--By Akhilesh Tripathi
Nepal has got its much-awaited new constitution, so to speak. President Dr Ram Baran Yadav announced the promulgation of the new constitution at the ultimate meeting of the Constituent Assembly (CA) on the evening of September 20. Waving a copy of the all-important document which was already approved by 507 of the 601 CA members and authenticated by the CA Chairman, the ceremonial President hoped the new constitution would help establish sustainable peace in the country.
The new constitution has received a warm welcome in most parts of the country which is largely calm except in the Terai. Terai makes up just about 17 percent of Nepal’s total area, but nearly half the country’s population lives there. The violence seen in the restive regions of the Terai has been very disturbing, to say the least. One person died and 12 others were injured in police firing in curfew-clamped Birgunj on the very day the constitution was issued, taking the death toll of anti-constitution protests in the country’s southern plains to 47.
On the following day (Sept 21) some were busy celebrating the constitution; some were mourning, breaking curfew orders and clashing with police. Could the new constitution become the seed of a new conflict? Chances are it could and such a situation has to be avoided. But how do we do that?
The constitution has already been issued. This cannot be undone now. Those protesting against the new constitution, including India, must understand this fact. Similarly, those issuing the constitution should not show arrogance or any “you lose, I win” gesture. Instead, they need to show flexibility even to amend the constitution to the extent possible to incorporate the demand of the protesting parties.
Let’s prevent this constitution from becoming the seed of another conflict. It’s not going to be easy. Nearly four dozen people have already died and dozens others injured in protest of the very birth of this constitution. Those who are supposed to resolve the issue by talking to each other are refusing to do that. Call for talks have come from both sides – the government as well as the protesters – but those who made these calls have turned their backs on each other.
It’s clear that they can no more afford to keep turning their backs on each other. They need to see each other face to face and start talking. Dialogue to end the conflict has to begin at the earliest possible. The state is expected to be more responsible and restrained than the agitators. So, without delay it should stop the killings, repeal curfew orders issued at various places and announce a high-level committee to hold dialogue with the protesters.
The leaders of the protesting parties should heed such calls for talks. If they can go to the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu to meet and have lunch with Indian External Affairs Secretary, S Jayshankar, who visited Nepal on Sept 18 (only two days before the new constitution was promulgated) as a special envoy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there is no reason they should dismiss the call for talks made by the Nepal government.
Unfortunately, things are moving in the opposite direction. On September 21 evening, leaders from the United Madhesi Front which has been waging the protests in Terai, said that the relevance for talks had ended and that they were busy preparing strategies for the next round of agitation.
The very next morning, PM Sushil Koirala rushed to the office of Terai-Madhesh Loktantrik Party in the capital to meet its chairman and leader of the Madhesi Front, Mahanth Thakur. Thakur, who left for Rajbiraj soon after meeting the PM, said the latter skirted around the real issues and, instead, went on about the difficulties he has been facing in running the party and the government. Are the PM’s efforts at dialogue initiation just for show?
Power means the ability of those having power to impose their interests on others. Let’s not be driven by the feeling of having power. Let the feeling of peace and communal harmony guide us. Using the power they have, it seems, the major political parties such as Nepali Congress, CPN (UML) and UCPN (Maoist) want to prove the current protests in the Terai as a violent revolt against the state and the democratic process. The protesters, on the other hand, have accused the state of trying to crush the “peaceful protests” with brutal force.
A lot of time has already been wasted while the three big parties waited for the Madhesi Front to call off the strike and sit for talks and the Madhesi Front waited for the three parties to halt the constitution making process and sit for talks. But neither did the Big Three stop the constitution making process nor did the Madhesh-based parties suspend their strike. Neither side has been true and honest about doing what they could have done to find solutions amicably through talks.
Issuing the constitution was a very hard part of Nepal’s political transition. Fortunately, that part is over now. But there is a harder part waiting for us– either convince the Terai-based parties or be convinced by their arguments or reach a win-win agreement. It’s time for the harder part now.
But the harder part doesn’t end just there. Dealing with India, which is unhappy with the constitution and has already expressed this unhappiness publicly, too is going to be one segment of the harder part.
India has been a solid partner, friend and good neighbour, consistently working with Nepal on its development efforts. Nepalis love India for many reasons such as food, culture, Bollywood, people, pilgrimage, family ties and other matters. Nepalis have also helped India in times of need. However, the Indian government’s recent remarks on sovereign Nepal’s new constitution are disappointing, to say the least. The terse, cold and angry press-releases issued by the Indian External Affairs Ministry are unworthy for a close friend and the largest democracy in the world to issue. The language reads way out of line of diplomatic norms, and amounts to interference in Nepal's internal affairs.
PM Modi, who is a great leader, must ensure that the Indian ministers and bureaucrats don't unnecessarily bungle up the age-old good-will that exists between the two countries. It is time for his leadership to come into action.