September 21, 2015
Much of the citizenry of Nepal’s capital are in a celebratory mood upon the promulgation of the nation’s first constitution drafted by a democratically elected Constituent Assembly (CA). After a decade-long Maoist insurgency, the abolishment of the monarchy, and the declaration of a republic in 2008 – followed by seven years of shameless and anti-climatic thumb-twiddling by the CA – the actualization of a constitution is reason for balloons and fireworks lighting up Kathmandu’s nightscape.
But the mood in southern Nepal is a different tale.
Strong opposition from minority groups, particularly the Madhesis and Tharus, who inhabit the southern plains along the Indian border, remain dissatisfied – recently to the point of violent outrage – over what they define as centuries of marginalization and discrimination from the Kathmandu-centric political power base. In the last few weeks, over 40 people – including police – have either been bludgeoned to death, butchered, shot or set on fire.
The unrest is largely over the contentious manner in which the country has been carved up into seven federal states, which, according to much of the southern population, discriminates against them. They want more states and representation equal to their population – an ethnic-based model of federalism – rather than the voted-in geographical model that favors the continuation of the old ruling elites.
In Parsa, thousands of demonstrators defied local curfews. Police were attacked with stones and broken glass bottles. One person was killed, two others are in critical condition and others injured. Parsa’s chief district officer Kesheb Raj Ghimire described the situation as “tense”, according to AFP.
According to Reuters, former Election Commission Chariman Bhojraj Pokharel, “...fears that the hastily thrown together constitution has sown the seeds of a ‘dangerous’ new conflict’, not based on political ideology, but rather ethnicity.
India, Nepal’s southern neighbor, is also troubled. India’s External Affairs ministry issued a statement saying, “We are concerned that the situation in several parts of the country bordering India continues to be violent.”
Other analysts point out that, since China has come forward to welcome Nepal’s new constitution on a much less guarded basis than India, it creates an additional headache for Delhi’s political maneuvering with Nepal.
Within Nepal’s leadership, even Maoist honcho and former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai voiced concern that the new constitution failed to unite the country: "I am not completely happy with the announcement of the constitution," Bhattarai told Annapurna Post. "We were not able to involve half of the country's population in this process of creating the constitution." Although it should be pointed out that Battarai was one of the main supporters of the promulgation.
PRACHANT JHA’S ANALYSIS FOR THE HINDUSTAI TIMES, SUNDAY, SEPT. 20
Below is an excerpt from Prachant Jha’s excellent piece published yesterday. It explores nuances of the current situation, vis-à-vis India, that other journalists have failed to explore:
At the highest levels in the Government of India, Nepal's new constitution and the manner in which it has been pushed through is being viewed as 'a major problem' that could lead to strife and conflict right across the open border, top sources have said.
Nepal’s top political leadership may not have listened to foreign secretary S Jaishankar’s advice to take dissenting forces on board before constitution promulgation. But Delhi feels that mass protests across the Tarai as well as the police killing of a protester in the bordering town of Birgunj have vindicated its position that Nepali leaders were playing with fire.
Delhi noted the 'promulgation of a constitution', but it refrained from welcoming it on Sunday. The use of the phrase 'a' is seen as significant, for India does not see it as the definitive document it is meant to be.
India is upset with the Nepali political elite’s false assurances to India and amused at its opportunistic use of the ‘nationalism’ card. It is also clear there is no alternative to a substantial review and amendment of the constitution. And it feels there is no durable solution without taking Madhesi, Tharu and Janjati concerns on board. At the moment, no Tarai party has signed the constitution.
India has consistently told Nepali leaders they must strive for the 'widest possible agreement' and a constitution that reflects the aspirations of all regions and sections of society. In repeated meetings, Nepal prime minister Sushil Koirala, former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba, Maoist chairman Prachanda, and UML chairman KP Oli - key Kathmandu players - assured India this would happen.
"They gave false assurances, but drafted constitutional provisions which are widely perceived by the Madhesis and Tharus as discriminatory, and went back on some of the more positive gains of the interim constitution," a top government source in Delhi told HT.
These leaders have now sought to play the 'nationalism' card and alleged Indian interference. But sources told HT that the same leaders have sent messages to India to use its influence with Madhesi leaders to call off protests. "Many have also sought support for their personal power ambitions. They want our interference as long as we do what they want. We see through the game," the source added.