Why celebrate Constitution Day?The document continues to alienate many while even the progressive provisions remain unimplemented.
Today is Constitution Day, and the government has pulled out all the stops to make it a grand affair. To really drill it into the people’s minds that this is a historic day, and celebrating a historic document, the government has roped in security forces for a procession at Tundikhel. Moreover, plans are afoot to fly a massive banner over the parade ground, bearing the words ‘Constitution Day-2076’. KP Oli seems to really want this day to be marked with respect, and his administration has also made it mandatory for all civil servants to be assembled to celebrate the fourth anniversary of this document, called the ‘most progressive’ and ‘best’ in the world by some.
However, the Constitution is just a document unless it is implemented in letter and spirit —something the Oli-led administration seems hell-bent to delay. Indeed, whether it be devolution and decentralisation, or in addressing legitimate demands for constitutional amendment, or even implementing the aspects of the Constitution that have been lauded, there has been a clear lack of will among those in power. The government cannot expect the people of Nepal to celebrate Constitution Day with enthusiasm when more than half of the country feels alienated by the document.
Nepal’s Constitution has been lambasted by many since its promulgation in 2015. Protests had erupted in the Tarai over provisions that seemed designed to discriminate against the marginalised, including Tharus and Madhesis. The protests have largely gone silent, and at least one party that stood on a platform to push for constitutional amendment, the Samajbadi Party Nepal, has joined the government as a coalition partner. But the legitimate demands of the marginalised to find a space for their voice in this ‘New Nepal’ are still being disregarded. With the Samajbadi Party Nepal unable to push the agenda from within, it seems unlikely that the amendments are coming soon.
What is even more surprising in Nepal’s case is that it is not only the minorities who are marginalised. Women, comprising more than half the population, have also been turned into second class citizens by making citizenship rights unequal. After years of protests, a push to amend the Citizenship Act to remove all inequalities has stalled due to a lack of consensus among lawmakers.
Even the important provisions have not been implemented. For example, Article 30 (2) of the Constitution gives every citizen the right to free, and compulsory, education up to the basic level (till grade 8) and free education up to the secondary level (grade 12) from the State. But the government has failed to provide this. The recommendations of the High-Level Commission formed to address the future of the education sector remain ignored. And the federal budget only provides Rs163.76 billion in 2019-20 for this important sector—a paltry sum that can barely fulfil current requirements, let alone provide free education for everyone.
When the Constitution was promulgated, the national parties promised how making Nepal a federal republic would bring ‘Singha Durbar to people’s doorsteps’. Yet, four years on, the federal government seems as reluctant as ever to divest any of its power to the provincial and local governments. The structure of the linkages between the three tiers of government has made operationalising federalism challenging. Further, some of the bills registered in the federal Parliament are designed to further shrink the powers provinces hold. The provision for the Chief District Officer—a representative of the federal government—to be in charge of peace and security instead of provincial authorities is an example of this.
The government may hope that pushing people to wear nationalistic T-shirts, sing the national anthem and celebrate Constitution Day will make the country dearer to its citizens. However, only by creating an equal and non-discriminatory society and implementing the provisions in the Constitution in their true spirit will the people feel any affection towards it and the country.
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