The promulgation of new Constitution in Nepal can be described as one step forward, but the country is still mangled in multiple protests. Although the ruling establishment claims that the Constitution addresses the concerns of all communities, the real test for the Koli government this year will be to arrest the spiraling resentment, writes S. Binodkumar Singh for South Asia Monitor.
By S. Binodkumar Singh
Nepal, which had seen 4,896 fatalities, including 3,992 Maoists, 666 Security Force (SF) personnel and 238 civilians, in a single year at its peak of insurgency in 2002, lived through a relative environment of peace that had been established in 2013, through 2015, with not a single insurgency-related fatality on record. Significantly, it was in 2013, for the first time that the Himalayan Nation did not record a single insurgency-related fatality during the course of a year and remained completely free of insurgency-related violence. Though the insurgency has subsided, Nepal disturbingly continues to witness significant ‘political violence’.
In a historical step forward, Nepal’s second Constituent Assembly (CA) constituted on January 21, 2014, endorsed “Nepal’s Constitution” with overwhelming two-thirds majority on September 16, 2015. A new Constitution with 308 articles, 35 parts and nine schedules came into effect after President Ram Baran Yadav announced its commencement on September 20, 2015, during the last meeting of the CA. The first CA, constituted on May 28, 2008, with mandate to deliver the Constitution by May 28, 2010, was dissolved on May 27, 2012, after four extensions.
While the adoption of the new Constitution was welcomed by most national and international groups and leaders, a large segment of the population, particularly the Madhesis and Tharus, residing in the Tarai region contested the new Constitution. In fact, the cycle of political violence began on July 1, 2015, when agitating cadres of United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) comprises of Upendra Yadav-led Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal (FSF-N), Mahantha Thakur-led Tarai Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP), Rajendra Mahato-led Sadbhawana Party (SP) and Mahendra Raya Yadav-led Tarai Madhes Sadbhawana Party (TMSP), burnt copies of the preliminary draft of the Constitution in Kathmandu, the Capital city, as it failed to incorporate their demands. Since then, at least 56 people including 37 civilians and 19 Security Force (SF) personnel have been killed and another 677 persons, including 521 civilians and 156 SF personnel, have been injured in violent protests across the Tarai region (data till December 29, 2015).
To end the political logjam, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli for the first time met the Madhesi leaders on November 30, 2015. During the meeting, the Madhesi leaders submitted their 11-point demand including re-demarcation of the provinces, fixing of electoral constituencies on the basis of population and proportional representation. Later, the Government at an emergency cabinet meeting held at Singha Durbar, Kathmandu on December 20 decided to move ahead with the process of the Constitution Amendment Bill to ensure proportional inclusion and election constituencies on the basis of population, besides ensuring at least one constituency for each District.
Remarkably, the First Constitution Amendment Bill registered by previous Nepali Congress (NC)-led Government on October 7, 2015, was tabled at the Parliament on December 15 despite objection from the agitating UDMF. And the Parliament on December 28 began discussion on the Bill. Discreetly, the Bill took nearly three months to begin discussion on it due to disagreement between the ruling Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and agitating UDMF on it. On the second day of deliberation on the Bill at the Parliament, the lawmakers on December 29 urged both the agitating parties and top leaders from the ruling and opposition parties for their support to endorse the Constitution amendment bill through consensus.
Meanwhile, after 15 rounds of talks with the major parties, agitating UDMF in a press release singed by FSF-N Chairman Upendra Yadav, TMDP Chairman Mahantha Thakur, SP Co-chairman Laxman Lal Karna and senior leader of TMSP-Nepal Ram Naresh Ray on December 18, 2015, said that it would intensify its protest programmes as there was no relevance of talks in the face of the tabling of Constitution amendment bill.
Blaming the CPN-UML for the present political logjam, NC leader Bimalendra Nidhi speaking at a press meet at Hetauda city in Makwanpur District on December 1 said “Nepali people have got the Constitution after a long time. Everybody wants ownership of the Constitution, but it needs to be amended for that. Amendments are the need of the hour. But CPN-UML has been derailing it.” Similarly, Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal presenting his political paper at the party’s central committee meeting in Kathmandu on December 1 proposed creating an eighth province by adding one more to the seven-province model adopted in the new Constitution. Further, not to delay on the Constitution Amendment on the basis of proportionate inclusion ensured by the interim Constitution, Nepal Bar Association (NBA), after the meeting of the 43rd NBA Executive Council held in Lalitpur District urged the Parliament and political parties on December 11 demanded to hold dialogues with Madhes-based agitating parties and settle the issues related to citizenship as well.
Warning that the current Tarai turmoil will create a ‘parallel’ economy in the country, Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) President Pashupati Murarka during a press meet on December 18, 2015, said “Tarai protest led by some political parties for the last few months has pushed the economic, social and education, among other sectors, to a serious mode. Nearly 2,000 industries are closed while materials worth billions of rupees have been stranded on the other side of the border. The demurrage charge on these materials is beyond our affordability.” Also speaking at the press meet, FNCCI Vice President Shekhar Golchha said “So far, some industries have managed to pay salary and wages, while others have paid half. Now, they are feeling difficulty to withstand such pressure.” FNCCI estimates that the Tarai turmoil and the subsequent unofficial economic blockades have resulted to economic loss in tune of NR 200 billion.
Indeed, the promulgation of new Constitution on September 20, 2015, by the CA can be described as one step forward. But, even after 101 days of the promulgation of new Constitution, the country seems stuck. Although the ruling establishment claims that the Constitution addresses the concerns of all communities, the people living in the southern plains see it as discriminatory. This is the time to safeguard gains of inclusion and equal representation that Madhesis have achieved through past struggles. If the current trend of radicalization continues, there is a likelihood of all progresses being reversed. Leaders across the political spectrum need to tone down their rhetoric and start taking confidence-building measures.
(S. Binodkumar Singh is a Research Associate at the Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)