The Second Amendment to the Constitution bill has sparked the expected protests. Last year, after the promulgation of the Constitution, the country had faced a similar situation. Back then, some people lit lamps in jubilation to welcome the charter while others set fire to the document. The past year taught us neither of them was right.
The parties that registered the bill in Parliament this week are divided, and not trying their best to justify why an amendment was needed. The parties that oppose the bill are just angry, and are not criticising it logically.
Federal Alliance leader Upendra Yadav has rejected the bill, saying it does not address the grievances of Madhesi and Janajati peoples. The UML has decided to intensify protests in Parliament and on the streets. In fact, it was fueling fire in the hill districts of Lumbini Zone even before the bill was registered. The protests over the bill have reignited debate on the assumptions of federalism and provincial demarcation.
The way boundaries of Province 4 and 5 have been redrawn in the amendment bill is closer to the concept of identity-based federalism. It creates clusters of communities sharing the same ethnicities and cultures. But this redrawing of boundaries does not make sense if we look at it from the perspective of administrative decentralisation. If Rukum, Rolpa and Pyuthan are inserted into province 4, people living there will have difficulty in accessing public services.
The debate on this readjustment of boundaries can continue, but it needs to be more constructive. Getting all worked up will not help. The present political stalemate is the result of the government’s failure to implement the constitution. And this failure is the result of Madhesi resistance. We need to find a fine balance between Madhesi demands, Janajati aspirations for identity-based provinces and the fears of the nationalists that Tarai-only provinces will only serve Indian interests. Only then will it be possible to uphold national unity.
Editorial in Kantipur, 1 December
The registration of the Constitution amendment bill in Parliament on Tuesday has sparked fears that the political polarisation will deepen. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is now in a tight spot because his amendment proposal has been rejected by the Madhesi parties, for whom he wanted to amend the constitution. He should have registered the bill only after forging a consensus with the UML and the Madhesi parties. Now if he fails, he will face a political and moral crisis.
After the promulgation last year of the constitution, each government has used the amendment for its own political gain. The Sushil Koirala government did not reach a consensus with dissenters, but tabled the first amendment bill to reap credit for solving the Madhes crisis. His government collapsed before the bill was passed. The KP Oli government passed it with support from the NC-Maoists, but the Madhesis were again left out. The Dahal government has done what his two predecessors did – registering an amendment without a consensus. Without the UML, he will face an uphill task to secure a two thirds majority even if the Madhesi Front and the RPP support the bill.
Amending the constitution without consensus will be futile. Implementation of the constitution will be possible only if the charter is amended with everyone’s consent. The UML has reacted angrily, vowing to obstruct the House and hit the streets to foil the amendment bill. This is not what the main opposition is supposed to do. If the UML opposes the bill, it should raise its objections in Parliament. The Madhesi parties must also stop trying to be seen more radical than the others. Their problem is that they only have a political future in they appear revolutionary.
All big, small and fringe parties must understand that an election is the best democratic exercise to secure public support for their political agenda. And the constitution can be implemented only if local, provincial and federal elections are held in time. There can be debate on the demarcation of provinces, but the government’s election proposal is positive. Whether the Second Amendment is passed or not, everyone should get ready for elections.