Nepal last Sunday promulgated its seventh Constitution in 67 years to create a “secular”, “democratic” and “federal” republic, but the celebrations in Kathmandu went hand in hand with tension and violence elsewhere in the country.
Approximately half the country — the Terai, bordering India — simmered with dissatisfaction with key features of the basic law, laying the ground possibly for long-term troubles unless matters are resolved quickly and peacefully. The most noteworthy feature of this Constitution — held back five years due to fierce debates and agitations — is that it has been written by the elected representatives of the people.
This does mark a radical change from the period of the Hindu monarchy, which was overwhelmed in 2008 after 239 years, but the expectation that the new dawn would offer equal opportunities to all citizens, irrespective of ethnicity, language, religion, caste and gender, has come to be questioned by Madhesis, Tharus, the Janjatis and women.
Many in Nepal seem to believe that the Bahun-Chhetri elites of the Kathmandu valley will carry on ruling at the expense of the marginalised communities even after the creation of a democratic order. The current disaffection is principally over the numbers and the demarcation of provinces, the delimitation of constituencies in the Terai which appears to the agitators as discriminatory in comparison to the people in the Pahad (the mountains), and the status of women. Some 40 people have been killed in the agitation since July on these issues.
India believes that the hopes held out by today’s disaffected sections during the period of the interim Constitution, which lapsed on Sunday with the promulgation of the present Constitution by President Ram Baran Yadav, can materialise if peaceful negotiations bear fruit. Repression won’t do. Those who still favour the ejected Hindu monarchy voted against the present Constitution in the Constituent Assembly, but the representatives of the agitators merely declined to append their signatures. Thus, 61 members of the CA withheld endorsement. By not voting against, they are leaving open a window for dialogue and those in authority must seize the opportunity.
It would have been better if the differences were solved through negotiations before the proclamation of the present Constitution. Prime Minster Modi had sent foreign secretary S. Jaishankar as his special envoy to persuade Nepal leaders to do so. But that has not happened. The only hope now lies in satisfactory constitutional amendments effected expeditiously. If not, India’s bordering areas with Nepal can turn restive....