We the people must not ignore some of the lurking dangers to the spirit of constitutionalism emanating from the government’s own unconstitutional behaviour
Nepal celebrated the constitution day on September 20. The day should have been the occasion for introspection into the extent to which the spirits of constitution and constitutionalism were respected by the government and our leaders, the time to question if we have been moving along the cherished goals enshrined in the constitution?
In addressing the gathering on the day, Prime Minister KP Oli spent a good deal of time dwelling upon what he called the challenges to the constitution including its enemies. But he fell short of telling who the enemies were and where those challenges came from. He seemed to be enjoying telling monotonous success narratives of his government but did deliberately conceal from the people where it had suffered setbacks. Instead, the day was the usual sight of repeat of the same platitudes and rhetoric.
In the absence of anything substantive to share in terms of achievements, the day ended up being an occasion for the leaders to make speeches with empty promises. In essence, their speeches, as always, mirrored only the shadows of promises, not the substance of delivery. In celebrating the day, they were simply trumpeting their own brand of successes, which were mocked by the heap of debris on the pavement, dust and dirt and potholes here and there on the muddy roads.
While they did, we the people must not ignore some of the lurking dangers to the spirit of constitutionalism emanating from the government’s own unconstitutional behaviour.
Rise of intolerance
The government’s behavioural intolerance is growing everyday to stifle dissent. Ministers and their acolytes are quick to term as enemies of loktantra even those who make healthy criticisms. This is nothing but an attempt at curtailing right to freedom of expression by creating fear. People exercising this right are constantly harassed, intimidated and persecuted on framed charges.
Hounding of Ravi Lamichhane, a popular TV program host, and putting him behind bars on charges that are laughable, at best is one of glaring examples of intolerance against individual rights to freedom of expression. Right under the nose of the police, Gyanendra Shahi was manhandled by the sycophants of ruling party at a press conference. Shahi had called to brief the press about the Pokhara airport episode. These blind party supporters went even to the extent of declaring that Shahi was barred from entering some districts, thus trying to restrict his constitutionally given right to freedom of movements. This is yet another glaring example of silencing dissidence.
Attempts to impinge upon freedom of expression in the visual and print media are also afoot by tabling a draconian bill in the parliament. In the meantime, many are made to write in favour of the government or those who write against are silenced through creation of fear. No wonder, there are only a handful few brave media outlets which still stand as watchdogs against formidable odds. Many others have now turned into governments lapdogs.
Freedom under threat
It is an irony that in a democratic system such as ours, we have been witness, day in and day out, to situations where citizens’ freedoms are not only being seriously challenged but also in great peril. We are made to live in a condition that is characterized by fear and intimidation. We live in a kind of democracy where people have to go without food to eat, almost on a daily basis and democracy is without human dignity and decency. Ours is a democracy where the government is utterly undemocratic. It shows little or no tolerance even to justifiable democratic opposition. Our democratic rulers and their acolytes take ‘right to dissent’ for defiance and try to stifle it by all means—through coercion, intimidation or open manhandling. There is neither human freedom and human progress, nor prosperity in federal republic. These are clearly anti-democratic and anti-constitutional trends, which are unfortunately increasing by the day, posing grave dangers to democracy, constitutionalism and democratic values. If the government and political parties remain silent spectators and do nothing to stop these undemocratic trends, these would surely become potential invitation for bigger trouble in the future, which will undercut the very essence of democracy and constitutionalism.
Warning on the wall
In the past, we had to endure constant political instability and the bane of coalition governments, which gave rise to all sorts of misrule, corruption and nepotism.
Political parties attributed all those woes to the lack of political stability and absence of a majority government. We thought it was true. People gave a majority to one political party in the last general elections. But we have failed to see, as of now, any perceptible changes and improvements in ways and styles the majority government functions. Other than selling false dreams, it has done precious little to encourage good governance by reducing corruption, controlling crimes and unleashing a modicum of socio-economic development. It shows little appetite even for any healthy and constructive criticisms. While every body has known by now that the present government has failed to give good account of itself in many areas, the Prime Minister and his ministers are never tired of singing praise of the government.
Nirmala Panta’s rape and brutal murder case still remains unsolved and the criminals are roaming at large. There is yet a simmering discontent among Guthiyars of Kathmandu on the controversial Guthi Bill, even after its withdrawal by government from the parliament. The demands for a king on the Indra Jatra festival this time is the manifestation of that simmering discontent.
People have now openly begun to defy the traffic halts for hours on the roads imposed by traffic police to allow President’s or Prime Minister’s motorcade to pass first. The recent event in Nepalgunj Airport where the Airlines flight was reportedly delayed by an hour its scheduled time under order from Tourism Minister is a grim reminder of the public distrust and resentment against the government. People have now begun to see them in a new feudal avatar caring only for their own comforts.
Questions are asked, too, about who paid for the medical expenses of the Prime Minister’s medical treatment at a hospital in Singapore, if not by the government. The PM is under pressure not to try to hide this issue from public. Similarly, people are kept in the dark about his health condition. It is believed a democratically-elected PM is truly the people’s PM. He is, and should be, therefore, like an open book for the public. The government is again a mute onlooker to the continued loot and mismanagement in medical education sector. The entire public education system has been sort of defunct as a result of excessive politicization. The infamous syndicate system in transport sectors continues to thrive. Worst, despite protest and Supreme Court verdict, the operational impunity enjoyed by mafias active in these sectors continues unhindered.
The strike by Chitwan Medical College students against the exorbitant charges students were forced to pay was a presage to the trouble that seemed brewing. The strike has been reportedly called off following agreements reached between the college management and the students. If their demands are not met, taking that it was a mere trickle, this may in no time develop into a tornado. Next time, all private medical college students are sure to join the bandwagon to turn the trickle into tornado. These are all but serious writings on the wall for the government. It should heed to these warning signs well in time and do the course correction. Doing otherwise and ignoring these warning signs long enough will be only at its own peril. It should be loud and clear to the government that people’s patience is beginning to wear thin.
The author is former Chief of Protocol, Ministry of Foreign Affairs