Through the four-day long rigorous voting process, the new constitution of Nepal was endorsed with over two-thirds majority votes of the CA: 507 voted in favour and 25 votes belonging to RPP-Nepal went against it. IN Nepal’s history people’s representative finally succeeded in giving a new constitution with 308 articles, 35 parts and 9 annexes. As desired by the three major political parties, President Ram Baran Yadav promulgated the new constitution at a special function in the CA hall on Sunday (September 20, 2015), establishing Nepal as inclusive, federal democratic republic. Absence of CA members belonging to Madhes-based political parties on both occasions (endorsement and promulgation) was conspicuous. President Yadav profusely paid his respect to the main law of the land by touching it with his forehead several times before and after he put his signature on it. The endorsement of the new constitution by CA and respect paid to it by the President could not, however, make an iota of contribution towards dissuading the protesting party workers from launching further violent agitations. Expectedly, the new constitution of Nepal was burned at several places in Nepal including Kathmandu.
Following pressure from every corner, including the President, leaders of major parties met commanders of agitating parties and even constituted a three-member dialogue committee to initiate talks with the agitating parties but no progress of any substance was made. Even cancellation of PM Koirala’s visit to New York to attend the annual UN General Assembly meeting, to focus on escalating problems at home, did not help. In fact, situation in Nepal is deteriorating day by day with worsening fuel crisis and the nation facing scarcity and the resultant soaring prices of essential items, which started with the beginning of agitation in Terai some two months ago and got further complicated as a result of tightened security by India in areas bordering Nepal in view of the upcoming polls in Bihar and continuing violent protests in Terai. Curtailment of petroleum supplies to Nepal by Indian Oil Corporation from its three depots at Raxual,Baitalpur and Siliguri and unnecessary harassment of fuel tankers by Indian security forces soon after the promulgation of the constitution were enough of an indication that India was not happy with the development on the political front, which allegedly ignored the genuine concern and demands of Madesh-based parties, despite numerous urgings even from India. With hundreds of tankers and containers carrying fuel and other items lined up in India at the major entry points and Nepal government having to impose strict rationing system for petrol and diesel for vehicles, one cannot just help believing that India has imposed an undeclared economic blockade on Nepal. Although it will be totally unwise to solely blame India for the blockade, especially in view of the sit-in protests at the no man’s land on the Nepal-India border staged by activists of Madhes-based parties, there is no dearth of people who think that the protesters, often facing opposition, could never succeed on their own in creating the hardship that the nation is facing today. It is crystal clear that the poor people of Nepal are suffering due to acts of the three players- Madesh-based parties/leaders, Government of India and Nepal Government. Here are some observations on their act and also some suggestions to them.
Madesh- centric parties/leaders.
In the first election to CA, people in Madesh voted for the regional parties believing that the leaders elected would work for Madeshis and their region as promised during the agitation and the election campaign. These parties suffered a major setback at the second election to CA because by then people in this plain part of Nepal had very well understood that the slogan of regionalism and ethnicity was just a tool to further their personal wellbeing and had nothing to do with lifting people from oppression and injustice. Moreover, people were quite aware of the quarrel within a particular party and amongst parties basically for power. They were also disappointingly watching disintegration of parties into several splinter groups with the sole object of grabbing power. All this contributed to their electoral thrashing in the second election by Madeshi voters who are no less nationalist than Nepalese residing in other geographic regions of Nepal. The concerned leaders must also realize that the on-going agitation is likely to be counterproductive for them because their brethren in Terai are suffering as a result of closure of factories since two months and very serious supply disruption of essentials in recent weeks. No one can blame them for approaching India for help after their detachment from the constitution making process because everybody/group involved in managing state affairs or wanting to grab power here is doing that since ancient times, the first individual to do so being Rana Bahadur Saha who, engaged in a bitter power struggle with his wife Rajya Laxmi, took refuge in Vanarasi during the British India Period. These agitating parties, however, should not forget that they are not the major representative of the region because they are a minority in CA/parliament. It may be noted that of the 116 constituencies in 20 districts of Madesh, these parties could bag only 12 seats as against 51, 36 and 12 won, respectively, by NC, UML and UCPN Maoists in the second election to CA. It would be foolish, therefore, to think that India would create problems for long for Nepal acting on behalf of a group that does not even adequately represent Madesh.With Tharuhat Struggle Committee withdrawing from the agitation, the amendment bill of the constitution to address their concerns registered and MJF-D president Gachhadar having bagged a senior position(DPM) in the new government, wise thing to do for the protesters would be to sincerely engage in constructive dialogue with the concerned.
Notwithstanding some hiccups and irritants that surface between the two countries intermittently, India and Nepal have been maintaining good neighbourly relations all along. It is good to see the second most populous country and the largest democracy in the world emerging as a major economic power of global scale in recent times. It has been providing lots of aid and assistance to execute programmes and projects of various kinds in Nepal and has its involvement and intervention in major political developments of Nepal, be it the political agitation of 1990 that rehabilitated multi-party system or the 12-point Comprehensive Peace Agreement that paved way for the abolition of monarchy in Nepal. Since we have often sought their intervention in our affairs, it would be unfair to blame them much when they show their concerns in matters that we think they should not be interested in at a particular point of time. It seems Nepal has traditionally given India the right to intervene, which cannot be suddenly stopped and there is no harm if such an intervention is for our betterment. In the present context, however, the intervention has led to an undeclared economic blockade, which has caused immense sufferings to people and loss to the economy. No one should blame India for giving a sympathetic hearing to the constitution-related urgings of our Madeshi leaders who often take pride in declaring that they are socially, religiously and culturally more attached to India than Nepalese living elsewhere in Nepal. However, the matter to be worried about is that the current suffering of Nepalese is not blamed much on the agitators but on the undeclared blockade by India, which is aspiring to be on the UN Security Council at the earliest. It may be mentioned that after Mr. Modi took over as PM of India and his two visits to Nepal soon thereafter, relations between the two countries had attained unprecedented height. Progress on some long-stalled projects made us believe that Modi-led BJP government was genuinely interested in Nepal’s wellbeing. The situation, however, did not last long and it is disappointing that anti-India processions are taken out and effigy of the so much adored Indian leader is burned. This unpleasant situation has to end soon. Therefore, without involving ourselves in a blame game, both sides have to initiate corrective measures, remembering that it is highly unbecoming of a great nation like India to inflict pain on us through creation of supply bottlenecks and Nepal has to show seriousness in dealing with India and our Madeshi brothers and sisters. India should always remain friendly with the whole country and refrain from micro managing Nepal, not even on our request.
This is not the first time that Nepal has experienced blockade- created problems but the painful thing is that lessons were not learnt and everything was forgotten with lifting of the ban and ease in the supply situation. The blockade imposed in 1988/89 was lengthy and did harm the economy a lot compared to the one in early 1970 (2027), which was not long and not much felt because of the low consumption of petrol and other essentials by then population and relatively small number of vehicles plying on the roads of urban places like Kathmandu. Nepal was exporting rice then unlike huge import of it now a day. The difference between the two blockades (1988/89 and now) is that the system of polity and the ruling class/group has changed but the nation and the low income Nepali, who suffer the most during crises, are the same.Anti-India slogans and suggestions to our governments to decrease reliance on India have remained more or less the same.Likewise,Royal Nepal Airlines airlifted kerosene from Bangladesh for our kitchens during the earlier crisis and Nepal Airlines has begun to pick up aviation fuel from Kolkata some 25 years later now in 2015, clearly showing our unchanged dependence and our way of struggling with crisis. With India accounting for about 65 percent of Nepal’s international trade, our neighbor on the south cannot be ignored but there is no harm in initiating concrete measures to avoid the recurrence of the unpleasant situation that the nation is in today. We failed to learn from the bitter experience and did nothing to strengthen our production base. Complacency on the part of our irresponsible rulers should be blamed more than anything else for India’s position of a monopoly buyer and seller in Nepal’s external trade. People are now accusing the government for not showing seriousness in repairing the earthquake-damaged Arniko Highway, the major trade link to China, despite interest shown by China to do so. China, accounting for only 15 percent of our international trade, cannot be a good substitute of India on this front but creation of proper road links to north would have definitely provided some relief in such a difficult time. Government has to be serious in the exploration of fossil fuel, possibility of bio-fuel production and generation of hydropower for use in our kitchens and different modes of transport. Increasing consumption of fossil fuel has to be arrested, if not decreased. Governments here should also refrain from inviting India to micro manage Nepal so that we do not have to accuse our neighbor of intervention and interference in our affairs.In fact, we got India addicted to interference in our affairs; the newly elected PM Oli may not need any advice on this.
In a dramatic twist of events, the nation witnessed the two partners, PM Koirala and Chair of UML K P Oli, competing for the post of Prime Minister of Nepal, in which Oli defeated his rival by a convincing margin of 89 votes in the Legislature Parliament. Let us hope Koirala had some serious reasons to get into this highly uncalled for race, which many think will not do him good and the party he is commanding is not likely to benefit either. If left unexplained for long, this act of Koirala, which surprised many of his well wishers, may tarnish his greedless image and weaken his position within his party all set to have its general convention soon. Knowing full well in advance that he was no match for his opponent in that particular race as most of the parties had supported Oli and Koirala had not made any significant effort to turn the set stage upside down, his decision to contest has remained a mystery and it will be better for Koirala to demystify it, sooner the better. Hope the newly elected PM gets reasonable time from his opponents and genuine cooperation from his cabinet colleagues to solve the political and economic problems that the nation is engulfed with now days. Let us also hope the petroleum products that have started trickling in after Oli’s election will resume uninterrupted normal flow soon so that people do not have to waste days on the road for few liters of gasoline, ignoring even the auspicious day of Ghatasthapana.May Goddess Durga help us endure pain.