As celebrations broke out in Nepal over the adoption of the new democratic secular Constitution, India responded with an angry statement, pointing to the protests in the Terai against the Constitution.
A statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs said that India is “concerned that the situation in several parts of the country bordering India continues to be violent.”
“We urge that issues on which there are differences should be resolved through dialogue in an atmosphere free from violence and intimidation, and institutionalised in a manner that would enable broad-based ownership and acceptance,” it added, in the sharpest comment by India yet.
India also referred to the new document as “a Constitution” as opposed to “the Constitution,” leading to speculation that India still hopes for amendments which would correct what it sees as a marginalisation of the people in the Terai region.
Confirming that this is not a “celebratory moment” for India, senior diplomats said that the new Constitution was “just not good enough to address all concerns” of the Madhesi and Tharu people. India’s ambassador Ranjit Rae also telephoned Prime Minister Sushil Koirala hours before the Constitution ceremony to express India’s disappointment that it was going through in its current form. Nepal’s refusal to extend the date for the Constitution despite PM Modi sending Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar with an appeal on Friday has come as a blow.
“This could cause a strain in India-Nepal ties," a senior official admitted to The Hindu , pointing out that none of the major Madhesi parties have signed the Constitution that was presented for ratification last week.
Three main problems According to the government, there are three major problems with the Constitution which prevents India from warmly welcoming the document. To begin with the federal-provincial demarcation is perceived to be unfair to the people of the Terai region; secondly, the constituency delimitation is skewed against the Madhes population as half the population, that is the Pahadi (Hill) community gets 100 seats but the other half consisting of the Madhesi and the Janjatis get only 65 seats.
Finally the ‘proportional inclusion’ clause, for reservation includes many forward castes of the Pahadi region, which negates the principle of affirmative action, officials said. India also feels let down that many of the commitments given by Nepal during the framing of the 2007 interim Constitution have been forgotten.
The interim Constitution was based on an understanding that the Maoists and the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) which would ensure inclusiveness and just representation of the traditional elite of the Kathmandu valley and their martial military class of the mountains as well as the large Madhesi and Janjati population of the Terai region, they say. However India’s anger and continuing incidents of violence indicate Madhesi parties are far from convinced this Constitution is inclusive.
Apart from the government of India, figures from Indian civil society and Leftist movement who played a prominent role in bringing the Maoist and non-Maoist political parties together in 2005-2006 have also maintained a distance from the constitution-making celebration in Kathmandu.
CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, who was active in reconciling various political fronts in Nepal during the last days of the monarchy has stayed away from the Constitution celebrations despite being invited, sources told The Hindu . Another interlocutor, Rajya Sabha MP Devi Prasad Tripathi also chose not to be present in Kathmandu, but attended a celebration event at the Nepal embassy in Delhi.
However Mr. Tripathi also counselled the government welcome Nepal’s new constitution and work on differences. “The concerns of the Madhesis most certainly can be addressed through amendment process in the coming months and years. Nepal has adopted a constitution and like all other constitutions of the world, this too will mature and evolve with amendments,” he told The Hindu .