KATHMANDU - Despite an extended gestation
period of four years, Nepal's Constituent Assembly
is preparing to approve a constitution that could
Politicians both inside and
outside of the 601-strong assembly are working
overtime to have a constitution proclaimed by the
May 27 deadline. But there are doubts such a
statute, drawn up through last-minute deals and
compromises between parties leaning left and
right, will fulfill the expectations of the masses
and meet the procedural requirements necessary to
establish its legitimacy.
issue is unlikely to disappear even after the new
constitution is issued," says constitutional
lawyer Badri Bahadur Karki.
It remains a
matter of conjecture whether the new statute and
assurances will be enough for Nepali people whose
hopes and aspirations soared following the
abolition of the monarchy and the adoption of an
interim republican constitution in 2007. The
proposition to split the country into 11 provinces
(without providing names or demarcating them) and
plans for two power centers - a president and a
prime minister - are seen as major flaws in the
constitution, along with concerns that too many
important procedures, such as promises for the
draft to be circulated for public consultation,
have been skipped and that it will arrive
Leaders of the three major
parties - and a block of five regional groups -
reached an understanding on Tuesday to produce a
draft statute by the May 27 deadline, However, it
seems unlikely that proper attention was given to
social harmony among Nepal's over 100 ethnic
There are growing apprehensions
that the new statute, once it surfaces before the
public, will remind of a Hindu tale that says that
Brahma the Creator assembled attractive body
features of several animals with a view to
creating the most good-looking creature, but what
eventually emerged was the ugly camel.
the latest understanding among political parties
survives, Nepal will be divided into 11 provinces
(or states) with provisions for provincial
governments, legislatures and courts along with
accompanying paraphernalia. Political leaders do
not seem bothered about whether or not this
resource-poor country can sustain such a massive
Nepal is currently divided into
14 zones and 75 districts, and grouped into five
issue that the leaders think they have resolved is
related to the form of governance, with plans for
a directly elected president (as in France) and a
parliament-elected prime minister with executive
Knowledgeable observers see the
scheme as unworkable as the two power centers are
bound to be locked in constant conflict. "It is a
pity that our leaders failed to see what happened
in a country as close as Sri Lanka," said Gopal
Krishna Shiwakoti, a political analyst who also
works as a human-rights activist.
Contemporary media reports say that the
names of the new provinces will be given at a
later stage and boundaries between newly created
states would be undertaken by a commission created
when the constitution has been passed.
Besides, the restless public is being told
that the incumbent Constitutional Assembly - which
operates as the interim legislature - will be
converted into an interim parliament that will
take care of the rights and priorities of ethnic
communities. Uncertainties and ambivalence have
accentuated public restlessness.
propositions be acceptable to the remaining 30-odd
smaller political parties represented in the
assembly? And are the ethnic groups prepared to
rely on these seemingly hollow words?
Protesters might set fire to copies of the
newly proclaimed constitution on the very first
day. The dominant Brahmin and Chhetri communities
are among those firmly against the plan to
federalize the country. Such a measure, in their
opinion, could encourage separatist tendencies
that could compromise Nepal's very existence.
Voices that initially were muted have
become louder in recent weeks. A campaign to keep
the far western region undivided has placed the
central leadership of all main parties on notice.
This has encouraged other regions to speak against
the plan to create divisions that they say are not
needed. Clashes between rival groups have already
resulted in injuries and damage to property in
some parts of the country.
is becoming more explosive day by day. In a
jointly written article published by the Republica
newspaper on Sunday, two Nepali diplomats who had
stints as ambassadors to the United Nations and
Bangladesh, commented that Nepali leaders had
failed to grasp the gravity of the unfolding
scenario. Territorial claims of various ethnic
groups "could invite the horrors of Yugoslavia and
Rwanda", according to Murari Sharma and Bhagirath
In a statement on Monday, United
Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed
concerns "at the rising tensions and disruption of
daily life in parts of Nepal". He called on the
government to address "escalating tensions".
Independent analysts apportion part of the
blame for these dangerous trends on the UN itself,
which persuaded Western donors to invest for
empowerment of what they perceived as "
traditionally marginalized groups".
Westerners are also presumed to have a hidden
agenda to agitate Tibetan exiles in Nepal against
China. India, the at times meddlesome neighbor to
the south, is accused of supporting militant
activity in the separatist-leaning southern Nepali
region of Terai.
A newspaper survey
released on Monday by Himalmedia showed that over
72% of about 3,200 participants above 18 years of
age reject the ethnicity-based federal structure.
Nepal is predominantly rural and almost
all villages have residents from mixed ethnic
groups. While separate languages and dialects are
used across different communities, Nepali is the
only language spoken in all corners of the
Similarly, many different
religions are represented, although 80% of Nepal's
29 million people are Hindus. Therefore there is a
deep resentment against a proposition to
permanently transform the country into a "secular"
nation, creating a scenario comparable to
neighboring India where animosity between Hindus
and Muslims persists despite the creation of
Pakistan in 1947 as a separate nation for Muslims.
The compulsion to give Nepal a federal
look came in the light of promises made by the
Maoist party during its insurgency years
The revolutionary leaders had
mobilized illiterate and unemployed youths through
assurances that the ethnic groups to which they
belonged would have separate states once the
feudal monarchy and its supporters were
There are strong demands that
the promises be fulfilled. The campaign has
intensified since 2008 when an interim statute
pushed aside the Shah dynasty that ruled Nepal for
240 years. Some groups wants to leave no room for
a revival of the monarchy.
Pro-monarchists, however, are undaunted.
Their say that while the last Shah king,
Gyanendra, was despised for his shortsightedness,
a sizeable section of Nepal's population has begun
to realize that a monarchy would be useful for
stability and social harmony in an ethnically
Kamal Thapa, who leads
the only pro-monarchy party, with four seats in
the Constitutional Assembly, contends that a free
and impartial referendum would prove his belief.
That is a subject for future debate. The
immediate need is for measures that can tackle the
growing ethnically-motivated tensions. Since the
present bunch of leaders have failed to provide a
secure atmosphere, expectant eyes are focused on
President Ram Baran Yadav, who has an obligation,
as provided in the interim constitution enacted in
January 2007, to play the role of guardian.
With support from democratic forces, he
would be able to handle the challenge that has
come with the Maoist-backed demand for federalism
based on ethnicity.
Adhikary is a Kathmandu-based journalist.
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