Government’s plans to celebrate Constitution Day reek of Panchayat-era nationalism, says civil societyAll civil servants will be required to attend programmes marking Constitution Day.
The KP Sharma Oli administration is stepping up efforts to celebrate Constitution Day with as much fanfare as possible, directing all government bodies, including those at the local level, to make sure that all civil servants attend the programmes organised to mark the day the new constitution was passed in 2015.
These efforts have raised concerns among civil society and the indigenous community, who see a reflection of the authoritarian ways of the Panchayat regime in the nationalist fanfare.
“Except the phrase ‘private-sector media’ all other issues point to the preparations of Falgun 7 during the Panchayat era,” civil society activist Devendra Raj Pandey tweeted on Thursday. Falgun 7 is celebrated in February as Democracy Day.
Indigenous groups, led by the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), have already announced that they will be observing September 20 as a “black day”. One of the four national parties—Rastriya Janata Party Nepal—will also mark Constitution Day as a ‘black day’ while leaders from the coalition partner Samajbadi Party Nepal have decided not to celebrate the day, but they won’t oppose it either.
A sizeable section of Nepali society, including indigenous nationalities, Madhesis and Tharus, have long been expressing dissatisfaction at the provisions of the new constitution and have been demanding amendments to it. In 2015, the government pushed through the new constitution despite months of protests in the Tarai, where dozens of lives were lost.
Even former bureaucrats see problems in the way the government is pushing for celebrations.
Former Chief Secretary Bimal Koirala said the government is trying to adopt the methods of the Panchayat, where civil servants were often forced to attend programmes glorifying the regime.
“If the government is truly nationalist, the people will come out on their own,” Koirala said. “The government should not force anyone to celebrate, but create an environment where people will willingly join programmes.”
An August 21 meeting of the 37-member Constitution Day and National Day celebration organising committee, led by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, decided to mark the attendance of all civil servants on September 20 and forward the details to the Home Ministry.
A letter dispatched by the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development to the local level and the district coordination committees on Wednesday said that local governments should organise concerts and festivals in public places along with the playing of the national anthem and songs of national pride. The letter had also asked that the national anthem be played in cinema halls before every screening of a film.
However, Gokul Baskota, the minister for information, addressing a regular press meet on Thursday, claimed that the government had not taken any decision to make the national anthem mandatory at cinema halls.
The celebration committee also plans to publish special editions of state-owned media and articles celebrating the constitution. Television and radio programmes will also be broadcast through both state-owned and private media, highlighting the importance of the constitution.
The Home Ministry has already put in place a pop-up notice on its website publicly displaying various t-shirt designs with the national flag embedded to be used during the three days of celebration.
On August 28, Baskota created quite a stir on social media after he said that people should observe the Constitution Day holiday, and not “waste it by partying, going on a picnic, or hanging out with your girlfriend or boyfriend.” Baskota was speaking at a meeting of the celebration committee at Singha Durbar. Baskota was widely ridiculed on social media for his statements.
The government’s plans are not sitting well with the indigenous community in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) itself.
Suresh Ale Magar, convener of the communist party’s Indigenous Nationalities Federation, said that the government’s orders were ‘too much’.
“While we don’t agree with NEFIN’s decision to mark constitution day as a black day, we are not happy with the constitutional provisions either,” said Magar. “But the government’s decisions regarding mandatory attendance at the programmes are too much.”
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