Constitutional error

As long as half of Nepal feels it has been shortchanged by the new constitution, political stability will elude it.

Written by Shyam Saran | Published:September 26, 2015 12:12 am
nepal, nepal constitution, nepal news, nepal new constitution, india nepal, india nepal ties, world news, india news, asia news, nepal constitution news Nepalese people gather to celebrate the adoption of the country’s new constitution, outside the constituent assembly hall in Kathmandu, Nepal, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. (Source: AP photo)

When Nepal was struck by a major earthquake in April this year, there was hope that the scale of the disaster and the urgent task of rehabilitation and reconstruction would persuade its squabbling political parties to reach an early consensus on the long-stalled process of finalising and adopting a new constitution. Impatience among its people and frustration within the international community had sharpened in the aftermath of the earthquake. However, instead of making a genuine effort to forge a broadbased consensus, the major political parties, representing the old high-caste-and-hill elite, saw this as an opportunity to push a flawed constitution through the Constituent Assembly, even reversing some of the already settled features of the interim constitution of 2007 and the 16-point agreement reached among the parties, including the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum on June 9 this year. The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, which had all along espoused an inclusive political and social agenda as well as a federal structure that would reflect Nepal’s ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity, did a neat about-turn. A deeply entrenched and feudal mindset trumped egalitarian ideology. This is now sought to be hidden behind abusive anti-Indian rhetoric. It should have come as no surprise that the blatantly discriminatory features of the constitution should spark widespread opposition and protest. The often brutal and repressive measures visited upon hapless demonstrators have already resulted in over 40 deaths. A vicious cycle of confrontation and violence appears to be taking hold. Instead of dealing with this dangerous situation through an early and sincere dialogue with its own aggrieved citizens, the Nepal government and some of its political leaders are again indulging in ultra-nationalist and anti-India rhetoric, alienating the one friend and well-wisher they have, and one that only recently extended much-needed relief to the people of Nepal who were ravaged by the earthquake.

Nepal’s polity has failed to keep pace with the multiple and far-reaching transitions that have been taking place in the country over the past two decades and more. One, despite the efforts of its traditional hill-based elite, the democratisation process that commenced in the early 1990s and is still ongoing has spread political awareness and led to the assertion of identities and aspirations of the many ethnic and culturally diverse groups that comprise Nepal. The monochromal hill identity imposed upon its diverse people and upheld by a feudal monarchy could no longer be sustained in the more plural politics that is the reality of contemporary Nepal. The acceptance of the principle of federation was an acknowledgement of this plurality, but the new constitution has robbed it of its substance. As long as almost half the country’s population feels it has been shortchanged and subjected to institutionalised discrimination, political stability will continue to elude Nepal.

Two, there is a generational transition in Nepal that the country’s politics continues to neglect. Nepal has a demographic profile that is even younger than India’s. More than 50 per cent of its population is below 25 years of age. There is also a high net migrant rate of 61 per 1,000 of the population, reflecting the limited job opportunities available in the country. It is estimated that six to eight million Nepali nationals live and work in cities across India alone. Unlike in the past, the new generation of Nepalis are literate, have been exposed to external influences and, like India’s own youth, are aspirational and forward-looking. This includes bright young women who continue to chafe under the feudal patriarchal attitudes that still define the political elite. Consider the provisions relating to citizenship in the constitution: Children of a Nepali male marrying a foreigner will enjoy citizenship rights, but not those of a Nepali woman marrying a foreigner. The constitution perpetuates old prejudices and mindsets, instead of helping to create a political and social environment able to generate the opportunities its younger generation deserves. It is this generation that can transform Nepal’s prospects and make it one of South Asia’s most affluent countries.

Three, there is a significant change in Nepal’s external environment that its political dispensation has failed to leverage to the country’s advantage. Nepal, until recently, was a relatively isolated country, its high mountains to the north and thick forests to the south engendering a sense of mistrust, even hostility, to outsiders. Prithvi Narayan Shah, the famous king who united Nepal, is reputed to have described his country as a “yam between two rocks”, the two rocks being India and China. That sense of vulnerability, and of being under siege, still drives much of Nepal’s political behaviour. But Nepal’s proximity to the two fastest-growing and continental-size economies of the world should be seen as an asset few developing countries enjoy. India, in particular, represents a huge opportunity, rather than a threat, should its leaders begin to see their southern neighbour in a different light. One frequently hears how Nepal has suffered from having an open border with India, but whenever movement across this border has been disrupted, as one hears is becoming the case again due to violence in the Terai, it is the people of Nepal who suffer. It is the open border that allowed a large number of Nepali citizens to escape violence and economic deprivation during the decade of Maoist insurgency and seek shelter in India. The tourism and hotel industries in Nepal benefit from the several thousand Indians who travel there for leisure or pilgrimage. This dense network of relations between the two countries does not square with the yam complex, which still colours our neighbour’s perception of India.

India is right to be concerned about the spillover effect of political instability and violence across the border in Nepal. But the current crisis also exposes a continuing weakness in India’s neighbourhood policy: An attention deficit that is only episodically shaken when a crisis erupts. It also appears that there may have been mixed political messages conveyed to the Nepali side, which may have underestimated India’s reaction. Both these aspects need to be addressed in order to avoid similar crises in the future.

The writer, a former foreign secretary, was India’s ambassador to Nepal, 2002-04.

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App now

  1. R
    Ranjeet
    Sep 26, 2015 at 8:23 pm
    Mr Shyam sharan, how could u verify ur data 6-8 million Nepalese work in India and u have mentioned 50% of potion is below the age of 25 and our total potion is around 26 million among them 3 million work only in Malaysia, and middle east.it is obvious that Ur data is baseless.
    Reply
    1. G
      GS
      Sep 26, 2015 at 8:20 pm
      Shyam Saran, have you actually read the consution? It is one of the most progressive in the world. The bit on citizenship is a blatant lie: yes, "naturalized" citizens can't hold top const. positions, but their children can. XwWisUUdNEM5QV83LXI2N2s/view Also, this piece by Gagan Thapa busts all lies and myths:
      Reply
      1. G
        GS
        Sep 26, 2015 at 8:21 pm
        XwWisUUdNEM5QV83LXI2N2s/view
        Reply
        1. P
          Pavitra shrestha
          Sep 26, 2015 at 7:25 am
          Whoa! What a biased article from someone who is an ex Indian ambador to nepal. How on earth is it a flawed consution? Is it flawed because we refused to be your puppets?
          Reply
          1. S
            Sshrestha
            Sep 26, 2015 at 7:51 am
            After going through the article,I felt very sorry for the Indian government to have diplomat like the writer of the article. I am very sure he didn't understand NEPAL and Nepalese people during his tenture as an Indian ambador to Nepal .I can see that from this article.Not only me,anybody will say the same once they go through the article. As a leading newspaper in Indian continent, I couldn't believe that Indianexpress print it without any proof to autheticized his view.Does that mean IE is after cheap publicity? If that is the case then, today is my last day with IE.
            Reply
            1. R
              Rekha joshi
              Sep 26, 2015 at 8:02 pm
              Consution of any country should be made by representing all the sections of society.We appeal to Triumvirate political parties of Nepal realise their enormity of mistake in the new consution.
              Reply
              1. K
                K SHESHU
                Sep 26, 2015 at 2:51 pm
                Prachanda has not only ditched Napalese people, but he has done a great disservice to the struggles being waged against oppression round the world. The people of Nepal will not spare such renegades for destroying the wealth of sacrifices for personal gains.
                Reply
                1. A
                  Abhi Karki
                  Sep 26, 2015 at 8:16 pm
                  How does the consution deprives people from Terai i.e. Madhesi to be a president or prime minister of Nepal? Do not express opinion without knowing the facts.
                  Reply
                  1. O
                    Ozztmate
                    Sep 26, 2015 at 6:33 pm
                    READ THIS
                    Reply
                    1. D
                      DEVENDRA KUMAR
                      Sep 26, 2015 at 12:50 pm
                      I am sorry, but the w of Terai is not burning. There have in protests certain parts, I don’t disagree. The CA members have not even been allowed to go, when they should have gone, is an entirely different matter. But they have slowly started to go. And no, it not made by a few selfish group. This selfish group consutes 90% of the the people who were voted into power, who have thought for what is good for the country. For your information, The people in Terai get more rights and opportunities due to quota, reservations and other forms of affirmative action than the "elite" Hill caste. So, this consution is biased, but against the hill “elite” caste as you say.
                      Reply
                      1. D
                        DEVENDRA KUMAR
                        Sep 26, 2015 at 10:15 am
                        It is interesting to note how esteemed people tend to propagate lies in the media. If someone so esteemed who worked at the upper echelons of the Indian government cannot get basic facts right, one might consider questioning the kind of disservice s/he did to the Indian taxpayer throughout her/his career. It is an undoubted fact that 90% of the Consuent embly members (who were directly elected by the Nepalese potion, including the ones in the Terai) voted in favour of the consution. This reality, when compared to the hostile atude of the Indian government to the consution, only reeks of the Indian government's lack of trust in democratic procedures. Now if a handful of people in Kashmir do not like your policies, would you like stan instructing them to create chaos, or would you ask them to come to the table and sort out the issues?
                        Reply
                        1. D
                          DEVENDRA KUMAR
                          Sep 26, 2015 at 12:43 pm
                          That's not true. Again a lie has been propagated. Everyone who has a citizenship by descent can get higher positions in the government. Its just that someone who is naturalised cannot. And this applies to everyone, not just the people in Terai. So, its like saying: Sonia hi cannot be the PM because she is naturalised, but Rahul or Priyanka can because they were born in the country. I urge you to read a few articles in the consution, and not fall for the propaa of victimisation propagated in the media.
                          Reply
                          1. D
                            djoshi
                            Sep 26, 2015 at 7:46 pm
                            Biased analysis. Better get your facts corrected.
                            Reply
                            1. D
                              dhakaram Sapkota
                              Sep 27, 2015 at 4:40 pm
                              India is not an oppertunity rather a curse for its neighbour. All the people r accepting the constn except some bihari diaspora
                              Reply
                              1. G
                                Gurbux Singh
                                Sep 26, 2015 at 8:12 pm
                                India should not interfere in the the internal affairs of Nepal. Nepal has a new consution which has been ped by its consuent embly . There are some problems which will be resolved in the due course by the Nepalese people .As far as possible India should not interfere in this process and maintain good neighborly relationship. What Shyam Saran has brought out are his views on the new consution and it is for the people of Nepal to look into them.
                                Reply
                                1. J
                                  JKhadka
                                  Sep 26, 2015 at 8:46 pm
                                  Nepal has 100 ethnic groups with their own language who have lived in harmony with each other for centuries, unlike India with its religious strife, reservation wars and what not. Madheshis (of Indian origin) amount to around 18% or less. Is India seeking ethnic conflict and destabilisation in Nepal.? As a good neighbour was it not India’s duty to have pla a facilitator/ not agitator for the misguided Madheshi political parties (most of them lost elections due to their corruption and narrow self-interest). Following the India example should Nepal too add fuel to the fire of Gornd agitations? The new Nepalese consution is indeed very inclusive/ progressive which does not discriminate ethnic Madheshi in any way (KINDLY READ BEFORE COMMENTING ON IT). This consution is a result of years of difficult discussions among the law makers and now ratified by over 90% of them.? Nepal may be a poor country but its people have immense dignity and courage to fight hardships that come their way. It is the oldest country in South Asia, always proud of its independence and uncolonised history, no true Nepalese will compromise this. In emerging out of its difficult recent history (earthquake included) genuine good neighbours should lend a hand to support the efforts of the Nepalese people and their elected representatives.
                                  Reply
                                  1. K
                                    KShrestha
                                    Sep 26, 2015 at 7:43 pm
                                    It is very surprising that a senior professional like Mr Shyam Sharan tries to provide erroneous facts. The Nepalese consution is opposed only by the Madeshi political parties ( small number of people) and not 50% as mentioned by Mr Sharan. 50% of people who live in the Terai include a host of other Nepalese ethnic groups who have no problem with the consution. And a reputed paper like Indian Express , can you not check the facts put forward by motivated persons like Mr Sharan before you print & esclate wrong facts. A paper like yours is expected to be factual and objective and not promote fudging .
                                    Reply
                                    1. P
                                      Prashanna Koirala
                                      Sep 26, 2015 at 3:45 pm
                                      Where this consution stops ppl from tarai to become pm or president? Only ppl not having citizenship by descent are not allowed to hold this post. This is wrong info only foreign nation who get citizenship due to marriage or stay for a period as stited by law are not allowed to hold these posts. Say if a nepali man marries a foreign women she won't get citizenship by descent but she will have right to vote and contest in election but can't hold above post. But her child now born of Nepali man Ann foreign women will have citizenship by descent. There seems to be confusion regarding citizenship right of madeshis in india .
                                      Reply
                                      1. A
                                        ashok
                                        Sep 27, 2015 at 12:36 am
                                        As always, a balanced and thoughtful column.
                                        Reply
                                        1. M
                                          manoj
                                          Sep 26, 2015 at 9:40 pm
                                          Almost half of potion feels short changed!!!!! Please do not make unsubstantiated claims. Most people in madesh are silent bystanders of the agitation orchestrated by mostly corrupt leaders who profited immensely when they were ministers. It is the few hijacking the lives and freedom of many. Mr. Ex. Foreign secretary, it is your analysis that is colored.
                                          Reply
                                          1. K
                                            K. K.
                                            Sep 26, 2015 at 11:09 pm
                                            On an average the districts of Nepal are inhabited by 53 different types of ethnic groups. No one group in the Terai is in the majority. Cl war which the Maoists had tried to bring about, has now been subverted by ethnic dissents, where upper caste landlords and low caste and cl people are rallied up as a homogeneous group,,,,, far from the fact.
                                            Reply
                                            1. Load More Comments