Nepali Congress to support constitution amendment, but with conditionsWhile a group of leaders rally support for the proposal, others want the government to commit to meaning diplomatic dialogue with India.
When the Central Working Committee of the main opposition, Nepali Congress, convenes on Saturday, the party will stand in favour of the government’s proposal to amend the constitution. But, more importantly, the party could demand that the Oli administration hold credible diplomatic dialogue with India, leaders say.
The party leadership is aware that its unconditional backing of the government’s bid to incorporate the new map of Nepal, which includes territories also claimed by India into the constitution, would allow the Oli administration to claim the whole credit for amending the constitution.
“We stand firmly on the constitution amendment proposal, but we are also equally convinced that we need to initiate talks with India at the political and diplomatic levels,” said party General Secretary Purna Bahadur Khadka. “Indian troops should leave Kalapani.”
Khadka said that the governments led by the Nepali Congress leaders BP Koirala to Sher Bahadur Deuba have always stood in favour of nationalism and territorial integrity and the party will not waver from its stance.
The government released a new map of the country incorporating Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura areas, also claimed by India, on May 20, days after India inaugurated a road that passes via Lipulekh to connect it with Kailash-Mansarovar in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.
During an all-party meeting convened by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on the map issue on Tuesday, two days before the government registered a formal proposal in Parliament, Nepali Congress President Deuba had told Oli that his party was positive about the proposal to amend the constitution. But he had said that given the sensitivity of the issue, it should be approved by the party’s Central Working Committee.
As the proposal, which was to be tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, was withdrawn from the agenda, the Nepali Congress accused the government of pointing the finger at the opposition for its failure to present the amendment before the lawmakers.
It is not certain for how long Saturday’s meeting will go on as members of the committee are known to hold diverse views on the issue as it is related to serious questions on land, nationality, territorial integrity and relations with important neighbours. Party leaders said they were not sure whether two-three days would be enough to hold discussions.
It all depends on how party President Deuba conducts the meeting, said Khadka. If almost all members want to speak on the matter, the meeting can’t be concluded on Saturday.
There are some leaders inside the party who are rallying support for the constitution amendment proposal. Some leaders secretly met Prime Minister Oli on Thursday, sources said. Former minister NP Saud, considered an ally of Deuba, and Central Working Committee member Chandra Bhandari met Oli on Thursday morning, and their meeting has raised suspicion among a section of the party.
“We met Oli to seek a project, and deliver Deuba’s message on constitution amendment,” Bhandrai told the Post. “Our party is clear that Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura belong to Nepal and several Nepali Congress governments have taken up the matter with India.”
India’s fresh statement on the issue appears conciliatory compared to its May 20 response to Nepal’s publication of the revised map when it had asked the government of Nepal to refrain from such “unjustified cartographic assertion” and respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Saturday’s meeting is also likely to assess the meaning of New Delhi’s words.
There are other leaders who want the government held accountable, if it fails to negotiate with India.
“The entire boundary fiasco with India began after the Oli government could not raise the issue with India in the last two years,” said Joint General Secretary Prakash Sharan Mahat, who is also a former foreign minister. “ The Indian side then thought that the issue of Kalapani was no longer a priority of the Oli administration,” added Mahat.
While supporting the Oli administration to amend the constitution, the party will push for a logical end to the dispute with India through diplomatic and political negotiations, say party leaders. The Oli administration should be held responsible if it fails to do so, they say.
“The way the Oli government has handled the situation has contributed to this mess. So we are going to raise this issue,” said Mahat. “Though we are going to support the amendment, we should equally hold the Oli government accountable for failing to take up the issue with India in the last two years.”
After the inauguration of the new road, Nepal had handed over a diplomatic note to the Indian ambassador protesting the Indian government’s move. On May 9, India stated that both sides will sit for talks once two societies and governments have successfully dealt with the challenge of Covid-19 emergency.
But Nepal rejected the offer and said that it wants immediate talks with India and
unilateral action in the disputed area should be halted.Later the situation turned more serious after Indian army chief MM Naravane pointed out that a third-party instigation was behind Nepal’s move and the Indian media squarely blamed China for the dispute.