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Next Door Nepal: A minority document

A year after, the new constitution is owned only by the political elite.

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire |
September 27, 2016 12:04:34 am
nepal, pushpa kamal dahal, prachanda, nepal consititution, nepal new constitution, nepal maoist party, nepal blockade, nepal army, nepal news, india news, indian express column The actors in Nepal politics have chosen to make the constitution “acceptable to all the sides” by amending the document — the second time in a year.

Actors at the helm of Nepal’s political, peace and constitution-making process during the past one decade claim to believe in democracy. Though all of them are not Maoists or Communists, together and unanimously, they have formed a loose but powerful and centralised syndicate that overrules due process, good practices and conventions practiced elsewhere, and keeps many people away from the political process fearing it may lead to the collapse of “progressive politics”. That is the only reason Nepal’s constitution, which completed a year last week, has failed to acquire larger ownership.

The actors in Nepal politics have chosen to make the constitution “acceptable to all the sides” by amending the document — the second time in a year. They have changed the demarcation of proposed provinces, given more rights to naturalised citizens, and focused on the Madhesi demands, which is bound to trigger similar demands in the hills and mountains. But amending certain provisions in the constitution will not suffice when the entire document is either inadequate or un-implementable, and owned only by the parties that have held office at one time or other since 2006.

Every Friday, a group of prominent citizens hold a protest rally — with its size expanding every week — demanding that the current constitution of a “few” must be buried and the country must return to the earlier system so that traditional and modern and democratic forces can work together for the stability of the country. Bollywood actress Manisha Koirala, who is also the granddaughter of veteran socialist leader and Nepal’s first elected prime minister, B.P. Koirala, is the latest to join the campaign favouring dismantling of the present constitution, and reviving the old one.

The Nepali Congress and the Maoists, partners in the ruling coalition, and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist in the opposition, insist, at least in principle, that the new constitution must be implemented. However, neither do they agree on the boundaries of the local bodies nor those of the provinces, making the conduct of elections within the mandatory time-frame difficult, if not impossible.

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So far, the top leaders have acted in unison against involving people directly in settling the contentious issues, fearing that they may endorse a “regressive” agenda including the return of monarchy. However, with the popularity of the political syndicate on the decline, and the constitution they prepared turning out to be difficult to implement, the options are narrowing down to either going to the people on the contentious issues or accommodating the aspirations of the critics.

Politicians have managed to pack the apex court with judges who are in agreement with them. “Regressive judges” will have no space, it was made clear, implying that the current constitution, complete or incomplete, with or without larger ownership of the people, has to be sacrosanct including for the judiciary. “Once you are appointed a judge, you must keep your political (read party) shoes outside,” said Chief Justice Sushila Karki at the time of her hearing before the parliamentary committee, in a way endorsing the view that having an active political background is no disqualification to joining the bench.

However, a meeting of minds of the executive and the judiciary may not be sufficient to make the current constitution work without seeking the larger involvement and endorsement of the people, even at this late hour. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been accused by political parties, including his own lot (Maoists), of having compromised “national interest” during his recent visit to India, since he failed to secure an endorsement of the constitution from the south.

The Chinese, who snubbed the Dahal regime by withholding the Nepal visit of President Xi Jinping scheduled for in October, have invited former king, Gyanendra Shah, to visit at his pleasure. That’s an invite loaded with the message that negating any force will be to the detriment of the much-needed political stability in Nepal, a goal that India and China, have in common, going by their stated position.

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