A historic dayThe new constitution will unleash many opportunities for progress and prosperity in Nepal
For the first time in the history of Nepal, a democratic republic constitution written by the elected representatives of the people is coming into effect from today. Naturally, there is a great degree of euphoria as well as some anxiety regarding this. But this very combination of elation and ire reflects the
reality of the country where the diversity of people and culture, identities and ideologies exist simultaneously. To imagine, therefore, that the constitution will be uncontested and venerated by all would not be realistic. But history shows that the people of this land have always acted together for the common cause of defending the nation’s integrity.
The monolithic rule of the kings who created the present shape of the country has always haunted the politics and polities of this land. While the existence and historicity of Nepal’s unifier Prithvi Narayan Shah is hotly debated, the land he brought together has always maintained its spell and power over the denizens of this geography. To throw it away would be to throw the baby with the tub water. The diversity he put together either by force or consent forms the very core of the negative dialectics of this nation’s existence. Therefore, to federate this monolithic land means to break the spell of the single authority, single language, and the hegemony of this system. The monolithic rule of this land by some privileged groups of people has naturally earned resentment.
Perception of the past
The historic constitution which is being declared today is an important step towards dismantling that monolithic state structure. But some sections and groups argue that the voices of the diverse groups have not been incorporated in this statute. Maps and territories are seen to have symbiotic structures.
Like many other people, I too very closely felt the commotions caused by the intense discussions about what was called the last phase of the constitution-writing process. I was struck by discussions on whether to keep the old sense of unity of diversity in place. Kathmandu became a candidate in that discussion naturally. I watched political leaders speak about that concept eloquently at the Constituent Assembly meetings. The Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’—who is remembered in history as the one who signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord with the late Nepali Congress leader Girija Prasad Koirala—evoked the artists and kings from the plains in the South who came to the Kathmandu Valley and established the texture of a civilisation which we see as intangible culture of the Valley today. It was beguiling to hear the mixture of culture, politics and history from the mouths of the former revolutionary and democratic leaders. Prachanda was evoking a cultural history to call upon the agitating Madhesi people and leaders to come up with ideas about negotiations. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala also stressed on history. Practically every speaker stressed on the need of unity. But not all saw the history and unity of Nepal in that way. The agitated Madhesi, Tharu, and other indigenous groups did not quite see unity in that manner. They saw some ellipses in history, some important questions hidden behind the rhetoric.
The fact of the matter is that Nepali people have shown unique example of unity in matters related to the use and sharing of power, respecting each other’s cultural practices, helping each other as fellow citizens, and speaking like a nation that has steered forward in terms of progress.
A step forward
Being a dabbler in poetry myself, I would recall poetic metaphors to try to understand the moment laden with meaning. Among them, a poem written by W.H. Auden on the demise of fellow poet W.B. Yeats in 1939 comes to my mind. He writes of it as the ‘day when one did something slightly unusual’; it is certainly an event that is ‘given over to unfamiliar affections’, and it introduces ideas that would have been ‘punished under a foreign code of
conscience’. We cannot easily guess how everyone will receive the first democratic republic constitution of Nepal, or how it will fare under ‘unfamiliar
affection’, especially when it is interpreted under the different ‘codes of conscience’.
The greater mood is one of celebration. The reasons for the euphoria are obvious. A long and protracted process of constitution making has been very tedious. People have begun to feel disillusioned about politics itself. But the euphoria is tinged with a sense of contingency that could be marked by ‘would have been’ or ‘could have been better’. It was certainly very revealing to see the presence of 532 CA members out of whom 507 members voted in favour of the new constitution. The members greeted it by banging desks, looking ecstatic, exchanging greetings and hugging each other when the speaker of the House Subhash Nembang announced the final results of voting. I personally see this as a very historical occasion. But the 58 CA members of the Madhesh-based parties boycotting the CA and the discontent being expressed outside with the tragic loss of lives and properties is a strong reminder of the need to keep the constitution flexible for necessary amendments.
What is also true is that those who did not want the democratic republican constitution to be passed must have been taking up the cudgel to foil it. The final reality is that great euphoria and some very strong resentment will greet the promulgation of the first people’s constitution of the land this day. But there are strong historical reasons to greet the constitution as it has traversed very difficult paths to reach here. By incorporating necessary amendments, this federal democratic constitution will open great possibilities of progress and prosperity for Nepal.