Constitution sans consensus

September 22, 2015 12:44 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:30 pm IST

Eight years after the adoption of an interim Constitution that heralded a peace process, Nepal has finally >managed to promulgate a Constitution . The path to becoming a secular, federal, democratic and republican Nepal — as the Constitution envisages it to be — was tortuous, and it could not be concluded on the basis of a consensus among the elected legislators in the Constituent Assembly (CA). But it has moved Nepal significantly and in a progressive manner away from the 1990 Constitution that maintained the state as a constitutional monarchy ruled by a Hindu king. That said, did Nepal’s polity — 507 out of the 601 lawmakers in the re-elected CA voted in favour of promulgation, with 69 abstentions, mostly by legislators from the Terai, and 25 from the Opposition — live up to the promises in the interim Constitution, which was itself the outcome of the Jan Andolan seeking republicanism and state restructuring? The substantive answer to that question must be in the negative. For one, the promulgation happened >even as violent protests raged in the Terai against “injustice” meted out to the Madhesis. The protestors were upset that the federal restructuring of Nepal into seven provinces left the Madhesis divided among five provinces, with only one of them having a majority of plains-origin people. Clearly, the lack of consensus in the run-up to the promulgation will remain a political sticking point in the restructuring process. The leaders of the three main political parties — the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) — have affirmed that the federal boundaries could be changed later. But it begs the question why even after seven years of deliberations the concerns of the Madhesis were not taken on board. The conclusion is that the hill elite have thwarted what could have been a truly inclusive and democratic Constitution.

There were also other reasons for discontent over the new Constitution. These include the delineation of electoral constituencies in the Terai (where more than 50 per cent of Nepal’s people live) which has not been done on the basis of the population in the plains; this creates a grievance about gerrymandering. Other complaints relate to citizenship norms that disallow children of Nepali mothers married to foreigners from inheriting Nepali citizenship. All said, the people of Nepal would be somewhat relieved that there has been a degree of closure to the Constitution-writing process. The recent earthquake had only worsened economic conditions and there was a sense of fatigue with the Constitution-writing process. The people required their polity to focus on governance in a stable Nepal. The polity could do well to take the necessary constitutional steps to address the Madhesi concerns and to live up to these expectations on governance.

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