5-11 December 2014 #735

’Tis the season for U-turns

Narendra Modi wants in Nepal what he wants for India
Damakant Jayshi
  Less than two months to go before the deadline to promulgate the new constitution. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used his presence in Kathmandu for the SAARC Summit to try to clear the deadlock by urging all parties to forge a consensus and form a national unity government.  

Modi’s remarks on “consensus” while inaugurating the India-gifted Trauma Centre on 25 November initially shook up the ruling NC-UML, and boosted the morale of the Maoist-Madhesi opposition. RPP-Nepal was understandably happy with the Modi mantra. 

RPP-Nepal’s Kamal Thapa is clearly the odd man out given that he does not subscribe to republicanism, federalism or secularism – principles that more than 550 lawmakers in the 601-member Constituent Assembly (CA) have committed themselves to. Even the Rastriya Jan Morcha has now accepted federalism with some reservations.

Although Modi’s public ‘bouquet speech’ had something for everyone, it was clearly loaded in favour of the UCPN (Maoist) and Madhes-based political parties. Some thought it was to balance out his utterances during the last visit in August.

Some even went to the extent of accusing him of expressing his anger for Nepal government’s reluctance to allow him to address a mass rally at Barhabigha Ground in Janakpur. Modi touched upon the perils of missing the Constitution deadline (22 January) and the need to pass a statute with agreed contents which could be amended later as was done in India. But it was his warning about taking decisions through numerical strength, deciding the contents through majority, that gained the maximum traction.

He was both praised and pilloried for that. Most tellingly, some UCPN (M) leaders said that although the Indian PM spoke what they have been advocating, he had breached diplomatic norms. In later one-on-ones with Maoist leaders at the Soaltee, Modi seems to have given the message that by "consensus" he meant meeting the NC-UML halfway.

Neither the Maoists nor the Madhesi parties and the loose alliance they have formed with smaller parties, most of which have no representation in the CA, are averse to meeting the deadline by having the constitution with agreed contents. Some construe that this means passing the statute without provisions for state restructuring. This idea was first mooted by the NC and UML during the last days of the first CA in May 2012.

India’s current political leadership seems very much aware and wary about the instability that would likely follow if the CA fails again.

It is not just provisions in the Interim Constitution but the election manifesto of political parties as well as their commitment to the process of voting when they drew up regulations for then CA II that sanctions voting if consensus fails. Let us not waste too much time over this. 

In principle, and ideally, what would be better than having a new constitution through consensus. In any case, even if the NC, UML, UCPN (M) and the Madhesi parties approve of a draft, RPP-Nepal is sure to cry foul. Clearly, some sections and some parties are going to reject the final constitution. Compromise means everyone agreeing to be slightly unhappy with the final decision. 

Federalism got barely a mention in the first election in 2008, but was the main plank of the Mao-Madhesi combine in 2013. The UCPN (M) and the Madhesi parties were so sure of victory and the defeat of the ‘status quoist’ NC and the UML, that they categorically committed to go for the democratic process of voting to write the constitution if consensus failed.

After the election in which they got trounced even in their strongholds, these parties have done a U-turn.  So, if there is no consensus, what do we do? Repeating “consensus” ad nauseam is not going to ensure an agreement.

Those harbouring plans for another election in the hope of a changed mandate forget that all credible surveys on federalism had shown, time and again, that the people were averse to the kind of federalism that the Maoist, the Madhesi and the Janajati parties advocate. Even a majority of Madhesi and Janjati respondents think it is a bad idea. The polls were proven right by the election result.

But if the parties continue to refuse to respect the mandate of the people, the NC and the UML have no choice but to act out what they have been saying in recent weeks – pass the constitution through voting and then leave it to the people, the ultimate arbiters.


Read also:

'C' for constitution, Anurag Acharya

Let’s get back to work, Editorial

The second coming, Editorial

Consensus on contention, Damakant Jayshi

Dangers of delay, Anurag Acharya

Off the people, for the people, Anurag Acharya

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