A broken systemThere are talks about amending the new statute even before it has been enforced
So the constitution that has been endorsed by a whopping 90 percent majority is in crisis. And who said the constitution was not inclusive? Check out the figures: 71 percent of the Madhesi, 69 percent of the Tharu, 82 percent of the Muslim, 99 percent of the Janajati and 95 percent of the Dalit members of the Constituent Assembly (CA) voted in its favour.
With two CA elections and eight years of deliberations and wrangling that cost the country something around Rs 32 billion, this must be the most expensive and most intensive constitution in the world. Still, it is in crisis. Half of the Nepali population did not rejoice over its promulgation on September 20. The constitution that was expected to resolve Nepal’s conflict situation has ignited another round of conflict. And it is going to be far more dangerous than the decade-long Maoist conflict that lasted from 1996 to 2006. What went wrong with the basic law of the land that was expected to institutionalise republicanism, federalism, secularism and inclusiveness?
Failed to convince
No logic has succeeded in wooing the Madhes-based political leaders to stop their agitation and sit down for dialogue and negotiations. Some argue that the new constitution has fulfilled the aspirations of the Nepali people to draft a constitution by themselves that had remained unfulfilled for the last 70 years. But feudal masters handed down previous constitutions to Nepalis. Others argue that the constitution is a dynamic document: it is not 100 percent perfect, but it is flexible enough and can accommodate all possible changes in the future. But both these arguments have been rendered futile.
Neither the claims by Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal that they too come from the Madhes, nor the renunciation of the party and support for the Tarai-Madhes Andolan by former prime minister and Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai, have helped to pacify the agitators. Rather, it has intensified with the tacit support and backing of India. Of late, India seems to have been further angered by the state of affairs and things seem to be going out of control.
Many Nepalis are under the impression that the ‘undeclared blockade’ by India cannot last long; it has to end sooner or later. Meanwhile, anti-India nationalists have been offering ideas like opening Nepal-China border entry points and transporting fuel and necessary materials from China and, if necessary, even airlifting them. Their ideas include resorting to riding bicycles, developing hydropower, boycotting Indian news and TV channels, burning flags and effigies and organising demonstrations. These actions are not going to help the average Nepali. Most are more worried about shortage of cooking gas, lack of transportation, rising prices and leaving Kathmandu for the upcoming Dashain festival.
Nepal’s demographic structure is composed of approximately one-third Bahun-Chhetri, one-third Janajati and the remaining one-third Madhesi population. Other political interest groups like Dalits, religious minorities and women can be interspersed among these three broad categories. Historically, the one-third Bahun-Chhetri segment of the population has enjoyed political and economic power and privileges over the other two-thirds, simply because they were highly divided and disunited. This is not to say that all Bahun-Chhetris are politically and economically powerful and privileged. But it should also be noted that all politically and economically powerful and privileged people happen to be Bahun-Chhetris.
After Jana Aandolan II, there was an awakening among the two-thirds about their situation, and this is what has made Bahun-Chhetris wary of ethnic and regional movements. One basic character of Bahun-Chhetris is that their population is highly dispersed. This is the single most important reason why they are antithetical to the idea of having more provinces. More provinces means they will become minorities everywhere. The constitutional provision in Article 286 (12) for reviewing the electoral constituencies every 20 years is a careful ploy to retain their control.
Without addressing this dissatisfaction of the one-third of Nepal’s population, no constitution, howsoever perfectly drawn, is going to solve Nepal’s problem. By the way, Nepal must be the only country in the world having so many constitutions written over a short span of time. During the last 70 years, we have seen seven constitutions. They are now talking about amending the new one even before it has been enforced. This scribe is not an expert on constitutional law.
But one thing is sure: as long as an aide is made to stand behind the House Speaker to pull or push his chair every time he gets up or sits down, we will continue to have a system that is feudal in character.
Manandhar is a freelance consultant