By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
I had always maintained that without solving the contentious issue of the delineation of provinces, the drafting of the new constitution cannot be completed. This was the most serious issue affecting the Madhesi and the Janajathi groups and some solution should have been found before the final draft copy was handed over to the Speaker.
But the brazen way in which the three main political parties- the Nepali Congress and the Maoists went their way with the six province formula was rather surprising and it inevitably led to protests and violence from the Terai from 8th of August onwards.
What made it worse was the addition of a seventh province to satisfy the Karnali region which led to the departure of the only Madhesi group – Madhesi Janadhikar Forum ( democratic) of Gachhadar who had all along gone with the mainstream group despite inviting the wrath from their own constituents, from the constitution making process. With Sadhbhavana party following Gacchadar’s exit, there is now left no Madhesi vote in the Constituent assembly in finalising the constitution. This is a serious flaw affecting the credibility of the new constitution that is supposed to have consolidated the gains made in the 2006 Jana Andolan agitation and 2007 Madhesi movement.
Violence has been widespread following hartals, stoppage of traffic and closure of shops with the Police opening fire at many points. Many civilian deaths have occurred.
The most critical incident was at Tikapur in Kalilali district where seven Police men including the Senior Superintendent were lynched on 24th August. Five more Policemen were critically injured of whom one succumbed to the injuries subsequently.
It is not clear how an unarmed Superintendent and two of his guards were isolated and how they could have approached the mob of thousands holding knives and sticks without waiting to get support of other armed police groups from nearby. This lack of coordination among the Police and resultant deaths that would demoralise the Police could have been avoided. Tikapur as well as other neighbouring villages are now desolate with all the young and old having fled the area for fear of reprisal. It is hoped that the perpetrators of the killings are brought to justice soon.
Instead of addressing the grievances and the reasons for violence, Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam in an apparent reference to India had alleged “foreign conspiracy” in instigating violence. He also alleged that intruders from outside have entered many of the Terai districts.
The Home Minister’s statement was most inappropriate and rightly the Indian ambassador while reserving his comments met the Home Minster personally to convey his concern that the statement of the Home Minister was not helpful for Indo Nepal relations.
The Prime Minister of India, soon after the Tikapur incident is said to have had a telephonic talk with the Nepalese Prime minister Sushil Koirala to discuss the latest political developments in Nepal.
In the wake of the inappropriate comments from the Home Minister, should PM Narendra Modi have telephoned Nepalese PM at all? With the agitation centered mainly in the Terai districts where the Madhesis predominate any action or statement from the Indian side will be misunderstood.
Earlier Prime Minister Modi, during his visit to Kathmandu in addressing the Parliament maintained that India will not interfere and that Nepal should find its own solution for all the problems faced by it. This stand was universally applauded by all the political parties including the Maoists in Nepal. However in a subsequent visit he made a reference to the constitution making process and suggested that the new draft should be inclusive. This nullified whatever good will that was generated in the previous visit and the feeling gained in Kathmandu was that India wanted the demands and the aspirations of the Madhesi groups should be accommodated in the new constitution. The present call from the Indian PM will not be liked by many in the establishment. One does not know who in the PMO is advising the PM on matters relating to Nepal.
What needs to be done now is clear. There is a need to talk and the Prime Minister Sushil Koirala should reach out to the Madhesi leaders to desist from agitating and come to Kathmandu for talks. If there is going to be delay in finalization of the new constitution, it will not matter.
The Madhesi leaders instead of making “fiery and provocative” speeches should allow a pause in the agitation and seek a dialogue with the leaders of the three mainstream political parties. It does not matter whether there should be one or two provinces in the Madhesh and they should therefore formally give up the demand for one province for the entire Madhesh area. The Tharus will also be happy with a second one covering the western half of the southern districts.
On the question of the five disputed districts of Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Kanchanpur and Kailali, instead of going for a federal commission which apparently appears to be an “Indian suggestion” why not ascertain the views of the voters of the five districts directly by some form of a referendum?”
On the gender discrimination and citizenship rights, it is not clear why at all, a change was being suggested when the provisions in the interim constitution were adequate. Perhaps a status quo will be more acceptable.
The only other important point that is being contested is in declaring Nepal as a secular state. While the Maoists are insisting on a specific mention of “secularism” why not consider the suggestions of some others where freedom of religion could be embedded into the constitution?
It is time that normalcy is restored as soon as possible. With the blockade of transport to Kathmandu Valley, the situation in Kathmandu could become critical. The three major parties particularly the UML should give up their rigid and brazen attitude towards constitution making and at the same time, the Terai groups particularly- Upendra Yadav should become more conciliatory and be ready for a compromise for the well being of whole of Nepal.