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Issue Debate #20 Nepal's Constitutional Crisis: Evolution and Indian Concern

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The Constitutional crisis in Nepal is a result of overlooking regional aspirations and regional equality. Briefly trace the evolution of the crisis in last few years. Is India's concerns in this regard legitimate? Explain.

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  • edited November 2015
    It was meant to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity. But Nepal’s new constitution, which was adopted on September 20th, has succeeded so far only in generating bloody conflict.

    Under the constitution, Nepal’s new federal structure will see the country divided into seven provinces, with clear lists of legislative powers for the central, provincial, and local bodies. The Tharu and Madhesi groups had contended that provinces should be demarcated based on the concentration of ethnic populations, which are spread east to west in the southern part of the country. The three major parties, the Nepali Congress (NC), Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML), and the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN-M), objected to this idea, arguing that fulfilling such a demand would cause other protests and violence demanding still more ethnically-based provinces.

    [ Same thing in easier terms - Tharu and Madhesi critics demanded that the constituencies of the Legislative-Parliament be divided on the basis of population alone. Nepal’s three main parties denied this request, stating that representation must be based on both population and geography, in order to include the vast hilly and mountainous areas that have a low population density. ]

    For weeks before it was promulgated, protests over it had already been roiling the country’s southern belt bordering on India. They have been staged by ethnic Tharus and Madhesis in the Terai plains, who make up more than a third of the country’s 28m people. Many of them are angry about the formation of new states which they fear will leave them even more politically marginalised. Over 40 people, including ten police officers, have died in the unrest. The violence, including shootings by police, has exacerbated tensions between the Madhesis, who have strong links with India, and the central government which is dominated by politicians from the hilly north. It has also created considerable ill-will in India, a country which Nepal normally tries to keep onside.


    Stating that this is not a “celebratory moment” for India, senior diplomats said that the new Constitution was “just not good enough to address all concerns” of the Madhesi and Tharu people. India’s ambassador Ranjit Rae also telephoned Prime Minister Sushil Koirala hours before the Constitution ceremony to express India’s disappointment that it was going through in its current form. Nepal’s refusal to extend the date for the Constitution despite PM Modi sending Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar with an appeal on Friday has come as a blow.

    Three main problems that India sees

    According to the government, there are three major problems with the Constitution which prevents India from warmly welcoming the document. To begin with the federal-provincial demarcation is perceived to be unfair to the people of the Terai region; secondly, the constituency delimitation is skewed against the Madhes population as half the population, that is the Pahadi (Hill) community gets 100 seats but the other half consisting of the Madhesi and the Janjatis get only 65 seats.

    Finally the ‘proportional inclusion’ clause, for reservation includes many forward castes of the Pahadi region, which negates the principle of affirmative action, officials said. India also feels let down that many of the commitments given by Nepal during the framing of the 2007 interim Constitution have been forgotten.

    Finally Indian Angle for future

    India was initially hesitant to openly speak for the Madhesis due to unsubstantiated allegations levelled by Kathmandu elites that it has had an invisible hand in influencing the politics of Madhes. However, the fact remains that most Madhesi leaders criticise India for not doing enough for them despite the cross border linguistic and cultural linkages. And they accuse India of always trying to please the Kathmandu elite to serve its own national interest and ignoring the interests of the Madhesis. They point out that there are not too many India-funded developmental projects in Madhes and those few which were implemented there were never completed on time. They cite the example of the postal highway— which is a long pending project— to prove their point. There is also an opinion that India discriminates against the Madhesis while recruiting soldiers from Nepal for the much touted Gorkha regiments.
    India’s expression of displeasure at the promulgation of the Constitution is being interpreted differently by the Madhesis. They argue that India was forced to behave like this for fear of the spill-over effect of the ongoing instability on the bordering provinces of India. There was also the feeling of betrayal or having been taken for a ride by the Kathmandu leadership who promised India a consensus-based constitution but ended up producing a majoritarian document ignoring the aspirations of a substantial number of the people of Nepal.
    Aware of the tense situation prevailing in the region and its future cross-border implications, India had reportedly asked the top leaders of Nepal to accommodate all the groups and only then promulgate the Constitution even if it were to delay the process by a week or two. However, the top three leaders (Sushil Koirala, K.P. Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal) were in a desperate rush to get the Constitution promulgated, disregarding the advice from India to take along all the segments of Nepal’s population. With the deteriorating law and order situation and its effect on the border areas in India, especially at a time when elections are on the anvil in Bihar, India was finally forced to break its silence. Prime Minister Modi dispatched his most-trusted diplomat as his special envoy to resolve the crisis. Unfortunately, it was too late.
    It goes without saying that an unstable and turbulent Nepal is not in India’s interest. Therefore, India has been trying its best to facilitate and bring the government and discontented groups to the table and resolve the outstanding issues amicably. Being a guarantor to the Peace Process, India has a right and a moral duty to involve itself in the process of change taking shape in Nepal. However, it has to tread cautiously and get the genuine rights for the historically marginalised groups recognized in the constitution. India, which has had direct or indirect influence on all the major political transitions in Nepal ought not to hesitate to get engaged with the process. Historically speaking, all the major political parties have garnered Indian support time and again to achieve their goals.

    Long running instability and violation of human rights in Madhes is bound to attract international attention and interference. With the rising domestic violence in its backyard, India may also witness a domino effect in its bordering regions. Given its major investments and stakes in Nepal, India can ill afford to let the situation deteriorate especially when it has a long and open border with Nepal.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question...
  • ^^ Few points that I had jotted down... Take the discussion forward.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question...
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