By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On July 20, 2015, at least 62 persons, including three Security Force (SF) personnel, were injured when agitating cadres of Terai-based parties clashed with the Police in several areas of Janakpur, Mahottari, Parsa and Saptari Districts in the Terai region of Nepal.
The protestors also targeted the leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M). The CPN-UML leader and former Prime Minister (PM) Madhav Kumar Nepal was attacked with chairs and stones by protesting cadres at Gaur municipality in Rautahat District; cadres of Madhesi Morcha, the Mohan Baidya-led Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist-Baidya) and the Matrika Yadav-led Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (CPN-Maoist-Matrika) pelted stones at UCPN-M Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda in the Mirchaiya area of Siraha District; protestors also hurled three Petrol bombs targeting the vehicle carrying Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat in Suryamati VDC (Village Development Committee) in Nuwakot District on July 20. Apart from these attacks on leaders, protestors also vandalised public properties.
Again on July 21, 2015, 75 persons, including SF personnel, were injured as protestors clashed with SFs in several areas of Bara, Dhanusha, Janakpur, Rupandehi Districts in Terai, and in Makwanpur which shares a border with the Terai.
On the same day, July 21, more than two dozen cadres of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N, a conservative national party) including lawmaker Ganesh Thapa, were injured in a clash with Police in Hetauda, the District headquarters of Makwanpur. The clash ensued after a group of cadres, led by RPP-N Chairman Kamal Thapa, forcefully entered into the hall where public feedback collection on the Draft Constitution was under way, and vandalised chairs and the stage, demanding re-establishment of the Hindu state.
On July 22, 2015, RPP-N, enforced a bandh (general shut down) in the Hetauda area in Makwanpur. Daily life was hit hard due to the bandh in Jhapa District as well.
Further, on July 24, 2015, normal life across Nepal was hit hard by the bandh enforced by the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist-Chand), protesting against the Constitution drafting process and the Lipu-Lekh agreement, a trade agreement signed by India and China to expand border trade at the Lipu-Lekh Pass – a piece of land in Nepal bordering the two neighboring countries – signed on May 15, 2015. The bandh enforcers had vandalized five vehicles in Kathmandu and three in the Lalitpur District. Police arrested 52 persons, including CPN-Maoist-Chand’s senior leader Tilak Pariyar and Sharad Rasaili, Chairperson of All Nepal National Free Students Union-Revolutionary (ANNFSU-R), the student wing of the CPN-Maoist-Chand, from various parts of Kathmandu. Seven persons were arrested from the Banepa area of Kavre District, which shares a border with the Terai region, as they were organising a ‘torch procession’ on the eve of the bandh.
These recent incidents of violent protests and bandhs followed the July 9, 2015, decision of the four major parties to collect public opinion on the provisions of the draft Constitution. Those opposing the decision – National Madhes Shadbhavana Party (NMSP), Tarai Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP), Sadbhavana Party (SP) and United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) – have decided to stall the process. Notably, soon after the decision taken by the four major parties on the issue, these groups had threatened severe protests if the major political parties did not pay heed to their principal demand, the inclusion of provisions in the Draft Constitution for Nepal to be federated into 11 provinces as recommended by the State Restructuring Commission formed in 2011, and not into eight as agreed in the 16-point Agreement.
Significantly, violent protests and bandhs continue to haunt Nepal intermittently as the country struggles to resolve the residual tensions of decades of precedent turmoil. At its peak, insurgency-related fatalities in Nepal stood at 4,896 – 3,992 Maoists, 666 SF personnel and 238 civilians – in a single year, 2002. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the country has registered no insurgency-related fatalities since August 24, 2012, when unidentified assailants killed the general secretary of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF)-affiliated Factory Workers Union (FWU), Rama Shankar Mandal in the Birgunj, area of Parsa District. However, the country has recorded 26 incidents of street violence and bandhs leading to four killings and 174 injuries since then.
Just between February 28, 2015, and March 30, 2015, during an earlier cycle of political turmoil, 83 persons, including 67 cadres of the UCPN-M-led 30-party alliance, 15 Policemen and one minor were injured when sporadic clashes erupted between the agitating activists of the alliance and Police in different parts of the country. The protestors were demanding that political parties reach a consensus on drafting the new Constitution. According to the Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB), the average direct cost of general strikes in Nepal stood at Nepali Rupee (NPR) 1.8 billion per strike day and NPR 27 billion per year, at current prices, over 2008-2013.
Meanwhile, amidst all these violent protests, the Constituent Assembly (CA) concluded the process of collection of feedback on the Draft Constitution on July 21, 2015. The CA had stipulated two days (July 20–July 21) for feedback collection. A total of 33,316 suggestions through various means of communications were collected from 240 electoral constituencies. These included 20,722 suggestions through website; 8,800 by email; 2,471 from toll-free numbers; 1,080 through fax; and 243 through postal service and direct submission at the CA Secretariat. Some notable suggestions which came from the public, include holding of direct elections for key political positions such as President, Prime Minister, lawmakers, and heads of ward committees of municipal or VDC committees; fixing education qualification of executive heads and lawmakers; determining the names and boundaries of the federal units by the CA itself; removing secularism and restoring Nepal as a Hindu State; among others.
The Constitution writing process, incorporating the views collected from the masses, is now approaching completion, and it will be necessary for the CA to resist the pressure that is being exerted by certain groups with vested interests. Indeed, during an interview on June 26, 2015, Prime Minister Koirala had already declared,
There is no reason to doubt the trajectory of new Constitution. It has already entered a process. Every Committee of the Constituent Assembly is working on war footing. There is not a moment to waste. You might consider the Constitution done and dusted. No force can stop it now. There is no time like now to reconstruct the country and take it on the path of development and prosperity. The recent disaster has only added to the urgency. Our commitment is peace, development, democracy and prosperity and there is no better time to institutionalize them.
A time bound approach and an inclusive Constitution incorporating public feedback will certainly help stabilize Nepal and create the conditions to meet the country’s many other challenges. Crucially, according to a World Bank report released on June 16, 2015, quake-hit Nepal needs fund equivalent to one third of its economy to recover from the disaster, which killed nearly 9,000 people in April-May 2015. The Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) prices the damage at USD 5.15 billion, losses at USD 1.9 billion and consequently recovery needs at USD 6.6 billion. Unless the political turmoil is brought to an end, and a final Constitution is established to guide the policies and practices of successor Governments, the urgent requirements of reconstruction and relief cannot be successfully addressed.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management