28 Aug - 3 Sep 2015 #773

Whose constitution is it anyway?

The political interests of few leaders has superseded consensus in the constitutional process
Anurag Acharya

The deteriorating situation in the Tarai proves that Nepal’s political leadership is incapable of understanding and learning lessons. 

In the winter of 2006, when people in the plains first came out on to the streets demanding federalism in the Interim Constitution, they were snubbed by the NC, UML and the Maoist leadership, who were all on a high after their victory against the monarchy.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s refusal to listen to that demand led to Madhesi leaders in his party walking out to join street protests which claimed nearly 50 lives. Eight years later, his cousin Sushil Koirala finds himself in the same predicament. 

Twenty districts across Nepal’s southern plains have been shut down for weeks, and the violence has claimed at least a dozen lives. On 18 August, a farmer on his way to the market was shot dead in Saptari by police chasing protesters. Six days later, eight police officers were lynched in Kailali’s Tikapur, one of them burnt alive, and a two-year-old boy was killed by a gunshot

The next day, a 24-year-old man was killed in central Tarai district of Rautahat after police opened fire at protesters. For the first time after the end of the conflict in 2006, the government has mobilised the Nepal Army to restore order.

Yet, the government in Kathmandu and the top leaders dictating the constitution writing process continue with their majoritarian stance. They have been so blinded in their dismissal of political rivals, they fail to notice things are slipping beyond the political realm, taking a dangerous communal turn.

The brutality with which police officers were killed in Kailali indicates this was not just a mob rage. The ghosts of the war may have come back to haunt this constitutional process. Indeed, the dismantling of Maoist cantonments was reduced to a logistical process overlooking the need to dismantle the militant mindset of ex-combatants.

The government has rightly recalled the CDO of Kailali and the chiefs of the Police and APF.  New faces could help douse some of the local anger, but just when we were tempted to applaud his tactfulness, Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam made an undiplomatic statement in the Parliament on Monday, accusing ‘people from south’ trying to destabilise the situation in Kailali and Rautahat. 

Indian Ambassador Ranjit Rae paid Gautam a visit the next day, which the Home Minister projected in the media as the minister ‘cautioning’ the ambassador. Then the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi posted a communiqué about the phone call between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and PM Sushil Koirala on its website on Tuesday.

It is not unusual for a neighbouring head of the government to call his counterpart to extend solidarity in the time of national distress. But we all know the subtexts to such diplomatic exchanges. Indians are clearly angry at being dragged into this even though they did host Sher Bahadur Deuba, KP Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal in New Delhi a few weeks ago.

At least three western Tarai districts are now under a curfew. Despite mobilisation of the army, an angry mob torched houses belonging to Tharu leaders. We must condemn mindless violence on both sides unequivocally, but we must also understand what led to those violent acts.

Two weeks ago, 42 Tharu lawmakers including those from the NC and UML walked out of the CA. Since then, people in western, mid-western and far-western Tarai have been on the streets, protesting against the federal demarcation. The Madhesi Morcha was already protesting on the streets in the eastern and central Tarai as well. 

The longer the political grievances remain unaddressed, the greater the danger of extremist takeover. The Kailali killings, disturbances in Nawalparasi, Rautahat and Saptari, all point towards this danger.

In its final few weeks, Nepal’s constitutional debate is being dictated by the personal and political interests of UML’s KP Oli and Bhim Rawal and NC’s Krishna Sitaula and Sher Bahadur Deuba. While Oli and Sitaula treat the eastern Terai districts to be their fiefdom, Rawal and Deuba think the same about the western Tarai. Irked by their high-handedness, MJD-Democratic’s Bijay Gachhadar, who had earlier forged alliance with the top three parties, has threatened to quit the CA.

Sadly, PM Sushil Koirala has failed to show statesmanship and remained a clueless spectator throughout this process. His half-hearted calls to the agitating groups for talks are as unconvincing as his leadership. 

Meanwhile, as the debate on the draft constitution moves into final days, the number of empty seats in the CA has gone up.


Read also:

Votebank constitution, Kunda Dixit

Disconnect and discontent, Tsering Dolker Gurung

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