Every year, nation celebrates Constitution Day on September 20 (Ashoj 3). This is a historic day, as the nation got a new constitution in 2015. This year, it has become different because Constituent Assembly Chairman Subas Chandra Nembang, who had led the Assembly to promulgate the Constitution of Nepal, passed away at the age of 71 on September 12, 2023, about a week ahead of Constitution Day. Death is inevitable for human beings, but he has left an immense positive impact on Nepali politics. Besides his other personal behaviours like simple and sober presentation, calm and positive attitude, and cooperative and coordinating nature, Nembang left an outstanding footprint in Nepali politics, law, justice and parliamentary affairs. As a lawyer, he was respected by all in the legal field; as a parliamentarian, he was a problem solver; and as a politician, he was a trend settler.
Nepal's constitutional and political history shall remain incomplete if we forget to acknowledge his contribution, specifically in the process of drafting and promulgating the new constitution in 2015. Various feelings and emotions bubbled up while his body was cremated with state honours on September 14, 2023. Significant masses from all walks of life were present at the Pashupati Aryaghat spontaneously, as if he had surpassed all forms of political and personal biases, though he was representing CPN-UML in the Parliament and other forums throughout his career. In this respect, Nembang had true characteristics of statesmanship like Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in India. Thus, it would be reasonable to recount his contribution while celebrating Constitution Day.
Outstanding leader of CA
Nembang led the Constituent Assembly, being elected from a constituency in Ilam district. From the time of drafting the CA Rules to the promulgation of the new constitution, he conducted the sessions flawlessly. His good works overshadowed some of the criticisms raised from some corners, particularly from those forces that did not want a constitution with progressive apparatus through the people's elected body. He tactfully and wittily led the CA, managing the 601-member mammoth assembly. Constituting various thematic committees and their reports during the tenure of the first CA from 2008 to 2012 was the major achievement of the CA led by Nembang, which had created a solid ground for the drafting of the constitution by the people-elected assembly.
In fact, it was the rarest case that the CA election was held for the second time in the world, and it happened on November 19, 2013, following its dissolution in 2012. Learning lessons from the bitter experience of the first CA's dissolution without promulgating the new constitution, Nembang skillfully played the lead role in issuing a calendar, a working timetable, and rules suitable to run the CA smoothly. There were only five thematic committees, unlike about a dozen thematic committees during the first tenure of the CA.
Nembang not only followed the fast track to issue the constitution but also became able to control different disturbing forces inside and outside the CA through his work. As a result, the second CA was able to promulgate the constitution in 23 months, and later the CA was converted into Parliament. In this respect, Nembang is a mastermind or architect of the CA procedure and new constitution, so the challenging task of promulgating the national charter by the CA became possible. The people's dream of drafting the constitution by the CA materialised under the able leadership of Nembang. The Constitution of Nepal was duly promulgated by then President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, which was also authenticated by Nembang and endorsed by an overwhelming majority of the CA members. Thus, Nembang's witty, transparent, and accommodating role led the CA towards success.
Nembang had a chance to lead the reinstated House of Representatives after the 2006 movement and converted the Legislature Parliament from the CA after 2015. Before that, Nembang, who had accumulated the experience to be a competent parliamentarian, either representing in the Second Chamber or in the Lower House or leading the Public Accounts Committee, rightly got the chance to utilise his expertise while leading the House body. Nembang was a successful navigator to safeguard the achievements of the People's Movement of 2006, in which Maoist rebels and an alliance of seven political parties jointly participated against the Royal takeover. Subas Nembang, by handling the helm of key positions, not only helped materialise people's aspirations for the republican set-up but also helped transition the nation towards a federal structure from a unitary system along with the introduction of secularism. His leadership was important to land the various achievements safely for the public good, which were needed for a country to enjoy full-fledged democracy in the modern era. These few pieces of evidence prove that Nembang was procedurally a champion while handling the business of the Parliament.
Towering figure in legal field
Nembang, a law practitioner with a teaching background, was respected by persons related to law and justice. His pleading skills before the bench, interpretation skills of the law, and open dealing with the press were remarkable. He used to attend every segment organised by the legal fraternity, including that of the Nepal Bar Association. As a senior advocate, he was well appreciated because of his sober and civilised presentation inside and outside the court. His style of pleading was well appreciated by the judges, too. He also played a coordinating role in releasing detainees of political conscience, either during the Panchyat regime or during the Royal takeover. His pleading for the dissolution of the Royal Commission for Corruption Control, which was constituted unlawfully by then King Gyanendra, was impressive, and the Commission was scrapped following the Supreme Court order. He was also famous for using peaceful and soft language with a strong appeal.
Ideologically a communist background leader, Nembang never deviated from the basic norms and values of democracy, rule of law, and press freedom. As a result, he regularly won direct elections from Ilam and got the chance to lead the House as Speaker time and again. Vice-chairman of the CPN-UML and Deputy Parliamentary Party leader of the party, Nembang, is always praised for his role as an advocate for coordination, cooperation, and reconciliation for democracy, particularly during the period of the constitution-drafting process. He relentlessly urged the political forces, having diverse backgrounds and thoughts, to come to the table of dialogue and find out the agenda of compromise and the unity of the nation and its people. He was vehemently effortful to motivate the political parties and their leaders to keep the nation and its people at the centre before taking any decision. His phrase 'Singo Muluk YekDhikka' (the whole nation as a single unit) was famous during the tenure of the CA. His constant effort for the unity of the nation has become an unchallenged agenda of Nepali politics. In many respects, he is a real luminary or an ideal person for Nepali politics, with his own style.
A friend of journalists
Nembang's press-friendly behaviour is felt inside and outside the Parliament. His chamber, during his tenure as CA Chair and Speaker, was open to journalists. Journalists used to visit his chamber without hesitation and collect information. Nembang used to call journalists ex-officio members of Parliament. He always used to give time to journalists. However, he never manipulated the media in favour of him; rather, he played a role in saving the media from being victims of misinformation or disinformation. Nembang continued this process even through his chamber as deputy parliamentary party leader of the CPN-UML inside Singha Durbar, Kathmandu.
In this way, there are several contributions to remember about Nembang as a statesman. As the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly, his unprecedented role in drafting the Constitution of Nepal will be remembered for years to come.
(Upadhyaya is Associate Editor at TRN)