India has no right to pretend it is an inclusive democracy
September 19 has been celebrated as Constitution Day every year since 2015 in Nepal. For the majority of Nepalese people, it is not merely Constitution Day. It is more than that, since this day is also now marked as the reinvigoration of national dignity, sense of self-determination, and esteem of the Nepalese people.
After more than 90% of the members of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly voted in favor of this constitution, the government scheduled its declaration on September 19, 2015. Promptly thereafter, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent his foreign secretary, Subramanya Jaishankar, as his special envoy to Kathmandu on September 18.
According to former Nepalese foreign minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha, leader of the ruling party, Jaishankar blatantly misbehaved to senior Nepali political leaders, and his tone of voice was threatening as he espoused India’s interest in a sovereign country’s constitution. Despite the diplomatic pressure by India to halt the promulgation of the constitution only a day before, Nepal proclaimed the charter.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs reacted frostily by issuing a statement that “noted” the promulgation of Nepal’s constitution on September 20, 2015. Indian officials thought they could replicate the 2013 Bhutan incident in Nepal and halted all cargoes at all India-Nepal border points.
Consequently, the Nepalese people had to bear a considerable cost for using their sovereignty by facing a very bizarre situation: Only five months after a 7.9-magnitude earthquake claimed 9,000 lives and caused 8 trillion rupees worth of damage, this Indian-sponsored economic blockade was imposed, and lasted almost five months.
Some 2,500 or more innocent Nepalis lost their lives because of the extreme shortage of fuel and medicines in the cold winter, and the World Bank suggests the economic cost of the blockade was substantially more significant than that of the earthquake. Despite this Indian-sponsored carnage, the Nepalese people stood up with courage, strength and self-respect against India’s overbearing big-brother attitude.
India admonished that Nepal’s constitution excluded Indian immigrants residing in the lowlands who called themselves ethnic Madheshi (although the scholar Ludwig Stiller in his book Silent Cry wrote that there was mass migration of Indians due to Bengal’s Great Famines of 1769-70, and Savada Andrea in a CIA Country Study also wrote that there was mass migration in the 1990s from India to Nepal). India sent Nepal a seven-point agenda on desired amendments to the constitution and also leaked it to the press. The text of the Nepalese Madheshis’ demands and India’s officially sent demands were precisely the same.
India lobbied the United Nations Human Rights Council to pressure Nepal to amend the constitution. Additionally, India urged several countries to do the same. For instance, when Modi visited the United Kingdom in 2015, India called on the UK for support, and the UK mentioned this delicate issue in the joint statement at the conclusion of the visit. In the same way, India also tried to persuade Japan to exert pressure on Nepal to amend its constitution when Shinzo Abe visited India in December 2015. However, Japan refused to mention the issue in the joint statement at the conclusion of Abe’s visit, saying it was an internal Nepalese issue.
All of the Indian media blamed Nepal as if they were the mouthpieces of the Indian government, and have continued to do so.
For example, former Indian foreign secretary Shyam Sharan, a key figure responsible for realizing Modi’s Envisioning South Asia program that primarily aims at the optimal harnessing of Indian interests in the region, produced a full chapter on Nepal-India relations in his 2017 volume How India Sees the World. Sharan’s remarks in this book and misleading with assertions that Nepal’s Madheshis are marginalized and excluded from the national mainstream.
Similarly, the self-declared Nepal expert Sukha Dev Muni; former Indian ambassador to Nepal K V Rajan; a key player in the ouster of the Maoist-led Nepalese government in 2009, Rakesh Sood; another key player in preventing the Maoists’ coming to power in the 2013 CA election, Jayanta Prasad; Indian strategic analysts and Indian-sponsored journalists also misled Indian taxpayers and international communities through the crooked opinion that Nepal’s Madheshis are marginalized and secluded from the national mainstream.
However, Mani Shankar Aiyer, the leader of Indian National Congress and member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament, spoke the truth and exposed the India-sponsored political and diplomatic deception about Nepal’s political development in Rajya Sabha. Only then did External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj admit that India imposed the economic blockade against Nepal in her retort to Aiyer.
Despite being typecast as the world’s largest functioning democracy, by using force and threats against its small and weak neighbor Nepal, India has no moral courage. It has no right to compel Nepal to amend its constitution for inclusive democracy because India trails far behind to Nepal in this regard, as World Economic Forum’s World Inclusive Development Report notes.
Three years after Nepal promulgated the constitution, the Geneva-based WEF published a World Inclusive Development Report in January 2018, and it raised a serious moral question for the Indian government, its foreign-policy regime, Indian academia, media, and strategic analysts who camouflage the facts and promote the Indian government’s pretense with hidden interests.
Despite very sluggish economic growth due to India’s undeclared permanent economic blockade, the report reveals that Nepal is one of the best achievers in inclusive development in South Asia. Nepal is ranked 22nd among the 77 economies in the “Emerging Nations” category, whereas India is 62nd and at the bottom among the South Asian countries. Nepal’s score is also four ranks higher than the world’s second-largest economy, its northern neighbor the People’s Republic of China. The report commends Nepal’s achievement while denigrating India’s tremendous economic clout overshadowing inclusive development.
Similarly, Sharan in his book categorically points a finger at the patriarchy system of Nepal. Admittedly, women are not of equal footing with men. However, the progress made in women’s participation in Nepal in public affairs is far better than any other emerging economy in the world. It is even better than many advanced economies as well concerning women participation.
Women’s representation is about one-third (32.72%) in the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Nepalese Parliament, and 37.3% in the National Assembly, the upper house, and women have similar representation in all seven provincial assemblies. The proportion is about 41% in the 753 local legislative councils. In contrast, women’s participation in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha are merely 12.1% and 11.47% respectively in India. The same applies in the state assemblies.
A women’s reservation bill has been pending in the Lok Sabha since 2008. So Sharan’s preaching about the patriarchy in Nepal is mere play-acting and defamation of Nepal’s achievement in women’s participation in public affairs.
Similarly, a mixed electoral representation system has been adopted in the Nepalese constitution, which comprises both a first-past-the-post (FPTP) and a proportional representation system. For the inclusion of excluded groups in the House of Representatives, the National Assembly, and seven provincial assemblies, there are provisions for constellation with quotas for proportional representation categorically in the constitution.
These groups are Adiwashi Janjati (indigenous nationalities), Madheshi, Tharu, Muslim, Dalit, Khas Arya, Women, Backward Area, and People with Disability. Although the rest of the clusters are underrepresented, Khas Arya and Madheshi were over-represented compared with their fixed quotas in the Parliament in the 2017 general election.
Thus India has no moral authority and nor can it persuade any countries in the world on issues pertaining to gender and social inclusion, or on inclusive democratic processes, as long as the problems of the Northeast and Kashmir, and exclusion of women and Dalits, persist. Before coaxing others for inclusive democracy and development, in the name of world’s largest functioning democracy, India’s oligarchy and powerful elites need to be changed into inclusive democracy. Only then will Nepal happily follow India as a role model.