3-9 July 2015 #765

There is a draft

The text of the new constitution has regressive flaws, but it the best for now. Let’s move on, and work to improve it as we go along.

DIWAKAR CHETTRI

Two months after the devastating earthquake, we now have some reason to rejoice: the much-awaited new constitution’s first draft is finally ready and the Constituent Assembly (CA) aims to pass it later this month.

Nearly 60 years ago, the Nepali Congress had demanded an elected assembly to write a people’s constitution. And nearly 20 years ago, the Maoists launched a war to bring transformational change through a new inclusive constitution. That conflict ended in 2006, we are now entering the last lap in the nearly decade-long marathon that has been the peace process.

It has been a long drawn-out affair. Seven years after the first CA elections and almost two years after the second we finally have a draft of the constitution. It may not have the full backing of all the parties in the assembly, but it is impossible to have one that will satisfy everyone. Besides, the whole point about having an elected assembly to write the constitution is that the body more or less reflects the wishes of the Nepali people.  

As expected, the RPP-N and some Madhesi and Janajati parties have rejected the draft. As soon as the document was presented in a late night CA session on Tuesday, Madhesi lawmakers tore it up and walked out of the hall. RPP-N lawmakers shouted slogans and disrupted the CA proceedings. Even some NC lawmakers opposed the draft.

We agree that the draft is seriously regressive on many counts: citizenship, gender and inclusiveness. But we have to take into account the context in which it is being drafted. The CA was not an agenda of the parties that now dominate it. They went along with it in 2005 to end a ruinous conflict through the Indian-brokered 12-point deal. Now, there is a new political leadership in India itself that takes a dim view of federalism, secularism and even republicanism.

The 2013 elections were a test of the Maoist agenda for the constitution. Their defeat proved that the people didn’t think much of it. The Madhesi torch-bearers of federalism lost in their own region. Janajati parties could not convince voters that identity was important. So, expecting a more progressive constitution from an assembly dominated by status quoist forces may have been unrealistic.

Given the process, the new constitution will by definition be a document of compromise. Everyone has made compromises. The NC and the UML accepted more federal units than they wanted, identity as one basis for federalism, and a constitutional court to settle disputes between future provinces. The Maoists accepted the Westminster model and agreed to the word ‘armed struggle’ instead of their preferred ‘people’s war’ in the preamble. As with all compromises, no one is happy with the final document. But they agreed to sign it because that is the best they could do for now.   

We feel, however, that the drafters should have been more receptive to the agenda of other opposition forces, particularly the Madhesis. The draft acknowledges all people’s movements, armed conflict and sacrifices, but does not mention the Madhesi Movement of 2007. This is an oversight that has hurt Madhesi sentiments.

On citizenship, gender, press freedom and other issues, the draft shows that our political leaders are in a time warp. The provisions on citizenship of Nepali women married to foreigners is grossly unjust and blatantly hypocritical. Putting in place a regulatory body for the press is fine, but giving it unlimited authority to muzzle the media is unacceptable.  

The constitution’s draft has been rejected by the Madhesis and Janajatis mainly because it has deferred the names and boundaries of future provinces. They fear this is a ruse to sabotage federalism. We don’t think so. In fact, giving future provincial councils the rights to name their respective federal units will be the best test of true devolution. Why do the Madhesis from the Tarai or the Janajatis from the eastern hills need their provinces to be named by this CA, especially if they are such a minority within it?

If the regional political outfit which wants a province named ‘Limbuwan’ in the eastern Nepal seek their own identity, they now must prepare for provincial elections and convince the people about their agenda. They are burning the constitution because they got rights to name their own states?

The draft also gives the right to declare their own mother tongues as official languages of their respective provinces. People living in the Mithila region, for instance, now have the right to make Maithali an official language of their province.

The excluded should now build upon these rights to feel more as part of the Nepali nation-state. A constitution can never be a perfect book of rules. So, instead of dragging on this fight, let’s embrace it and work to improve it as we go along.  

Read also:

Burning-issues, Anurag Acharya

#citizenshipthroughmothers, Tsering Dolker Gurung

Constitution deal inked, Om Astha Rai

The 2072 constitution, Editorial

Delete Interim, Editorial

Hold it right there, Bishusi Dhungel

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