By Maila Baje
Call it the Dahal Doctrine. Think what you will about the controversy surrounding the latest proposal to amend the Constitution, but change is progress.
We now have it on good authority of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal that amending the basic law is the beginning of its implementation.
The implementation phase, therefore, began about a year ago, when the first amendment set out to ensure higher representation in government bodies on the basis of proportional inclusion of the Madhesis as well as other marginalized communities.
A year and a half after the Constitution was promulgated, we’re on the cusp of another amendment. Before mocking Dahal’s justification as an act of abdication, keep in mind that he made it at the National Human Rights Commission on the occasion of the 68th Human Rights Day. All those legal eagles there took Dahal’s remark as a matter of course.
Indeed, a fuller quote from the prime minister may put things in better perspective: “The government has registered the constitution amendment proposal in the parliament secretariat to establish ownership of all over the constitution and ensure its wider acceptability. This alone is the reality and the objective need for the constitution amendment.”
If that doesn’t exactly make sense, Dahal is not entirely to blame. Not to beat a dead horse here, but the constituent assembly was something our leaders knew would open a can of worms.
Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala had long insisted that such an assembly – the core demand of the Maoist rebels – would open Pandora’s box. Most of the other main constituents of the erstwhile Seven Party Alliance agreed with Koirala, as long as they rode high on the Constitution of 1990.
You couldn’t blame these parties for being mad at king Gyanendra after he took direct control of state in February 2005. Suddenly, the world’s best Constitution had become irrelevant. Yet our estimable leaders shouldn’t have pushed the constituent assembly as a weapon against the palace, without fully gauging the impact of their decision on the country and people.
Ideally, a constitution written by representatives of the sovereign people would be a million times better than one gifted by the king or written by an appointed committee. In the euphoria of spring 2006, it was easy to ignore the three underlying elements involved: sovereignty, people, and aspirations.
Today we have a situation where an amendment duly registered by the legitimate government of the day is being denigrated by an equally authentic opposition as one being pushed by India and, therefore, dead on arrival. Of course, sovereignty, the people and our aspirations must be upheld. But through what mechanism?
Today it’s provinces and borders, tomorrow it might be sharing of resources and something else some other day. Our national grievance industry has barely whirred into action and no one can gauge its installed capacity.
Collectively, we entered post-truth politics long before Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and eventual triumph made shell-shocked Democrats in the United States give that phenomenon a catchy name. When truth becomes so relative, can reconciliation ever embody even a semblance of finality?
Maybe the real debate should be on how many amendments should be permissible in a calendar year? Would any such restriction be deemed an infringement on our sovereign rights?
If so, how could we ensure that foreign influences do not masquerade as indigenous aspirations? Equally important would be to ensure that legitimate popular demands are not tainted as foreign inspired.
That way, the Dahal Doctrine might become a little less befuddling.
Keep amending it to keep it alive
By Maila Baje