The much trumpeted amendment to the constitution has drawn a mixed response in Nepal and in the international community.
The United Democratic Madhesi Front, a group of four political parties from Tarai, has rejected it, but its constituents are apparently divided on the future course. Rajednra Mahato, a prominent front leader said ‘it does not address our demands’ while another leader Upendra Yadav said ‘it is more meant to appease outsiders than address our demands.’ His double-edged response was directed both against the government of Nepal and India, that promptly welcomed the amendment. Mahanth Thakur, senior-most leader of the Front said it only partly ‘addresses the demands.’
The amendment touches three aspects. First, it bestows priority to population in delimitation of 165 constituencies for parliament – Nepal is to adopt a mixed electoral system with remaining 110 – but with each 75 districts having at least one seat guaranteed in the House.
The Front had been asking for proportional representation in the House on the plea that 51 per cent population lives in Tarai that occupies 17 per cent of the national geography, now the second factor in delimitation of the constituency. Out of 75 districts, administrative units in the country, 22 fall in Tarai and the rest in the Hill and Mountain.
The amendment also provides for representation of 15 categories of people in the state organs on the basis of social, educational, economic deprivation as the determining factors. But there have been no sociological or administrative studies commission or laws enacted so far identifying backward groups, Madhesis, indigenous nationalities, marginalised groups, peasants, labourers, and people belonging to backward regions and Khas-‘Arya’ community. Who is Arya or Madhesis, or peasants or laboaurers are difficult to define yet. But LGBTs, disabled, Muslims, Tharus – all listed as beneficiaries – are distinct communities and groups. Similarly, another major issue – demarcation of proposed federal units – are to be settled through a boundary commission subsequently.
What would be the barometer of the acceptability of this amendment? Clearly, the Front and its ‘moral patron’, i e India till recently, are responding differently. The US, another major influence in Nepal, has said a ‘unilateral step’ is best avoided. While India has welcomed it, China has maintained a silence, like in most other internal issues.
Inside Nepal, there are skepticism that the amendment will ensure larger ownership of the constitution. In fact, it may trigger more hostile reaction both in Tarai and in the rest of the country. While Tarai population will realise soon that finding who would be the beneficiary will be difficult to decide, the rest of Nepal may react adversely, on perception that only Tarai has been granted benefits under the new constitution.