Kathmandu ignores Delhi’s concerns on Constitution

Madhesi, Tharu communities still not on board

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:32 pm IST

Published - September 20, 2015 01:55 am IST - NEW DELHI:

> Nepal is preparing to unveil its new Constitution with a grand ceremony in Kathmandu on Sunday as most members of the Constituent Assembly signed the document this week.

The decision to go ahead with the Constitution came despite a last-minute appeal from India to ensure that the members of the Madhesi and Tharu communities, which have refused to sign the Constitution, are brought on board first. “We share India’s concerns about making sure the Constitution is all-inclusive, but at the end this is the internal process of Nepal, and the [Constitution] document is a result of eight years of negotiations following the best internationally accepted practices,” Nepal’s Foreign Affairs Adviser Dinesh Bhattarai told The Hindu , rebuffing the Indian position.

The appeal from Prime Minister Narendra Modi was carried by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar on a two-day visit to Kathmandu, where he met key political leaders including Madhesi leaders, and pushed the need to forge a “full consensus” before unveiling the Constitution. A senior diplomat told The Hindu Mr. Jaishankar had suggested that the Nepal government “could make a public commitment or bring an amendment to assuage Madhesi concerns or even postpone the ceremony for the moment”. In a statement on his return to Delhi, he said that while India had been “strongly supportive of the Constitution making in Nepal,” it “would like its completion to be an occasion for joy and satisfaction, not agitation and violence.”

At least 40 people have died in violence in the Terai region in the past month as Madhesi and Tharu activists have launched a protest against the Constitution. In the worst clashes on August 24 seven policemen and a two-year old boy were killed, prompting the government to bring out the Army in several places and impose a curfew.

Mr. Jaishankar added in his statement that he hoped “Nepal’s political leaders will display the necessary flexibility and maturity at this crucial time to ensure a durable and resilient Constitution that has broad-based acceptance.”

Madhesi members boycott vote

Responding to the remarks, Mr. Bhattarai said “flexibility has to come from both sides.” “Prime Minister Koirala has been talking and making appeal for years to the Madhesi leadership without any response,” he added. At a press conference on Sunday addressed by the three main parties including Maoist leader Prachanda, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said they had extended the deadline to sign the Constitution till the very last moment, at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

During a vote of the constituent assembly on September 18, 507 of 532 members present voted to ratify it, whereas 61 Madhesi members boycotted the vote. People in the Madhes and Tharu belt of the central and western plains of Nepal have been up in arms over provincial boundaries demarcated in the new Constitution as well as changes to the proportional representation system they claim will leave them under-represented.

India has long been accused of interference in the Nepal conflict, as it raises the problems faced by Madhesis in areas bordering Bihar. Last month the Indian embassy in Kathmandu was forced to put out a denial after there were protests in Nepali parliament over a reported statement by Home Minister Rajnath Singh that referred to protecting the ‘Madhesis as Indians.’ While officials in both Kathmandu and New Delhi insist there is no strain in bilateral ties, especially given Mr. Modi’s visits to Nepal last year, the government’s decision to go ahead with the Constitution despite India’s reservations may cast a shadow on celebrations that Nepal hopes to have for the next few days to mark its new Constitution. “India is a neighbour and most important for Nepal,” Mr. Bhattarai told The Hindu over the phone from Kathmandu, “We take [Mr. Jaishankar’s statement of] criticism as an expression of India’s goodwill. However, we make our own decisions.”

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