Huge queues in front of gas stations, phenomenal price rise and looming scarcity close to the Hindu festival of Dashain as well as an Eid celebrated by Muslims with much less than the usual pomp and splendour — these are the realities Nepal has been facing since the promulgation of the constitution on September 20.
The big political parties allege that it’s an undeclared blockade by India, after Kathmandu refused to entertain the
concerns New Delhi voiced, especially about enhanced autonomy and a larger parliamentary role for Madhes, Nepal’s plains.
The state-sponsored celebrations to welcome the constitution were cut short and anti-India rhetoric and protests have now become routine.
“Countries may be smaller or bigger in size, but sovereignty means the same thing for every country,” said K.P. Oli, in response to India’s cold response that it had taken “note” of a constitution having been promulgated. Madhesi leaders have now specified their demand that at least 83 of 165 seats, in the first-past-the-post category, in the House of Representatives should be from Madhes. They justify it on grounds that Madhes has 51 per cent of the total population. But this also means leaving less than 50 per cent seats for the rest. No serious debate ever took place in the Constituent Assembly to generate better understanding on crucial matters.
The much trumpeted “consensus”, since 2006, only meant power-sharing among the eight parties that came together under the India-mediated 12-point agreement to form, basically, an anti-monarchy front. They consciously stonewalled any dissent, calling it regressive. Due process in political reform and constitution-writing were ignored. But the rapid fragmentation of that front has produced two groups fighting each other in favour of and against the constitution.
India now stands accused of micro-managing Nepal’s affairs by the powerful group that has controlled the government and parliament. For the first time since 2006, Nepal’s major actors have overruled India’s suggestion — to take the Madhesis on board — before promulgating the constitution. “It’s not India. We have caused the blockade to press our demands,” said Upendra Yadav, leader of the four-party Madhes front, clearly exaggerating their strength. Maoist chief Prachanda claimed, “India and Madhesi groups have joined hands against the constitution, an outcome of our sovereign exercise.”
Prachanda’s anti-India stance has become more strident, especially since Baburam Bhattarai — Prachanda’s deputy for nearly three decades, who’s also considered “trusted by India” since 2006 — quit the Maoist party and declared his support for the Madhesi cause. Prachanda may claim a pyrrhic victory for now, as India has become the majority’s target as a “hegemonic force”. Indian public opinion, too, seems divided as leftist activists and a section of the bureaucracy, who together played a role in bringing the Maoists and other parties together, are supporting Nepal’s big parties.
Indian PM Narendra Modi also remains a suspect for being a “manipulator” trying to torpedo the three goals set by the Manmohan Singh regime, under heavy pressure from the CPM and what’s called the “JNU lobby” in Nepal.
But in reality, the crisis Nepal’s new constitution faces is largely caused by the compromise Nepali leaders made with due process — the short cut to secularism and republicanism, without any debate or inv-olvement of the people.
Now that the constitution has been promulgated and parliament summoned, it’s mandatory to elect a new prime minister within two weeks (by October 15), followed by a speaker and a new president. All of this must happen by October-end. Failure to do these will lead to a breakdown of the constitution from the top.
Next, the tricky question that must be answered is the one raised by the Madhesis and ownership of the statute has to be enlarged. This will have a bearing, also, on Nepal-India relations, wherein cordiality is crucial for Nepal’s stability.