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The proposed Constitution Amendment Bill which is ostensibly supposed to address the grievances of the Madhesi Front has already run into rough weather after it faced protests from not only the main opposition Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist but from the Front as well.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s every attempt to cajole and convince Front leaders failed. He was bluntly told that the government should rework the amendment bill especially on the inclusion of areas with Tharu and Madhesi populations into the proposed Madhesi provinces.
A demoralised PM has agreed to rework the bill that was slated to be taken up by Parliament next week. However, the amendment bill that works on the principle of total segregation of the hills and the plains and against emotional connectivity has provoked large protests in Capital Kathmandu, the western town of Bilutwal and far west Rolpa — the stronghold of the Maoist insurgency from early 1996.
The amendment move seeks to transfer some hill districts from the proposed Province 4 to Province 5 — the former is where the Tharu community enjoys a numerical advantage at the moment. This will also make the province huge and ungovernable also in a way legitimising ethnicity as the basis of creating federal units.
“I don’t even want to see your face, forget about having a dialogue,” UML leader K P Oli told Dahal when invited for talks to quell the violence over the proposed amendment.
Keeping the hills and the plains, the caste and ethnic groups apart is likely to increase animosity in the long run. At the same time, the creation of ethnic zones or provinces once demanded by the Maoists could dominate Nepal’s messy and prolonged transition. The demographic and geographical segregation that the amendment has sought to legitimise will have fewer takers.
It may also have a larger political risk for the present coalition government for the loss of face that it has suffered as well as for the violence in parts of the country in protest against the amendments.
The Maoist as well as the Nepali Congress, both part of the ruling coalition, are divided on the bill whereas the Opposition UML is leading protests in Parliament and on the streets.