Thursday, 9 December, 2021

Constitution Day Has Immense Value


Shyam Prasad Mainali

Today, all Nepalese people all over the world are prepared to celebrate Constitution Day as our national day with different programmes. This day commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of Nepal in 2015. The government has pulled out all the stops to make the day a grand affair. Celebrating the historic document, the government has roped in security forces for a procession in Tundikhel.
Moreover, plans are afoot to fly a massive banner over the parade ground. The President will be gracing the ceremony as the chief guest of the grand gathering. A cultural procession featuring attire from different communities of the country will also be the attraction of this august ceremony.

The administration has also made it mandatory for all civil servants to be assembled to celebrate the anniversary of this historic document. This day is being observed throughout the country and in all diplomatic missions of Nepal by organising various programmes. One can expect events to include political meetings with patriotic speeches, display of the Nepali flag by high political dignitaries on the day.

Important Day
Firstly, the constitution, which is the seventh in Nepal, is the first statute drafted by the elected people’s representatives. Nepal shifted to a federal democratic system from a unitary system with the promulgation of the existing constitution. This is the dream-achieved day that the Nepalese people have exercised their sovereignty and power by preparing a statute by themselves. In practice, people have been the source of all power in Nepal. A long-awaited constitution for the last seventy years has been achieved. Republicanism, federalism, secularism, proportional inclusion, socialism and social justice remain its salient features.
All six previous constitutions except for the present one were prepared entirely based on mutual understanding among the political elites and power circle. Therefore, this document is a property of the Nepalese people at large.

Secondly, it is based on constitutionalism as any democratic constitution must have guaranteed constitutionalism. It can be tested on the touchstone of democracy. The democratic constitution directly exercises the sovereign power of the state. In Nepal, sovereign power is vested in the people. Some fundamental features of constitutionalism are- limited government, separation of powers, constitution as an end and means, value-free and value-laden document with empirical and normative dimensions. It also includes media and civil society as a Fourth Estate of the government, a state based on democratic socialism, the supremacy of the constitution, respect to the human rights by guaranteeing fundamental rights to the people.

All these attributes of constitutionalism have been adopted by the constitution so that this document is regarded highly as a progressive one and is accepted as a mirror of democracy.

Thirdly, it is the product of the successful people's movement of 2006, it has also paved the path of further economic development, political stability, sustainable peace, and overall development of the state. Fourthly, the constitution is signed by more than 90% of the members of the constituent assembly. This is one of the highest proportions in the world to support the constitution.

The majority of the political parties, public, civil societies and various other groups in the nation have eagerly agreed and supported the constitution and its provision made for the economic, social, political, cultural, and religious transformation in the country. So, the People of Nepal are encouraged and are waiting to celebrate superbly this august and auspicious day as a great occasion.

Emerging Issues
A small segment of Madhesh regional parties has not yet accepted the Constitution of Nepal. They have some reservations regarding the charter, as they have demanded autonomy to the Madhesh region along with the right of self-determination, citizenship provisions to facilitate them, Madhesi identity, equal access to the state affairs etc. They are against the demarcation as the entire Madhes has been split into different provinces.
Despite their resentment, leaders of these parties have participated in the government formed in different periods. However, they have asked for an amendment in the constitution to suit their demands. Since the constitution's promulgation in 2015, many have protested against it. Protests had erupted in Terai over provisions that seemed designed to discriminate against the marginalised, including Tharus and Madhesis. These are some reasons that these segments of society are not celebrating.

Several important provisions of the constitution have not yet been implemented. For example, Article 30 (2) of the Constitution ensures every citizen the right to have free, and compulsory, education up to the basic level and free education up to the secondary level from the State. Likewise, the provision of health services to all citizens has also been stated in the document, which the Nepali people have failed to enjoy. These rights can be cited as representative examples.

Criticism has been made over devolution of power and decentralisation, and on issues addressing legitimate demands for a constitutional amendment. Though the implementing aspect of the constitution has been lauded, there has been a clear lack of will among those in power. Wearing nationalistic T-shirts, singing the national anthem and celebrating Constitution Day will not be sufficient to satisfy the people.
However, creating an equal and non-discriminatory society as stated in the democratic constitution and implementing constitutional provisions in their true spirit will be the milestone to solve all sorts of conflicts among the people and feel affection towards it and the country. The document continues to alienate many, while even progressive provisions remain unimplemented. One should not forget the fact that a constitution is just a bundle of papers unless the provisions inked in it are implemented in letters and spirit.

Political Consensus
The present constitution is one of the best democratic constitutions in the world. A democratic constitution must provide good governance in a spirit of constitutionalism. Our constitution is progressive and its appropriate implementation is inevitable.

All unresolved issues should be addressed through political consensus. The time has come to lead the country towards economic prosperity and overall development. We the Nepalis need to develop a democratic culture. Politicians must learn from the example of other democratic countries. This is the real spirit of the several democratic movements conducted by our people in the political history of Nepal.
Some recommendations could be drawn for immediate action for a long-lasting solution of Madhesi issues, effective functioning of the elected bodies in all tiers of government and implementation of federalism and republic, achieving the target of proportional representation and to move on to elimination inter-regional disparity as it has been one of the fundamental features of federalism as well as to move the country towards better social harmony as well.

Now, as we are celebrating Constitution Day, we should work to safeguard the hard-achieved charter by honouring all its provisions in letters and spirit through our honest acts, not only through rhetoric. This is indeed a proper time for those in power to take a vow in the name of the country and the people of Nepal. If they do this, then this will be a celebration of the day in a true sense.

(Mainali is a former secretary, author of books, social worker and freelance writer)