Home arrow Archives arrow Round the World arrow Round The World-2015 arrow Nepal’s Statute Trouble: INDIA KEEPS A CLOSE WATCH, By Amrita Banerjee, 26 Aug, 2015
News and Features
INFA Digest
Parliament Spotlight
Journalism Awards
Nepal’s Statute Trouble: INDIA KEEPS A CLOSE WATCH, By Amrita Banerjee, 26 Aug, 2015 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 26 August 2015

Nepal’s Statute Trouble


By Amrita Banerjee

(School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi)


Even as the Indian foreign policy establishment has been busy with the Sri Lankan elections and the NSA level talks with Pakistan, which finally didn’t take place, trouble has broken out right across the open border in Nepal. Anger has been building for weeks in parts of Nepal Himalayan country State after lawmakers struck a breakthrough deal on a new Constitution, spurred by April’s devastating earthquake.


Nepal's wait for a new Constitution has been long and painful, and followed a decade of bloody civil war. Under the country's former monarchy the Constitution was written by commissions approved by the king - but Maoist rebels fought an insurgency to overthrow the monarchy and install a new democratic republic.


A fresh Constitution was another step in Nepal’s democratisation, which began in 2006 with the signing of a historic peace agreement between the Maoists and the then government. Repeated deadlines for a new Constitution have been missed and several governments have come and gone. The Constitution-making is a crucial step in the State building process. The process of broad consultation and participation of the people is very much a prerequisite for making it democratic.


Work on the new Constitution began in 2008; two years after the end of the insurgency that left an estimated 16,000 people dead and brought down the 240-year-old Hindu monarchy. However, in spite of repeated attempts in inking the statute, differences on key areas like the system of governance, judicial system and federal issues persisted and all efforts towards Constitution making proved futile.


Quite recently all the plans laid out in the draft charter to divide the country into seven provinces has sparked fury among historically marginalised communities, who say the new borders will limit their political representation. The primary political issue which has polarised society is the nature of federalism. Nepal’s bigger political parties -- Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) and the Maoists along with a smaller party from the plains -- decided Nepal would have eight federal States but later carved out just six. The bigger parties addressed the demands of the people of the western hills, without taking into account Tharu and Madhesi grievances.


Since all the proposed States under the federal structure would touch India, violence erupting in these States just across the border is not good news for New Delhi. As the latest reports of violence from Kailali district (which is close to the border with India) came to the fore, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the Government, all political parties and the people of Nepal to eschew violence and maintain social harmony. 


Given the present scenario, where does Kathmandu move from here? A deeper analysis suggests two possibilities. One, that Kathmandu can choose to dig its heels in. There is anger over the killings of policemen. The State may use this to unleash retaliation, which can only lead to more violence. Second, the State should wake up to the anger in the plains. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala must set up a negotiation team; reach out to dissenting groups; and parties must revise federal boundaries.


The other question that arises is, being an immediate neighbour, what should be India’s role at the moment? After assuming power, Modi on both occasions (his first official visit to Kathmandu and visit to Nepal during the 18th SAARC summit in 2014), reiterated his support to the Constitution making and, most notably, he explicitly stressed the need for drafting an inclusive Constitution within the given time. He also underlined that India does not intend to interfere in the process. Although this was a friendly advice from the PM, some political leaders in Nepal considered it differently and criticised him for having a ‘hands off’ approach.


In fact, New Delhi is in a precarious situation; knowing the nature of relationship between India and Nepal, it is impossible to think about complete detachment. India-Nepal relations require delicate balancing; the task will be more difficult if the ‘centre of gravity’ is not known. As former Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saran rightly stated: ‘The dilemma for India remains.... there is request to provide support and also maintain a distance.’ In this regard, the External Affairs Ministry, in a friendly advice, asked the political leadership of Nepal that it should resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue and arrive at solutions that reflect the will and aspirations of all citizens.


The need of the hour is that Nepal problems should also be viewed more holistically. The Constitution making process of 2008-12 failed to draft and adopt a new one but did produce significant achievements. There is today in Kathmandu, broad agreement that Nepal should be a federal, secular and inclusive democratic republic. There has been a widespread public debate on complex constitutional areas and the various thematic committees of the former Constituent Assembly produced impressive reports on the main constitutional issues.


Kathmandu has to learn further from its failed exercises. Political actors, in Nepal, should understand that without recognizing the role of law and without sufficient respect for the rule of law, no dispute can be settled. We should know that Nepal is not just a democracy but a constitutional democracy. The country will be able to take the peace process to a logical end and promulgate a new Constitution within the extended mandate of Constituent Assembly if political actors show total sincerity toward the rule of law and past commitments. Pragmatic approach and ideas are equally important to take the process to a logical conclusion.


What, then, should be the future course of action for Nepal? Firstly, it should insure guarantee of inclusion. The people of Nepal have determined upon the restructuring of the State in order to resolve, inter alia, the existing problems of the country relating to class, caste, region and gender.

Secondly, sufficient consensus and judicious compromise is needed. Multi-sectoral compromise across the political spectrum is essential in the overall nation-building and Constitution-making process. Ownership needs to be mustered from all sides along with bolstering post-conflict peace-building efforts.


Thirdly, assistance of the international community is vital as Constitution making is a shared effort. For this, it is essential to enable the positive support of prominent international communities who have been closely watching the developments taking place in Nepal, to make their contributions to the key constitutional issues and technicalities involved. But the text of the new Constitution today has been subject to heavy international criticism for failing to protect fundamental rights.


Only if the above principles are observed and practised, Nepal can achieve a breakthrough and make a Constitution that would be acceptable to all stakeholders and be long lasting in future. The need of the hour for this Himalayan country is to start a dialogue process so that the Constitution can be made more inclusive and gives the country its much needed stability. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

< Previous   Next >
  Mambo powered by Best-IT