Madhes-based parties press own demands alongside constitution amendment for new mapWhile there’s no debate on an issue of national importance, the constitutional amendment bill could be an opportune moment to address long-standing demands of Madhesis, Janajatis and Tharus.
Tika R Pradhan
The government on Friday registered a constitution amendment proposal in Parliament seeking to amend Schedule 3 of the statute, which is related to Article 9 (2) that talks about the national emblem.
The proposal is aimed at updating the map of Nepal in the national emblem, in line with the government’s decision to depict Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura as Nepali territories. A constitution amendment bill for the same is expected to be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.
While the Madhes-based parties have not objected to this proposal, which they say is in the national interest, they also say that the government should consider their calls to amend the constitution to address their demands.
Leaders from the Samajbadi Party Nepal and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal, who have announced that they will be uniting to form the Janata Samajbadi Party, have started consultations with the primary opposition Nepali Congress to forge national consensus on amending the constitution in a package deal.
Six top leaders from the Janata Samajbadi Party on Saturday held discussions with Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, a former prime minister, and sought the opposition’s support in getting their demands incorporated in the amendment bill.
“We have proposed that the Nepali Congress help forge national consensus on amending the statute,” said Sarat Singh Bhandari, a Janata Party leader.
Four leaders from the Janata Party—Rajendra Mahato, Mahendra Raya Yadav, Anil Jha and Bhandari—and three from the Samajbadi Party–Upendra Yadav, Baburam Bhattarai and Rajendra Shrestha–on Saturday held discussions with Deuba at the latter’s residence in Budhanilkantha.
Nepali Congress spokesperson Bishwo Prakash Sharma told the Post that issues brought up by the Janata Samajbadi leaders will be discussed at the Congress’ Sunday meeting.
According to Shrestha, they will also hold talks with ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leaders, including Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal.
The demands of the Madhes-based parties include redrawing provincial boundaries, recognition of regional languages, addressing issues related to citizenship, and representation in the National Assembly.
The KP Sharma Oli government so far has ignored the Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janata Party’s calls to amend the constitution, despite making a promise during its formation in February 2018. Both parties had even joined the Oli government at various periods. But as relations soured with Oli, the Janata Party withdrew its support to the government in March last year, followed by the exit of Samajbadi Party in December, to build pressure for constitutional amendments.
Despite their shared agenda and voter base, the Madhes-based parties had failed to unite and pursue their demands jointly, given the differences between party leaders. It was only last month that Oli himself prompted their merger by introducing two controversial ordinances.
Since the unified Janata Samajbadi Party, Nepal had to work out its leadership and other party-related issues, they had yet to figure out ways to move their constitutional amendment issue forward, according to one party leader. The country was also fighting Covid-19, leaving little room for political demands.
Now, since the government is pushing for an amendment, the two parties say it could be a good time to include their amendment demands as well.
The Oli government is unlikely to meet with any opposition in its constitution amendment proposal to update the new political map.
As per the constitution, a constitutional amendment bill needs to be endorsed by a two-thirds majority in both the Houses. The ruling party falls around 10 votes short in the House of Representatives, but still it is likely to get through as even the opposition parties are with the government on the map issue. In the National Assembly, the ruling party commands the required number.
The government’s decision to publish the new political map by including territories that India has long occupied has united politicians across the spectrum, but there are some who believe that Oli made the move to address his domestic constituency.
Amid rising criticism for his poor handling of the Covid-19 crisis, Oli had come under immense pressure from his party members to step down. Oli’s decision to publish the map, which has been dubbed by many as a bold move, has not only quelled criticism but also won over the opposition.
Janata Samajbadi Party leader Bhattarai, who is also a former prime minister, said that there is nothing to dispute on an issue of national interest.
“Our point is that the ruling party has a good opportunity to build trust among all the parties,” Bhattarai told the Post. “The onus lies on the government and the prime minister to create an environment for trust-building.”
According to Bhattarai, national unity among the parties is the need of the hour.
“We can form a common understanding on all issues, including those raised by the Madhesis, Janajatis and Tharus,” said Bhattarai.
Bhattarai said that they had urged Deuba to take the lead, as it was during his prime ministership in 2016 that an amendment bill was tabled to address the demands of the Madhes-based parties. The bill, however, was blocked by then CPN-UML, led by Oli. In August 2017, the bill failed in Parliament, as it did not get the required number of votes. In the then 592-strong Parliament, 395 votes were required to amend the constitution. But of the 553 members present in the meeting, 347 voted in favour, while 206 voted against.
“Our proposal was that Deuba, as the leader of the main opposition, should take the lead in creating an environment for national unity to resolve all outstanding issues, national and international,” said Bhattarai.