Nepal’s New Constitution –Reflection of Manipulative Elite
Nepal promulgated a constitution on 20 Sep 2015 after 8 years of deliberation. Salient features of the constitution are:
- It declares Nepal as a secular, federal, democratic, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious republic.
- It restructures Nepal into 7 provinces, leaving the Madhesis divided into 5 provinces, with only one of them having their majority.
- Though the major parties like Nepali congress, CPN-UML and CPN- Maoist have affirmed that boundaries could be changed later, it is clear that Madhesi interests have been deliberately compromised.
- Delineation of electoral constituencies in Terai (51% population) has not been done based on the population of the plains.
- Children born to Nepali mothers, married to foreigners, will not get Nepali citizenship.
- The Madhesis, Tharus and Janjatis were sidelined in the entire constitution making process due to prevailing distrust towards them among the mainstream political parties.
While the Nepalese elite celebrated the occasion, violence erupted in the Southern plains to protest against the discriminatory aspects of the constitution. Nepal being a landlocked nation is heavily dependent upon supplies from India. The violence and blockade created great hardships, not only for the Southern region, but entire Nepal. Nepalese elite have blamed India for causing a blockade and generated considerable anti India sentiment by false propaganda. The situation in Nepal is tense and India is in an awkward position. The situation is very grave. Let us analyze the problems caused by the constitution and seek remedial measures.
Nepal’s Powerful, Manipulative Elite
Nepal for long was a patriarchal, Hindu kingdom. Democracy as defined by Abraham Lincoln has not taken roots in Nepal. Both under the rules of the Kings and the Ranas, large tracts of land in Terai were gifted away to civil servants, army officers and family members of the ruling class. The Kings of Nepal advocated a policy of not employing the Madhesis in the civil services. This deficit of trust towards the Madhesis and the Tharus was one of the major reasons why their presence in the civil services, judiciary and security agencies have remained minimal. Even their presence in the corporate is low. Until the mid-1950s, the Madhesis had to receive permits from the government authorities to enter Kathmandu. Even in matters concerning the grant of citizenship, they were discriminated against. The Madhesis comprise the bulk of stateless citizens in Nepal even to this day. All the major political parties usually field hill-elites as their candidates in the Terai region during the elections. They would never allow any Madhesi as their candidate in the hill constituencies. The constitution reflects the historical attitude of the manipulative elite.
Madhesis, Tharus and Janjatis
Madhesis, Tharus and Janjatis inhabit the Southern plains. Many have familial ties on the Indian side of the border. During the 1960s, the Madhesis formed the ‘Terai Liberation Front’ to wage an armed struggle as they saw their land being grabbed by the people from the hills even while they could not register the land they tilled in their own name due to lack of citizenship certificates. In order to spread influence in Madhes, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) included the problems of Madhes in their agenda. However, the Maoists compromised and they joined the peace process by signing the Comprehensive Peace Accord in 2006. Armed conflicts began and the Maoist – Madhesi tension escalated. After strong protests in 2007 and 2008, demanding federalism, inclusion and proportionate representation, the mainstream political parties incorporated these in the Interim Constitution and agreed to attend to these issues while finalizing the constitution. However, they have now failed to fulfill the promises made. By remaining divided the Madhesis have not been able to achieve the required representation through the electoral process. Disunity has been their biggest mistake. This has led to the current situation.
The non grant of citizenship to children born to Nepalese women has apparently been promulgated in the constitution to deprive the Madhesi women marrying Indians.
The major demands that are being raised by the Madhesis are –
- Group the 20 districts of Madhes in 2 federal provinces.
- Delineate electoral constituencies based on population, geography and special characteristics which were accepted by the Interim Constitution.
- Incorporate right to participate in state structures on the basis of proportionate inclusion, which was accepted by the Interim Constitution. Since Madhes has 51% of the population, out of the proposed 165 electoral constituencies being proposed for direct elections, 83 should be allocated to the provinces in the Madhesi region.
- Interim Constitution had provided for the re-demarcation of electoral constituencies every 10 years, as per the census; the new constitution has increased it to 20 years. The Madhesi parties do not approve of this change.
- Citizenship should be passed on through the name of the mother as well. There should be no discrimination based on citizenship acquired by descent or naturalization.
India’s Position in Current Tension
India shares an open border with Nepal. India’s concerns are the following:
- Madhesi discontent is creating disturbances on the Indo-Nepal border.
- Conflict in Nepal will directly impact India. There would be a refugee influx.
- Indian trucks carrying goods and oil are reluctant to venture into Nepal. Economic hardships due to shortage of fuel and goods would have long term impact on Indo-Nepal relations.
- This may threaten the security of Indian businessmen and traders who are engaged in business with Nepal.
- Being a guarantor of peace, India has a moral duty to involve herself in the process of change taking place in Nepal. However, she has to tread cautiously, without being perceived as encroaching upon Nepal’s sovereignty, to get the genuine rights for the historically marginalized groups, recognized in the Constitution. Madhesi struggle should not be projected as Madhesi jingoism encouraged by India.
The marginalized communities would definitely unite against the injustice.
If the government and the main political parties are really serious about defusing the present crisis, they should accept it as a political problem and take steps to ensure that the constitution is truly representative of the aspirations of all people, including the marginalized ones, through dialogue.
This appears unlikely in the near future because the powerful Nepalese elite would not like to share power with the marginalized people easily. If they had been fair minded then this unfair and manipulative constitution would not have been promulgated.
It is quite likely that the Nepalese elite will blame India for all these problems. This approach would lead to a long drawn out violent and political struggle in which India would in the long run, have to support the Madhesis.
The situation is grim. We are likely to witness a long period of violence and political unrest in Nepal. India will perforce get involved in the strife and will have to suffer from the unrest on the border and influx of Madhesis.