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Disconnect in the Constitution

“Happy Nepalese” and “devolved Singha Durbar” remain the main imperative for its amendment

BY BIHARI KRISHNA SHRESTHA
Recently PM Oli was reported to have told the Madhesi politicians in province 2 that the constitution is a manmade document and is therefore, subject to amendment as necessary. Despite his comfortable majority in the parliament, he was clearly trying to woo the Madhesi elements who are mostly comprised of first generation Indian immigrants and self-declared “Bharatbadis” and had, in the manner of being traitors, sat at the Raxaul border to help India blockade Nepal in 2015. While their one-point demand has been for the amendment of the constitution to make the whole of tarai one single province in federal Nepal, it has never made any sense for the rest of Nepal, even as it reminds us of the fact that India’s chief sleuth had mentioned in his memoir a few years ago that his country, during Indira Gandhi’s time, had planned on annexing Nepal’s tarai.
But the Constitution needs an urgent amendment for reasons of PM Oli’s own commitments to the nation. Even as the federalized constitution was being drafted in the constituent assembly, a unique promise was being made that the three-tier federalization will finally bring “Singha Durbar” to the communities. Secondly, PM Oli, in his newfound ebullience as the PM with two-thirds majority in parliament, had told the people that his government would now be focused on delivering “Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepalese”.  While these promises are among the most consequential of the many the PM is known to have made in recent times and earlier, six months into his current premiership, the indications of the fulfillment of these laudable promises seem to be nowhere in sight. Instead, what is perceptible is that PM Oli and his political cohorts seemed to have stopped making any mention of them, like PM Modi’s Achchhe Din promise made during the 2014 election in India
However, just because the rulers now find these commitments inconvenient, it must not mean that people should forget them too, because, after all, a democratic government’s duty is to bring happiness to the people. And our successful and widely applauded experiences in forestry restoration and enhancing mother and child health have shown that this goal could be made attainable too if sufficient authority is devolved to the people themselves, that is, if “Singha Durbar” is brought to the people in real sense of the term.
But the problem is that when our politicians in the CA1 and CA2 formulated the constitution they were neither sufficiently proficient for the job nor had the sincerity of purpose to guide their actions. For instance, during the six years that the overcrowded CAs spent on the task, they had arbitrarily played with a whole range of possible numbers of provinces for federal Nepal such as 6, 7, 11, 12 and 14 provinces, without ever giving any professionally satisfactory explanation to any of those numbers. The event of one particular day in CA1 undeniably shows how frivolous their attitude was to its extreme.  As reported in the media, the CA1’s most important Committee on State Restructuring and Redistribution of State Powers, headed by Maoist supremo Prachanda, had up to its 126th meeting had agreed based on consensus to propose to the full house two parallel recommendations, one for “non-ethnic” 7 provinces proposed by NC and UML members in the committee and another of 12 ethnicity-based provinces championed by the Maoists. But in its 127th meeting held on Nov 25, 2011 Prachanda granted a “Sherpa province” to a Sherpa UML member and “Mithila province” to a Mithila UML member, thus, won over all the seven UML members to his side, also changed the names of two provinces in his earlier list, and departing from the tradition of consensus, passed the new list of 14 provinces by majority decision. And all these changes were accomplished in a span of just half an hour.
Similarly, in 2015, the NC PM Suhsil Koirala was insisting on the alibi that he would step down as previously agreed (and make room for Mr. Oli)  only after formulating the constitution.  But then, when earthquake struck in April that year, Oli’s UML and Prachanda’s Maoists suddenly saw an opportunity there. They came up with a formula of 6 provinces, did not bother to consult the opinion of the people that had already been collected on the constitution draft, colluded with a few other parties, and got the new constitution passed by two-third majority that saw the ouster of NC’s Sushil Koirala and the installation of Mr Oli as PM. While, as reported by the media, the people had overwhelming voted against federalization and secularization of the country, these “democratic” leaders did not find it necessary to even look at them. When there was a revolt in Jumla against the 6-province scheme, these same leaders quickly made it into the current 7-province scheme in a matter of a few hours. Arrogance, frivolity, opportunism and above all, the utter lack of dispassionate and professional analysis have been the hallmark in the process of formulating our new “fundamental law of the land”.
As can be expected, the new constitution suffers from too many flaws. But given the limited objective of this article, one of them stands out the most. Despite the extravagant promise of “Singha Durbar to the villages”, what the new constitution has actually done is to take what “Singha Durbar” existed earlier  more towards the real Singha Durbar in Kathmandu, i.e, further centralization and disempowerment of the people. While there were some 3500 VDCs and municipalities in the country earlier, the new constitution reduced them to only about one-fifth of it, 753 local bodies. This means that the elected representatives and the elected bodies are now at least five times more distant from the people. As its direct outcome, they are now the fertile ground of wanton corruption and misuse of resources at the hands of the occupational contractors who have now found themselves as the heads of these local bodies.
Furthermore, “Happy people” is about availability of employment and income opportunities to the people. As things stand, given our immense socio-economic stratification and geographical diversity, the problems and potentialities for development are highly specific to the specific localities and individuals in our communities, thus lending differential capabilities for employment and income to different individuals in these highly complex socio-economic contexts. Therefore, unless the constitution is amended to bring genuine authority to the communities themselves at the grassroots  there will neither be “Singha Durbar”nor will there by “Happy Nepalese” in those poverty stricken communities. And PM Oli himself will go down in history as one more liar and opportunist politician to don the mantle of the head of government in chronically impoverished Nepal.

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