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Nextdoor Nepal: To the deadline, empty-handed

With the scheduled date for delivery less than a month away, the new constitution is nowhere in sight.

Nepal will need a new approach and apparatus to restore a semblance of order. Nepal will need a new approach and apparatus to restore a semblance of order.

 

In an interaction with journalists last Wednesday, K.P. Sitaula, general secretary of the Nepali Congress (NC), said, “Going by the deadlines that we have missed on various phases of constitution-making, it does not look possible for us to declare the statute by January 22.” This is the closest to admitting what people have been fearing all along, although not too many top leaders have been as forthright.

Less than 24 hours later, Sitaula was included in a task force that the NC, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) and the Madhes groups constituted to narrow down the differences on the constitution, so that the deadline can still be met. The chairman of the Constituent Assembly, Subhash Chandra Nembang, still insists that if the “four parties agree on ingredients of the constitution”, it can be deemed as endorsement by the country.

What is implied is that the constitution should be put to vote right away, without members having enough time to read or understand what they are voting on. The major parties are divided on the model and rights of legislature, executive and judiciary, as well as federalism. Besides, the UCPN-M, despite being relegated to third place, insists on a larger say. “Other political parties should not deny the Maoists their due as the leaders of the revolution simply because the mandate has pushed us to the third position,” said Baburam Bhattarai, Maoist leader and former prime minister.

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Other issues have eclipsed the constitutional process. On Wednesday, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) began its nationwide “rath yatra”, demanding Nepal’s Hindu status and constitutional monarchy be restored. Not only has this posed a challenge to the votaries of secularism as an irreversible characteristic of the new constitution, it is also being said that the decision to transform the world’s only “Hindu” nation into a “secular” one was part of the “conspiracy”.

“I know for sure that the cabinet on May 18, 2006 had not taken the decision to declare Nepal a secular country… it was a clear addition at a later stage…” claimed NC leader Shekhar Koirala, a close relative and aide to former PM G.P. Koirala. There has been no official clarification from the cabinet yet. But the mystery deepened when PM Sushil Koirala recently told the RPP-N chief, Kamal Thapa, and his delegation that he has no idea how Nepal became a “secular” country.

Why has the issue of secularism polarised society now? There are many reasons, such as the fact that EU and Western donors are taking too much interest and openly lobbying in favour of the right to change religion; and two, Hindus and Buddhists are reportedly feeling the impact of “proselytisation” numerically. But these issues have now come to influence the political course and constitution-making process. “I will defend the country, its social harmony and national integrity as a committed soldier,” said UML chairman K.P. Oli, blaming Maoist chief Prachanda for trying to divide the country along caste and ethnic lines.

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There were already too many contradictions. But now with religion, caste and perceived threat to national integrity in play, a constitution that comes into effect through the ruling coalition’s majority, or an attempt to postpone the deadline, will yield the same result for Nepal — chaos. Nepal will need a new approach and apparatus to restore a semblance of order.

First published on: 29-12-2014 at 12:00:08 am
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