepali Congress, held at different levels, including between the taskforces of the two, were said to be inching closer to striking an agreement, the talks failed abruptly recently as the UDMF stuck to its demand that there should be only two provinces in the entire Terai, which the ruling and opposition parties rejected outright. Thus it is clear that the main bone of contention between the UDMF and the major parties is about the number of provinces in the southern plains called the Terai.
By the time the talks failed, it became clear that the amendment would not satisfy the UDMF. However, the NC exerted pressure on the CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist, the two major ruling parties, to endorse the amendment. The UML was even for endorsing the original bill as even the amended bill was not going to satisfy the UDMF. However, the amended bill was passed as the NC stuck to it, and the three parties struck an agreement in this regard.
As the NC is holding its national congress within a few months, and it has found it very difficult to carry out the party's district level congresses in the Terai district, the amendment was important to pacify its district leaders and cadres. If the NC was not in such a difficult position, it is difficult to say if the amendment would have been carried out in such hurry.
For sure, the UDMF’s stand to stick to the number of provinces in the Terai sounds mischievous. It is not the number of provinces that ensures the rights of the Madhesi people but the constitutional provisions to include the backward, ethnic and other communities in the state bodies. And the amendment of Article 42 (1) of the new constitution, which is about the rights related to social justice, has sought to address their demands.
As per the amendment, backward communities, which also includes the Madhesis, will have the right to be included in the state bodies. It means the state will make laws to ensure proportional inclusion of 15 clusters as named in the constitution in the state bodies. An Act is already in practice to keep reservations for the different communities in government employment.
The second most important demand raised by the UDMF has been about delineating the electoral constituencies on the basis of population. To address this demand, Article 286 (5) has been amended, under which population will be the main basis while geography the second basis while delineating the electoral constituencies for the House of Representatives.
It is understandable that the amendment has not been made as demanded by the UDMF that the electoral constituencies should be made only on the basis of population. Although their demand looks logical on the surface, it might make the sparsely populated mountainous region, the source of Nepal’s rivers, without representatives. How could a person from the hilly region or Madhes represent the mountainous region? If an amendment was made as per their demands, the people of the mountainous region will either have no representative or be represented by someone from the hills or Terai. And how could such a person carry their voice and concerns?
The UDMF has also been claiming that the Terai should have over 50 per cent of seats in the parliament as more than 50 per cent of the total population lived there. And they were demanding that there should be around 85 electoral constituencies, out of 165 in total, in the Terai. Now, as per the new provision there will be around 80 seats for the southern plains.
Now that the amendment has been made and some important demands of the UDMF have been addressed, it is up to the UDMF to decide how to move ahead. Their agitation and the sit-in at the border have multiplied the hardships of the people and the country devastated by the once-in-a-century earthquake. They have held the nation hostage through their protest programmes. They are also responsible for the commodities crisis and soaring prices.
Change form of protest
Although the government and the ruling as well as opposition parties are no less responsible for the present plight of the people, the UDMF's strike has given them an excuse. The UDMF should change the form of protest by withdrawing their strikes and sit-in at the border so that they can win the hearts of a larger section of the society if they are really fighting for the rights of all the people, particularly the backward and marginalised communities.