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Nepal: Who is Interested in a New Constitution within the dead line? Update No.298

Note No. 722                    Dated 24-Jul-2014

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan.

The Question is- Is anyone in Nepal really bothered about getting the new constitution in time?

Judging from the lackadaisical way the interim parliament is dealing with the issue, the answer appears to be in the negative. How else can one explain the ruling parties having heated discussions on the quantum of funds to be provided for development for each for the last two months, while the basic issues on the mode of governance including division of responsibilities among the states, configuration of states etc. are yet to be finalised and are not even discussed?

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala (who unfortunately is now confirmed to be having lung cancer) said while taking over in January this year and I quote-

"I am determined to complete the constitution drafting problem through consensus, reconciliation and unity among parties and a new constitution will be promulgated within one year." That was January.

This was followed by a seven-point directive given by President Yadav on 12th February and the first point was that government should "work towards promulgating the constitution within one year." That was February!

Now again while addressing the Parliament in giving the objectives of the government for the new fiscal year said as a first point which has almost become a ritual President Yadav said that the government will "promulgate a new constitution before the new fiscal year." The new fiscal year starts in July next!

What is interesting is that the "one year period" is constant though it is being dished out from time to time!

It looks that the urgency and the priority that were attached to get the new constitution in time no longer holds good for the government. Staying in power as long as possible appears to be main focus for the coming years!

There is a view that it is better to get a consensus and get a new and a good constitution even if it takes time, rather than get a hurried and flawed draft hurriedly passed and promulgated in time!

There is no doubt that it is better to get a good constitution rather than get a poor draft just to meet the dead line. But if one is looking for a consensus on many of the vital issues relating to the forms of governance, it may take a long time or may not happen at all.

The first problem is the bloated interim parliament with over 600 members. It is said that on one minor issue some 336 members wanted to speak. Even if each member takes ten minutes, it would take many hours to complete the debate. This goes on and on and one can imagine what would be the result when important issues like the federal concept, division of powers and responsibilities are to be discussed first at the sub committee level and then on in the Parliament!

The second is the internal- inter and intra party rivalries that seem to occupy the time of most of the leaders.

In the party convention held by the UML, most of the time was spent on who should lead the - the old and tired [sic] Jhala Nath Khanal or K.P.Oli who has never headed the party.

Fortunately one decision that stood out and could be emulated by other parties was the one to retire all those leaders who had crossed 70. Yet the party did not have the courage to promote younger leaders like Rabindra Prasad Adhikari to leadership levels.

The main Maoist party of Dahal is desperate to assume importance to a level more than what it deserved after its comprehensive rejection by the electorate. There is a running feud between Dahal and his Deputy Baburam Bhattarai. To save himself, Dahal is threatening to have an alliance with the breakaway Maoist groups particularly that of Mohan Baidya. In addition he wants to head the High Level Political Committee that decides all the major issues relating to governance and his attempts to stall the proceedings in the House did not yield the desired results. Now, just to get more muscle he has joined hands with the Terain Groups who are fighting for an ethnic based federal system.

It is surprising that the Terain Groups have fallen into the trap in having a "Federal Republican Forum" in alliance with the Maoists. While Upendra Yadav can be excused for his natural inclination to join hands with the Maoists, one cannot explain the presence of a very sensible politician like Mahant Thakur in the front.

Division of provinces on identity basis need not be mutually exclusive and there could be a mix of identity based and geographical-based provinces. While it is conceded that the Madhesis have been "historically excluded" from national identity, the two Madhesi provinces are no longer homogeneous as is thought to be. There is now a sizeable population of people from the hills in the Terai and the Tharus in western Nepal see nothing in common with their brethren- the Jhas and Yadavs of eastern Nepal!

Further, as Kanak Mani Dikshit has remarked, is it not better to divide the responsibilities over administrations, division of natural resources, fiscal matters etc. first before embarking on the division of the provinces? Yet the whole discussion is the other way round and this has been going on for many months!

The concept paper of the new Federal Republican Front is said to have 16 points and the objective is said to ensure self rule in Pradhesi level and shared rule in the centre. High sounding words indeed! Dahal was very vague on the concept and he said that the objective of the front is to ensure a new constitution in a "forward looking" manner. (Whatever it means!)

That the legislators and the government led by the Nepali Congress and the UML have decided to dig in "as long as possible" is also evident from the long list of objectives declared by President Yadav in the Parliament for the coming fiscal year. The plans include some short term specific ones but more on long term and general ones. Other points included were-

* Elevating Nepal from the current position of least developed country.

* Strive for economic prosperity and social justice

* Strive for an agricultural revolution, provide incentives for exports, allowing private sector to supply petroleum products.

* To work for zero tolerance towards corruption.

* mobilise one million volunteers for conserving national heritage, sanitation and public awareness.

The list goes on. Interestingly there is a reference to promote Hydro power development particularly reservoir type projects for dry seasons. A recent article on the eve of the Indian Foreign Minster’s visit to Nepal by Yub Raj Ghimre, a very respected journalist shows the mind set and the usual distrust of India that still continues. There is also a reference of some comment of someone whose opinion is of no relevance now that there is a section that wants to revive the monarchy and Hinduism. This is totally untrue.

The article is mainly about the draft power trading agreement India has sent for purchase of hydro power from Nepal. It says that the Nepalese officials are concerned about the "unequal" draft of the agreement. It is also said that they "assert" that India is more keen on an unfair control over Nepal’s rich resources than exploring opportunities for equal benefit. This criticism is rather unfair and I would suggest that Nepal should meet its own power shortage first instead of looking towards India for purchase!

There was a time when India was desperate for power and it was thought that a mutually beneficial sharing of the resources could be worked out between the two countries. Unfortunately the whole issue was politicised and the mind set that set in with the Kosi project that Nepal was "cheated" continued to gain currency in Nepal as it suited those in power.

Now that India has not taken into account of the fact of Nepal sitting over 75000 mega watts of power, in its power projections and requirements, any arrangement between the two countries could only be a commercial one and the terms will have to be negotiated point by point. Instead, even a "draft" that is yet to be circulated is being criticised as unequal!

This lack of trust has continued no matter who has been in power in Kathmandu. This has to change first in the interest of both the countries.