KATHMANDU, Sept 20: On this day in 2015, Nepal promulgated its first federal republican constitution. It was thought that ‘the historic document’ would usher Nepal into an era of peace and stability, bringing an end to inequality along the lines of ethnicity, caste and class. It, however, was not to be.
Four years since the Constituent Assembly (CA), with the backing of over 90 percent lawmakers, endorsed the constitution amid opposition from various groups, it has still remained a deeply divisive topic. Debate continues as to whether the statute represents ‘the general will’.
The rift that characterized its promulgation resurfaced again with Madhes-based parties announcing partial boycott or even ‘blackout’ of the Constitution Day.
Amid government’s preparations for a grand celebration of the event, Rastriya Janata Party Nepal leaders on Thursday told parliament that the fourth largest party in the federal parliament would organize corner assemblies across the tarai and would end the day with a ‘total blackout’ to protest what he called one of the darkest days in Nepal’s history.
Three days earlier, on Monday, Samajwadi Party Nepal (SPN), an ally in the ruling coalition, had announced that it would neither commemorate nor oppose the Constitution Day. The party, however, had directed those representing the government to take part in the celebrations. Province 2 Chief Minister Lal Babu Raut, an SPN leader, has announced that he would celebrate the occasion by lighting candle. His cabinet members, especially from the RJPN, have announced to observe it as ‘black day’.
Parties’ differing takes on the Constitution Day reflect the long-running dispute over the constitution.
For supporters, it is a progressive document that has not only consolidated Nepal’s journey into federal republic, but also brought historically excluded marginalized communities into the political mainstream by upholding inclusion and proportional representation.
“There might be some grievances that could be addressed through revision based on necessity and relevancy. But every party has already accepted and adopted the constitution,” Nepal Communist Party deputy parliamentary party leader Subas Nembang told Republica. He claimed that Madhesi parties’ participation in the election and the government had made it evident that there is no question over its legitimacy.
For opponents, the constitution remains a ‘flawed document’ that requires major revision for larger ownership. Some identity-based parties including the SPN and RJPN claim that the statute has given an upper hand to the same groups of ‘Khas-Brahmin men’ who have long dominated the bureaucracy and the government. They claim that the constitution has also betrayed the excluded and marginalized communities’ regarding greater autonomy.
“It mustn’t be forgotten that the constitution was promulgated amid bloodshed of people who were fighting for their rights and equality. It’s a discriminatory document forced by a two-thirds majority,” Rajendra Mahato, a RJPN presidium member, told Republica.
Mahato said that they were not against the constitution, but against the ‘discriminatory clauses in the constitution’. He said that the government should make necessary amendments to reflect aspirations of Madhesi, Dalit, Muslim and other excluded groups without further delays.
“We are also waiting for the day when we would be able celebrate the constitution together with rest of the country. The government should create that situation.”