Reviving the 1990 Constitution

Only a return to the 1990 constitution would allow the Kangress to come back to the center stage of Nepali democratic politics and away from the oligarchy it is currently a part of it

May 16, 2011, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 04 No.-22 May 13-2011 (Baisakh 30,2068)

Last Sunday, three weeks before the expiry of the self-extended term of the Constituent Assembly, the hitherto muted liberal segment of the political spectrum put forth a new, non-left political agenda – restoring the 1990 constitution – that was unthinkable even a few months back. Among them were Nepali Kangress stalwarts who had not opportunistically surrendered to the Maoist-Mughlani agenda in 2005 and who thus still retain political integrity. If the Constituent Assembly had delivered the promised new baby, there would be no need for such effort on their part or this essay.

In April 2006, when King Gyanendra handed over power to the agitating alliance of motley parties with divergent aims, he did it with the hope shared by many Nepalis that their “roadmap” would bring peace and prosperity to the country. Five anarchistic years later, the country groans under a dead-end politics: the roadmap has become a blind alley. There are whispers of extending the life of the CA yet again. That, however, is akin to insisting that the car stuck in the blind alley must continue bulldozing forward in the hope that it will reach … somewhere eventually. Common sense would hold that the right thing to do is to back out of the dead-end and get onto the main road where the wrong turn was first made. Most date it to 2005 with the 12-point Delhi compromise, and some even further back with the King’s activism in 2004 as well as the infighting of parliamentary parties from the mid-1990s all the way to 2002.

Many speakers at the Sunday goshthi came back to the theme of re-starting the process of democratic evolution from the base of 1990 which would allow a common national endeavor to move towards prosperity. The alternative of continuing with this mandate-bereft, sterile (and disgustingly corrupt) CA would be the same as hoping to get milk from a barren cow. A manifesto had been prepared earlier by those who founded the Nepali Kangress’s student union in the 1970s such as Devendra Lal Nepali and Bipin Koirala as well as the 91-year old Ram Babu Prasain who was the Kangress treasurer in the days of democratic idealism, frugality and volunteerism. It argued that the mandate of the Peoples’ Movement of 2005/2006 had never been the overthrow of the 1990 constitution or the divisive issues of today such as federalism, atheistic secularism or republicanism. These were sly later add-ons foisted by the unscrupulous on the gullible to further their own devious aims of power and pelf, state capture and assorted megalomania.

Bipin Koirala spoke as a Nepali Kangress politician, a rare breed because what one sees now are Deuba and Girija rumps only. And as such, he was galled to see the Kangress lose its Nepaliness and idealism that seems to have drifted to RPP-Nepal on the right, Rashtriya Janamorcha on the left and the Madhesh parties smudged all over. Nepali Kangress had always stood for balancing the forces of both modernity and tradition. By giving up tradition, it has lost its élan vital and become a prisoner of the Maoist agenda. Only a return to the 1990 constitution would allow the Kangress to come back to the center stage of Nepali democratic politics and away from the oligarchy it is currently a part of. Lawyer Balkrishna Neupane argued that the 1990 constitution was only in suspension and can only be replaced by another constitution, which has not, and cannot by the looks of it, be made. The interim constitution is no constitution: the tattered document is merely a battered witness of the “political understanding” among the parties. It collapsed with the disintegration of political consensus following the CA elections, leaving only the bedrock of 1990 as the starting foundation.

It is now plain that lack of time was never the reason why the CA has not delivered. The real reason is that the “peoples’ movement” of 2005 was not indigenous to the seven parliamentary parties or the Maoists. The driving godfathers were in Mughlan and across the seven seas, with the parties mainly serving as pawns to their more global interests. The latest WikiLeaks is proof enough if more proof than the history of the last five years were needed. The differences in political vision among the parties in the CA are so divergent that no amount of extension can resolve them. Only a higher authority, i.e. the people of Nepal, can do so through a fresh mandate. Why and how to go for a fresh mandate have become the burning questions of today.

The CA’s mandate from the people has not only expired, but it seems the Kangress and the EhMaLey are waking up to the embarrassing fact that it was acquired under less than democratic means when the threat level maintained by the Maoists in the districts was as high as ever. The elections were fought for “road, electricity and water”, not for federalism and other divisive issues that lie behind the current impasse. If a constitution drafted with one party having a separate coercive army is unacceptable to the other parties, even less so is a mandate thus acquired (and lost in two years) to the angry voters of today. But how does one go for a fresh mandate when the interim constitution has no such provision? The answer is simple: since the political consensus around it has long collapsed, it is a dead letter, and thus all the more reason to go back to the only democratic arrangement made by these very parties (indeed even personalities) including the Maoists two decades ago. Since they could give nothing better, it is imperative that they go back to the basic minimum that was collectively agreed upon and start afresh from there!

In these five years of anarchy and destruction, it is reported that the country has squandered almost a hundred billion rupees on the sterile CA. In a country with some 600 MW of installed capacity and a demand of 900 MW that has led to a crippling load-shedding for two-thirds of the day, a hundred billion alternatively spent would have given us 1000 MW of new hydropower plants. Since a kilometer of gravel road costs about ten million rupees, we could have had ten thousand kilometers of new roads. Extending the sterile CA would mean continued benefits for the parties therein but would deprive the country of development. Behind the reported alcoholic misdemeanor of MP Sharda Nepali (who previously attempted suicide) lies the generic story of how her party exploited her, collected her MP’s monthly sixty thousand rupees but gave her only a sixth of that amount. The story of corruption by the unelected and unaccountable “all party” syndicate in the districts has also reached staggering heights.  Angry Nepali voters should not have to bear the burden of funding political parties and the parasitic lifestyles of their bosses. 

The agenda of restoring the 1990 constitution and holding immediate elections under it, both for the national government and the district bodies, will let the rest of the Nepali people get on with their lives while bringing forth needed changes democratically through parliamentary majorities and referendums. At a minimum, this non-left political agenda will force the 2006 adventurists to answer how any new constitution could be realistically better than that of 1990.
Dipak Gyawali.JPG

Dipak Gyawali

Gyawali is Pragya (Academician) of the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and former minister of water resources.

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