Tuesday, 20 October, 2020

Labour Pangs Before Birth Of New Charter


Narayan Upadhyay

The inordinately long-wait of the Nepali people to have a constitution written by their representatives had come to an end on September 20, 2015. The then Constituent Assembly had endorsed the constitution with the resounding 'yeah' vote. Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, the then head of the state, had presented the new charter to the nation, rendering the nation a federal democratic republic state.
The new constitution has been eulogised for being the most democratic, inclusive and all encompassing charter that the nation has ever had. Apart from heralding federalism and republicanism by abolishing autocratic Monarchy, the new constitution is held in high esteem as the purveyor and protector of democratic values, social justice and equality as well as human rights in the country that would be free of corruption and various social anomalies.
Nonetheless, the path to prepare and promulgate the new constitution was littered with plenty of problems and obstacles. The first Constituent Assembly elected in 2008 failed to bring the constitution with the mandated period received several extensions before organising another election for electing the CA. The two elections for the CA, responsible for preparing the constitution had not happened anywhere in the world except for Nepal. This was mainly due to differences among the parties that were represented in the then CA.

Sea Of Obstacles
Among all major contentious issues, the idea of federating the nation as per the idea of federalism became a major headache for the political parties, who, along with the then government, had come under tremendous pressure from different national and international quarters to come to a common understanding for implementing the new statute. The devastating Gorkha Earthquake of 2015 and some seen and unseen pressures and threats from several quarters spurred the then major political parties to go for implementing the constitution.
During the course of constitution preparation, various ethnic groups raised hell by demanding that the constitution should include their demand of carving provinces on ethnic lines. As the days of constitution promulgation drew near, the Madhes-based parties along with some pro-Tharuhat groups boycotted the then CA that had the responsibility to prepare and promulgate the new charter. The discontented groups had exhibited displeasure over the delineation of seven provinces. They had posed obstacles in the implementation of the new charter.
However, the Madhes-based parties appeared satisfied after a Madhes province - province No. 2 – was carved. They however took up the issue of the Tharu people, demanding that they too needed their own provinces in the far west. During later days, when the day of constitution promulgation drew closer, they went on asking for an increased number of electoral constituencies in Madhes based on population. Some sections of the Madhesi parties had even gone further to demand that all the Madhes districts should be included in the one Madhes province and they also sought autonomy of this province. They even talked about separating the Madhes area from the rest of the nation. The secessionist remarks added fuel to the fire.
Soon after, the Madhes districts were gripped with long days of general strikes and clashes between the Madhesi Front cadres and security personnel.The Madhes districts had witnessed strikes, clashes and deaths, even after the nation had gotten its new constitution. The major parties had invited the protesting groups to talks, stating that they were ready to address the genuine demands of the protesting groups by making amendments in the articles and clauses of the constitution.
In the meantime, the friendly nations, barring India, had extended their good wishes for the betterment of Nepal after the promulgation of the new constitution. The European nations, the EU and many friendly nations, including China, expressed their happiness and vowed to extend assistance for the proper realisation of the newly promulgated statute.

India's Stand
However, the unconditional support and backing to our new constitution from our closest neighbour, India did not come. In fact, the southern neighbour had expressed its reservations over the new statute stating that it had not incorporated the desires and aspirations of all concerned- clearly supporting the demands of the Madhesi Front.
The then Indian foreign secretary, S. Jayshankar, (now India's foreign minister), who landed in the capital on the eve of the statute’s promulgation had the gumption of admonishing the Nepali leaders and the government over the new constitution's promulgation. He had asked the Nepali leaders and the then Prime Minister Sushil Koirala to abort the statute promulgation, citing that the constitution was not a "broad-based" charter. Clearly, he had been sent to raise the Madhesi issues regarding the constitution.
The then Indian envoy in Kathmandu too had approached our leaders asking them to include the Madhesi voices in the new constitution. Indeed, the pressure from India on our leaders and parties for withholding the new constitution's endorsement from the sovereign CA was huge. But our leaders did not buckle under Indian pressure.

Huge Success
Following the introduction of the new charter, India had expressed its concerns over the deteriorating situation in the towns and districts close to its border where Madhesis were holding raucous protests. India soon imposed an economic blockade that only crippled the economy and daily life of the Nepalese, who had earlier been rattled by a huge Gorkha Earthquake of 2015.
It is heartening to note that several of our leaders, especially Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, had then stood up to the Indian pressures of different kinds and were 'brave' enough to rebuke India for its blockade and other acts aimed at pressuring Nepal. Oli's stance against India before and after the constitution's promulgation as well as during and after the Indian blockade had earned him high reputation among the Nepali masses. Obviously, India's arm-twisting tactic against its tiny neighbour did not work as the nation launched its much-awaited constitution.
Many had thought following the statute's implementation that the path ahead for the nation would not be a smooth one because of the discontent among the Madhesi parties, various ethnic groups and India. However, the new statute proved a huge success. A year after the new charter's promulgation, the nation had held local elections, which had not taken place in the country for the last two decades, and subsequently organised elections for the federal parliament and seven provincial assemblies. Following the elections, the nation witnessed the formation of the three-tier governments.
The implementation of the new charter created the much-awaited federal system of governance in the nation. The constitution helped the carving of seven provinces in the country and 753 local authorities. The people of all ethnicities, sexes, castes, groups and regions have their representation at local, provincial and central level governments. It has also ensured their places in government bodies, policy-making and constitutional bodies through positive reservations. The nation and the people are now having fruitful times as compared to the earlier periods. With the federal democratic charter having enjoyed its pride of place in the country, the nation is expected to achieve prosperity making the Nepali people happier through this most democratic, all encompassing charter.

(Upadhyay is deputy executive editor at The Rising Nepal) 

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