10-16 March 2017 #849

The middle path

Dipendra Jha
Rajendra Aryal

The Saptari tragedy is largely the outcome of the UML's arrogance and stubbornness. It is true that it had the right to carry out political programs in the Tarai. But its East-West campaign was more of a civilising mission of constitutional literacy. It assumed that lies and misconception have been spread in the Tarai about the Constitution, and it wanted to 'educate' the Madhesi people. But the people are aware that the Constitution is full of flaws, and they do not need to be educated rather the UML leaders need to accept the flaws of the constitution.

The government and the security forces are also responsible for what happened in Saptari. Police unnecessarily used live ammunition from SLRs to shoot in the heads, not below the knee. It was as though protesters were terrorists. It is illegal to use SLR live bullet and also defied the Supreme Court order not to use such kind of arms while controlling mass protest.

As for the Madhesi Front, there was no leadership on the ground. It did not mobilise senior and responsible leaders to prevent the crowd from turning violent. It did not care to anticipate that things could turn ugly. I think senior leaders should go at the ground and they should lead the mass to keep them disciplined. So that the political protest which is a democratic rights should be peaceful.

The UML has slammed the Madhesi Front for obstructing its programs. Fair enough. There should be no room for the politics of obstruction in a democracy. But was the UML itself not obstructing Parliament from debating and passing the Constitution amendment bill? If it is a democratic party, the UML must allow parliament to vote on the amendment, and Tarai-centric parties should accept the outcome. If you accept the rules of the game, you have to accept the result. But it is unfair and inappropriate to fail the amendment, as this is the midway to resolve the political crisis. Even the UML agreed to amend the constitution on these 4 agendas while KP Oli was Prime minister.

As for Madhesi parties' statement that they will not accept the outcome of the vote on the amendment, it is their compulsion. They signed a three-point agreement when they backed the Maoist-NC government. The government assured them that it will amend the Constitution. So it is now the responsibility of the ruling coalition to secure a two-thirds majority to pass the amendment. They cannot accept a cheque from the government, knowing that it will bounce.

If we truly want to break the current political impasse, and make the Constitution work, both conflicting forces should play a constructive role. And, now I think there is a need to facilitate dialogue between UML and Madhesi parties. First, the UML should allow Parliament to debate the amendment, and be flexible on its content. The bill that is now stuck in Parliament aims to amend four clauses of the Constitution: language, citizenship, participation in the Upper House and federal boundaries. It is a moderate amendment. The Constitutional already treats all mother tongues as national languages. The amendment just aims to put them in an annex. That should not be a big deal.

The amendment ensures three seats of the Upper House for each province, and distribute the remaining seats in proportion to provincial populations. Forging a consensus on this issue is not that difficult. As for citizenship, only some words have altered, and the original clause about citizenship remains the same.

Demarcation of provincial boundaries is the thorniest issue. If the dispute over Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Kailali and Kanchanpur cannot be solved now, let us put it on hold. This is what the second amendment does. It just creates another plains province stretched from Nawalparasi to Bardiya. It is a proposal previously floated by the NC and the UML. Why should the UML back out of it now?

Second, if this amendment is passed, and at least forty five percent of the total 744 local units should be created in the Tarai, then the Madhesi parties should come on board. If not revised in accordance with a supplementary bill registered by the Madhesi Front, the second amendment bill will not totally solve the grievances of Madhesi people, but it could offer a middle path for elections. It will give Madhesi parties a face-saving moral high ground to participate in elections.

Dipendra Jha is a practicing constitutional lawyer

Read also:

Halt constitution drafting

Federalism is the talk of the town, Kristina Shperlik

Plain speaking, Om Astha Rai and Jiyalal Sah

The Madhes message, Chandra Kishor

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