Eight years youngTo breathe life into the constitution, leaders should adhere to the spirit of constitutionalism.
When the Constitution of Nepal 2015 was launched with much fanfare throughout the country and perceptible protest in some parts, mostly in Madhesh, the expectation was that it would serve as the text that binds the Nepali nation together. After all, it had been brought into existence through a two-term gestation and countless debates, discussions, protests and promises. Eight years after the destiny of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal was formally recognised in ink and paper, the constitution continues to face questions, mainly from two quarters.
First, the euphoria of finally having a constitution written by the people through the constituent assembly, a seven-decade-old dream, had been marred by the suspicion from certain sections of Madheshis and women, especially concerning its provisions on citizenship. While the Madhesh-based political parties have transformed this discontent into a weapon for negotiating power and position and all but surrendered the cause, women continue to raise their voices to make it a more equitable document.
Second, the constitution has consistently been attacked by the same people and parties that helped bring it into being. Even as it boasts of its democratic history, the Nepali Congress joined hands with the CPN (Maoist Centre) to impeach Chief Justice Sushila Karki on dubious grounds, who was not only the first Nepali woman to have reached that position but also had an impeccable professional record. This was an open attack on the principle of separation of powers. Not one to be left behind in the attack on the constitution, the CPN-UML, under KP Sharma Oli’s leadership, dissolved Parliament twice, derailing the parliamentary democratic system altogether.
The parties and the politicians have made several other attempts to sabotage the constitution by trying to define its provisions as befit their narratives. It’s unfathomable how those who implored the people to fight for a constitution through a constituent assembly are now working hard to misrepresent it to serve their selfish interests. Their nonchalance to upholding constitutionalism is evident in their longstanding reluctance to implement federalism in its true spirit.
The centrist mindset of the top leaders from political parties and bureaucracy has left the transfer of power from the federal centre to the provinces and local levels in limbo. This is evident in how several laws that effectively implement federalism await promulgation, leaving space for the critics to question its significance altogether. The greatest manifestation of the growing discontent with federalism, especially the provinces, is in the magnificent support the novice political outfit led by Rabi Lamichhane has received of late. While the suspicion about the utility of provinces is unfounded, what cannot be denied is that the implementation of federalism has been anything but ideal. The only way to counter the anti-federalist narratives is, then, to implement federalism in its true spirit and show the people that it actually works.
The constitution should look like a living document that continues to be revised according to the changing times rather than an epitaph set in stone. The best example of the constitution’s changeability is its amendment in 2020 to change the nation’s official map. While the cartographic exercise was mostly viewed through the nationalist lens, what it actually showed was that the constitution is a work in progress and could be revised as required. All that is needed is the adherence to the ideals of constitutionalism on the part of all stakeholders, not the least the parties and politicians that control the political discourse.