Constitutional issues: Nepal

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The predominantly Madhesi-imposed ‘blockade’ on the Indo-Nepal border, following the adoption of the new Constitution of Nepal in 2015; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, December 12, 2015

This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


2015: New constitution, Nepal

Time, Sept. 17, 2015

Rishi Iyengar

Nepal has finally passed a new constitution after years of political turmoil

The landlocked Himalayan nation’s parliament passed the constitution with 507 out of 601 members of its Constituent Assembly voting in favor, Agence France-Presse reported.

The new charter replaces an interim constitution that has governed the country since 2007, when a decadelong civil war culminated in the end of its Hindu monarchy. Since then, rival political parties have been at loggerheads over the document’s details, a disagreement that dragged on for years until the devastating earthquake of 2015 that claimed nearly 9,000 lives prompted a hasty reconciliation. The constitutional logjam was widely blamed for the delay in mobilizing rescue efforts, prompting the country’s three leading political stakeholders — the formerly antigovernment Maoists, the main communist party UML and the Nepali Congress — to begin the drafting process in June.

The constitution has not been without controversy, however, with the decision to divide the country into seven distinct provinces sparking protests that claimed at least 40 lives in recent weeks. Critics of the bill say the divisions will further marginalize Nepal’s ethnic minorities like the Tharu and Madhesi communities. A clause that increases barriers to Nepali children automatically acquiring their mothers’ citizenship has also been criticized as backward.

“Ownership of the document is important,” Lok Raj Baral, executive chairman of the Nepal Centre for Contemporary Studies, told AFP. “Even if it is a minority that does not accept it, the parties have to take an initiative to address the disgruntled elements.”

The general reaction, however, has been one of relief and positivity, with loud cheers reportedly breaking out in the assembly when Speaker Subash Nembang announced the passage of the bill.

“It is an issue of pride for all Nepalis that the people’s constitution has been passed from the Constituent Assembly,” Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala tweeted.

Koirala has announced that he will step down once the constitution is in place, paving the way for a new government to take over.

Salient features of the new constitution


1. Kathmandu Post

2. Kathmandu Post

3. Nepal Upclose

4. Nepali Times

The Constitution of Nepal 2072 passed on Sept 16, 2015 by the Constituent Assembly meeting envisions a federal democratic republican and inclusive and prosperous Nepal by institutionalising the achievements of the democratic movements held in the country.

The Constituent Assembly (CA) has passed the constitution bill with two thirds majority. A total of 507 votes were cast in favor of the bill while 25 votes were cast against it. According to the interim constitution, two thirds majority is required to endorse the bill which means a total vote of 399 out of the 598 occupied seats in the CA would have sufficed to pass the bill.

All three major parties i.e. Nepali Congress (NC), CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist along with a majority of fringe parties voted for the constitution bill. Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) led by Kamal Thapa however voted against the bill. Madhes-based parties had boycotted constitution drafting altogether.

A committee led by Baburam Bhattarai will polish the language and order of the new constitution before five copies of the final version goes to print.

The lawmakers will sign the five copies of Nepal’s Constitution-2072 and the CA Chair will authenticate the new constitution. The next meeting of the CA is scheduled for 5pm, 20 September when the new constitution will be promulgated by President Ram Baran Yadav.

Realising a dream cherished by the Nepali people since the past 65 years, the new constitution will formally take the country towards a federal structure from the existing unitary structure that remained rooted in the country for 240 years. The new statute has proposed to federate the country into seven federal units, which will be one of the significant changes to take place on the basis of the new constitution. The new constitution that will be formally promulgated on September 20 expresses the determination to build an equitable society on the basis of the principle of proportional inclusion and participation, by ensuring economic equality, prosperity and social justice. The preamble of the constitution also mentions people's competitive multi-party democratic system, civic freedom, fundamental rights, human rights, period election, voting rights, full press freedom, independent, fair and competent judiciary, building of a prosperous nation with the commitment to socialism based on rule of law, and democratic norms and values, and durable peace, good governance, development through the federal democratic republic.

Similarly, in order to get the citizenship by decent, one needs to have father or mother Nepali at the time of his/her birth. Protection of the age old religions and culture, secularism with freedom to adopt any religion are other salient features of the constitution. The executive rights of the country shall vest on the Council of Ministers while the President would be ceremonial head-of-the-state. Similarly, a bi-cameral federal parliament, a constitutional bench in the Supreme Court, and formation of constitutional commissions on national natural resources and finance, on national inclusion, on indigenous nationalities, on Madhesi, on Tharu and on Muslim are other features of the new constitution that is finally coming after two CA elections and almost a decade of constitution drafting process.

2015: Secularism retained

The Times of India, Sep 15 2015


Nepal rejects Hindu nation proposal, to stay secular

Nepal's Constituent Assembly has rejected calls to remove the key term secularism from the new Constitution and revert the Himalayan nation to a Hindu state, triggering protests by Hindu activists. As the Constituent Assembly resumed voting on individual articles of the Constitution draft, more than two-thirds of the lawmakers rejected the amendment proposal to make Nepal a Hindu state and reaffirmed that it will remain a secular nation.

The proposal was made by Rastirya Prajatantra Party (RPP) Nepal or National Democratic Party Nepal, a pro-Hindu group, which demanded that secularism be removed from the Constitution in the Article 4 and Hindu state be mentioned instead. RPP's Kamal Thapa demanded split voting, the Himalayan Times reported. Thapa's call received the support of only 21 lawmakers in the 601-seat Assembly .

The turmoil after adoption of 2015 constitution

The Times of India, Oct 02 2015

Keshav Pradhan


China backs Hill Nepalese in slugfest. India big loser in divided Nepal

For years the former Hindu kingdom was grappling with a “people's war“ waged by Maoists that cost more than 16,000 lives. In 2015 there is an ongoing turmoil over Nepal's new constitution, which swears by the principles of federalism, secularism, parliamentary democracy and republicanism. Nepal, which for almost nine years ran without a permanent constitution after it abolished monarchy , stands bitterly divided along ethnic lines.

Ethnic groups fighting for more autonomy are busy expanding their areas of influence. The most vociferous of them are Madhesis (Maithili, Bhojpuri, Avadhi, Hindi and Urdu-speaking people) and Tharus, who live in the terai bordering Bihar and UP. In the hills, Limbus, Khambus, Magars, Gurungs, and Tamangs (Nepalese of mongoloid stock) are equally restive.These groups, along with Khasas (hill Nepalese of Aryan origin), have been serving the Nepalese, Indian and British armies for generations. In addition, sections of Nepalese, mostly Bahuns, Khasas, and some madhesi groups have been clamouring for a Hindu state. But the Nepalese of mongoloid origin, who follow Buddhism or animism, oppose this demand. Madhesis, who take pride in having “roti-betikarista“ (socio-economic relationship) with India, have suffered discrimination. Suspicious of their loyalty , Nepal's former ruling elite and sections of hill Nepalese looked down upon them. Nepalese of mongoloid origin, too, have been marginalised for centuries. A majority of Bahuns and Kashtriyas (the two communities that mainly comprised Nepal's elite) are equally poor. Tharus, most of whom were bonded labourers till the turn of the century, were the worst sufferers. Comprising almost 30% of Nepal's population, Madhesis are in a position to fight for their rights on their own.Their home -the terai -is known as Nepal's granary and houses most of the country's industrial units. The Madhesis first began to talk about their rights in 1990 when King Birendra reintroduced multiparty democracy after an agitation by Nepali Congress and United Left Front. The Madhesi movement got a boost when the Maoists made autonomy for all ethnic groups a major issue during its 10-year-old “people's war.“ After the end of monarchy , some Madhesi extremists picked up arms to fight for their cause and got wiped out quickly . The terai, a narrow strip of flat land 20-40km in width, running from east to west, was not suitable for such an armed struggle. Mainstream Madhesi leaders such as BijayGachchhedar and Mahant Thakur (both from Nepali Congress) and former Maoist Upendra Yadav later turned the Madhesi agitation into a mass movement. They left their parties to float separate teraicentric parties that did well in the first constituent assembly election. In the second constituent assembly election last year, the Madhesi parties performed miserably because their leaders were accused of corruption and ineptitude. Outnumbered in the assembly ,Madhesi parties got together to fight back through street agitations when the constitution-making process was in its final stages. Their representatives quit the assembly weeks before almost 85% of the members adopted the new constitution on September 20. It was at this juncture that India stepped in in two phases. First, some BJP leaders said they wanted Nepal to become a Hindu state. Later, the NDA government began to negotiate with Nepal on behalf of the Madhesis, which the Nepalese leadership took as “an external interference“.Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar's last-minute meetings with the Nepalese leadership bore no fruit. This was followed by an indefinite economic blockade of Nepal by Madhesi agitators. This is in reminiscent of the closure of 20 of the 22 official entry points by India in 1989, which, most Nepalese say, happened after King Birendra reportedly turned down a breakfast invitation by Rajiv Gandhi in Pakistan during a Saarc meeting. The extent of anti-India feeling is much more this time than in 1989. The earlier “blockade“ was against one individual ruler. This time Nepal has an elected government headed by Nepali Congress, which is known as “India's support base“ in Kathmandu. Compared to all Saarc nations, including Afghanistan, Nepal is India's closest neighbour. Its destiny is intertwined with that of India because the two nations share a common geography , history , religion, culture and heritage. Any turmoil in Nepal can hurt Delhi as much as it hurts Kathmandu. In Sept 2015, Nepalese cable operators blacked out Indian channels despite Kathmandu's pleas. Madhesi agitators hit back by banning Nepalese channels in the terai districts of Bara and Parsa. Hill Nepalese say Madhesis cannot block border points without India's tacit support.All this has caused further chasm between hill Nepalese and things related to India.Nepalese of mongoloid origin and a section of Tharus have begun to distance themselves from Madhesi agitators with whom they had once joined hands to fight for autonomy .

Not ready to bow before India's pressure, Nepalese politicians and media are celebrating the support extended by China in their “undeclared“ face-off with India. Perhaps a little restraint would have stopped India and Nepal from starting a fight where both will be the ultimate losers.

Tensions after the 2015 constutution

The Times of India, Oct 18 2015

Gurcharan Das

India looms large in the Nepali imagination but Nepal hardly figures in India's, except as a fantasy wonderland in the Himalayas. In early 2015, Prime Minister Modi was a hero in Nepali eyes after his brilliant address to the nation's lawmakers. India's stock rose higher after its generous aid to the victims of the April earthquake. In October 2015 the Indian flag is being burned on the streets of Nepal.The trouble began when Nepal announced a new constitution in Sept 2015.Much awaited, it should have brought joy and celebration. Instead, it brought a revolt among Madhesis in the terai belt bordering India. Forty persons died. Although a third of Nepal, Madhesis have long felt discriminated by the hill elite.The new constitution marginalized them further as many of their districts were merged into the hill states. Madhesis retaliated by blocking trucks carrying food and fuel from India. As shortages developed and prices shot up, Nepal blamed India for its misery. India claimed innocence -it was a Madhesi blockade. But Nepalis accused India of siding with the Madhesis.True, India had championed their cause during the constitution-making process. A late frantic visit by India's foreign secretary, Jaishankar, had strengthened the perception. Although of Indian origin, Madhesis were Nepalis, and Ne pal felt that India had interfered in its domestic affairs. What if Pakistan became India's adviser on how to treat India's Muslims, or if Americans instructed us on how to manage Kashmir? It is never easy for a big country to compel a small one to act in a certain way . It needs finesse and subtlety . India's national interest is to have a friendly Nepal that does not fall into China's hands.Diplomacy is the art of friendly persuasion -to align a neighbour's interest with one's own. This is where India's diplomacy has failed. To their credit, both sides have realized their mistakes. Modi has welcomed Prime Minister K P Oli's rise to power. Oli has appointed a dissident Madhesi as a deputy prime minister and has promised to sort out Madhesi grievances. But the anger, the pain of the blockade, and ill-will towards India remain.

There are other lessons in this fiasco. Nepal's old politicians need to shed their distrust of India.With huge hydroelectric potential, Nepal should not be suffering from constant blackouts. Instead of buying power from India today , it should be selling it to India. But xenophobia prevents it from allowing Indian entrepreneurs to generate power.It could learn from Bhutan, which has achieved the highest GDP per capita in South Asia by selling power to India. Nepal's old elite also needs to catch up with a new generation of aspiring, young Nepalis who will no longer put up with the old iniquities against minorities and women. Young Nepali women are deeply offended by an unequal provision in the constitution: children of Nepali men with foreign wives will get citizenship but not those of Nepali women married to a foreign husband. This law is aimed at the Madhesis. Manjushree Thapa, the Nepali author, puts it nicely: “Ruled by a deep-seated xenophobia, Hindu patriarchs fear that Indian men will marry Nepali women, and the children -born of Indian seed! -will populate Nepal. Nepal will then no longer be Nepali.“

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