Constitution Amendment: For Whom?

Published On: November 30, 2016 06:45 PM NPT By: Akhilesh Tripathi

The much-awaited bill to amend the constitution registered in the Legislature-Parliament by the government yesterday has failed to revive hopes. Instead of resolving problems, it has compounded them.

The government has finally registered a bill in the Legislature-Parliament to amend the constitution for a second time, as demanded by the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF). However, nobody – even the Madhes-based parties to address whose demands the constitution is being amended – seem to be happy with the 7-point constitution amendment bill which was registered in parliament on November 29 evening.

Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSF-N), a key constituent of the UDMF, has taken strong exception to the constitution amendment bill registered in parliament. Issuing a press statement today, the FSF-N categorically rejected the constitution amendment bill “as it has not addressed the burning national issues. 

“The constitution amendment bill registered in parliament has not addressed any demands raised by the UDMF and the Federal Alliance,” reads the statement. In the statement, FSF-N has lashed out at the government saying that it has made a grave mistake by not including any demands raised by the disgruntled Adivasi Janajatis, Tharus, Khas, Muslims, Women, Dalits and Madhesi Morcha.

The statement warned that the proposed bill will push the country into a perpetual conflict, chaos and instability rather than establishing peace, stability, national unity and development. "We will not accept this bill as it has been brought despite our disagreement. Our protest will continue against racial discrimination and caste-based rule,” the FSF-N said in the statement. 

Terming the amendment “unnecessary and irrelevant”, CPN (UML), the main opposition, has already said that it will not allow the registration of the amendment proposal in parliament. The party has concluded that “the constitution amendment bill registered by the government will hamper the country” and has decided to obstruct the proceedings at the Legislature-Parliament from Thursday.

According to UML Vice-Chairman Bamdev Gautam, a Parliamentary Party (PP) meeting of the party concluded that the amendment bill was not necessary as the bases and rationale for the changes in the constitution haven’t been established.

Meanwhile, protests have soared in different districts of Province 5 after the government filed the constitution amendment bill so as to take out all the hill districts from the province. Even the cadres of the ruling Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center) have come out on the streets, burning tyres to protest against the bill.

Similarly, lawmakers from even the major ruling parties - the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN (Maoist Center) - are divided on the changes proposed in the amendment proposal. They are especially against the proposal to remove the hilly districts from Province 5. While the UML is against the idea of redrawing the boundaries of the provinces, even some Madhesi leaders have said that removing the hilly district from Province 5 is not their demand! Also, the agitating parties have refused to commit themselves to endorsing the bill.

The amendment bill prepared by the government proposes to revise the provincial boundaries in Provinces 5, 4 and 6, and amend provisions related to marital naturalized citizenship, representation in the National Assembly and the languages of official business. Demarcation of the provinces is the thorniest issue among the four demands put forth by the UDMF.

Madhes-based parties had staged strikes and bandhs for almost six months following the promulgation of the constitution which divided Nepal into seven provinces. India, too, had imposed blockade on Nepal for six months under the pretext of the Madhes agitation.

The UDMF had backed down from its One Madhes One Province demand following the Tharu protest and started raising its voice for two provinces in the Tarai belt. Since then, it has been demanding that three eastern districts - Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari - be included in Province Number 2. UDMF has demanded that Province Number 2 should stretch from Jhapa in the east to Chitwan in the west. Similarly, their demands include a Tharu provinces stretching from Nawalparasi in the east to Kanchanpur in the west. However, as per the current demarcation of the provinces, Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari have been kept in Province Number 1 and Kailali and Kanchanpur in Province Number 7.

It is learnt that UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli and NC leader Krishna Prasad Sitaula are among those politicians who are not ready at all to merge Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari in Province Number 2 (Or the Madhes province). Especially, Chairman of Federal Socialist Forum Nepal Upendra Yadav is for mixing three eastern districts in Madhes province. Morang and Sunsari are the electoral regions for Yadav.

Other demands of UDMF are to make a Tharu Province including the districts from Nawalparasi to Kanchanpur. But NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba, CPN-UML Vice-chairman Bhim Rawal, and NC leader and the current Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport, Ramesh Lekhak among others are against including Kailali and Kanchanpur in the Tharu Province as it is their electoral region.

The biggest question that arises here is who is the PM trying to appease by removing five hilly districts from Province 5 and merging them in Province 4 and 6? “He is trying to appease India,” says a senior politician on the condition of anonymity.

Interestingly, all major Indian newspapers have welcomed the registration of the constitution amendment bill.

However, as things stand now, the agitating Madhes-based parties aren’t happy with the amendment bill registered by the government. Oli and his UML have already made it clear that they are against any amendment to the constitution. So, it is going to be very tough for the government to get the amendment bill endorsed by Parliament without the support of the UML. The government will need the support of all other parties in Parliament to get the amendment proposal endorsed if the UML decides to vote against it. But, is that possible?

Only time will tell.






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