President of Federal Socialist Forum Nepal, Upendra Yadav, believes that the new constitution cannot be implemented without first addressing the concerns of the agitating Madheshis and Janajatis. Yadav, the former foreign minister and the undisputed leader of the first Madheshi Uprising in 2007, talked to Republica’s Biswas Baral and Mahabir Paudyal about constitutional amendment, the prime minister’s upcoming India visit and various Madheshi issues in an extensive interview.
The government was supposed to table a proposal to amend the constitution before the prime minister’s India visit. Why didn’t it happen?
It is the duty of this government to implement the three-point deal among Congress, Maoist Center and Federal Alliance. We have already done our bit by supporting the prime minister bid of Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Point two of the deal is about providing compensation to those injured and disabled during Madhesh protests, declaring those who were killed martyrs and withdrawing false charges against Madheshi cadres. This can be easily achieved through a cabinet decision. But it has not happened yet.
The third and most vital point regarding constitution amendment can be addressed only through the parliament. But what about things it can do? The injured and the disabled are yet to get compensations. It has not even started the process. Those detained have not been released yet. The government promises to do everything but does nothing. The government of Sushil Koirala had decided to provide treatment expenses to the victims of Madhesh protests. We now have a third government after constitution promulgation. Even this basic demand has not been met.
What about the government commitment to table amendment before the PM’s India visit?
Nothing has been done on this front. Instead, the government is linking this issue with India. We are against internationalizing our domestic issues. It is wrong to drag India into constitution amendment. The right thing to do would be to resolve internal problems before the prime minister went to India. We have clearly told him that addressing internal problems should be his priority as his government was formed primarily for the purpose of amending the constitution. But he is going to India and then to the US, leaving behind the mess in the country. This shows that he has failed to grasp the gravity of the matter.
Leaders in Nepal have used India only as a ladder to ascend to power. A leader first rushes to India if he has to become the prime minister. Once this goal is met, he tries to appease India to stay in power. But when the government fails, the same leader blames India. Our leaders have set this dangerous trend in Nepal.
You have been holding regular parleys with the prime minister. What did you discuss?
I told him that he should first amend the constitution before going to Delhi. He could go to Delhi later. Then there would be no space to drag India into amendment. I even told him not to go to the US to take part in the United Nations General Assembly. The UN does not have important business this time. Prime ministers from many other countries are skipping UNGA. Why must Nepali prime minister go? Some other minister or our ambassador at the UN can represent Nepal. But the prime minister is bent on going.
We worry that all this will push amendment issue further and further away. By the time the prime minister returns from the US, Dashain will be at hand, soon to be followed by Tihar and Chhath. The prime minister will have spent five months just like that. And let us not forget that he is prime minister only for nine months. All this looks like a deliberate attempt to sideline the concerns of agitating Madheshis and Janajatis.
So there have been no meaningful talks of late?
We had an informal dialogue the other day. We were supposed to meet the next day. But it did not happen. To tell you the truth, there has not been a single issue-based discussion in recent times. The government already knows about our demands and our bottom-line. We want the government to come up with a credible response. The government should tell us by when and how it will be able to address our demands. We want to know how many of the demands can be addressed and by what date.
Wasn’t the four-point amendment proposal that was widely reported in the media aimed at addressing your concerns?
This is propaganda. The government has not brought any concrete proposal on any of the agendas that we have raised. It should understand that we are not seeking amendment for the heck of it. We want meaningful amendment that can address our issues. All the flaws in the constitution should be corrected.
The main bone of contention continues to be demarcation of federal borders. How do you propose to settle it?
The 10-province model recommended by the State Restructuring Commission (of the first Constituent Assembly) is our bottom line. Start with the report of this commission, the Interim Constitution (2007), the 22-point agreement of 2007 and the eight-point agreement of 2008 the state had signed with Madheshi forces as the basis for negotiations. We have said this many times.
You have been saying that the new constitution has many flaws. What are some of the major ones?
Take the issue of local government. In a federal set-up, local governance should come under the purview of the provincial governments. But the constitution gives most of this power to the center. State judiciary and state administration should also be under provincial government. They are not. The current federal model has also not given authority and autonomy to provinces.
There is a serious flaw with the system of government as well. Not a single government has served out its full term since 1950. The new constitution retains this form of depraved parliamentary system. Unless we have a directly elected executive head, mandated to form a government comprising experts from out of the parliament, there will be no political stability. We need a system in which the parliamentarians do not become ministers.
How are you approaching the three sets of elections planned for the next 17 months?
First of all, this constitution is against the mandate (janadesh) expressed through various movements including Maoist’s war and Madhesh movement. A constitution should reflect the aspirations of such movements. The mandate of these movements was for republic, secularism, federalism, inclusion and proportional representation. These should be the bedrocks of the constitution. But the new constitution instead makes federalism, republic and secularism open to amendment, which means these achievements could be reversed. How can you say the constitution has safeguarded these vital achievements? We have federalism but it retains the spirit of unitary system. There is only lip service to inclusion and proportional representation.
This is why we have been consistently saying that the constitution has not addressed the aspirations of the people. It would be meaningless to hold elections unless this faulty course is corrected. Besides, this hue and cry for local elections is a design to derail the federal course. What if half of the population declines to participate in the election? Unless the constitution is amended, there cannot be any election in Nepal. As things stand, the constitution is already on a path to failure.
The constitution has provisioned for a number of acts and laws within a year of its promulgation. How many laws have been formulated so far? If the government forces this constitution on them, people will revolt. There will be constitutional crisis and political vacuum. Then all the achievements we have made so far could be lost. The unthinkable might happen.
Are you saying that you will boycott the elections held under the status quo?
I am saying elections cannot be held unless the constitution is first amended. Like I said the issue of election has been raised to dilute federalism. It has come with wrong intention.
Some say the Madheshi uprising last year has fizzled out. Is that the case?
This is a misreading of our agitation. People used to say the same thing a year ago. Even while we were protesting on the eve of the promulgation of new constitution leaders in Kathmandu said Madhesh agitation won’t gain momentum. What happened? Didn’t the country come to a standstill for six months? Thus the notion that Madhesh agitation has fizzled out is erroneous. On the contrary, our agitation has taken a national form. It is no more limited to Madhesh. It has to do with the wellbeing of people of mountains, hills and Tarai. The problem of Tarai is related with problems of mountains and hills and vice-versa. You cannot treat the three regions in isolation.
Going back to the blockade, do you in retrospect feel that you made a mistake by so badly disrupting the daily lives of Nepalis?
You have to see the blockade in a context. Who pushed the Madheshi people to the no-man’s land? Before that we were protesting in district headquarters. Why did the government impose curfew and prohibited people from peaceful demonstrations? Why did the state kill unarmed people? Why didn’t the state address our concerns? If the state continues to adopt the same repressive measures, there could be even more dangerous protests in the future. I see that possibility even today.
What kind of dangerous protests? Will you elaborate?
If you do not grant your own people constitutional rights, if you suppress them when they protest, it will lead to a serious confrontation. This confrontation could break national unity. There is a strong voice in Madhesh for armed struggle. If this confrontation goes out of hands, the state will be powerless to control it. It will lead the country to an unthinkable disaster.
It was a common belief in Nepal that it was India instead of Madheshi parties that had imposed the blockade. What do you think are India’s core concerns in Nepal?
As I said at the beginning, leaders in Nepal have used India to fulfill their partisan interests. They use India, without caring a bit about how this will jeopardize the age-old relation between the two countries. When they cannot use India to their advantage, they resort to anti-India nationalism. India’s involvement in Nepali politics is an open secret. It has been involved in every political revolution in Nepal. Why did Rana-Congress-Tribhuvan agreement happen in New Delhi? Why did the 12-point pact happen in Delhi? And who involved India in all this?
As for last year’s Madhesh agitation, were not we the first people to warn the major parties not to promulgate the discriminatory constitution? Had we not first protested inside the parliament? We were forced to take to the streets when they failed to heed us. Where do you see India in this? The key concern of India in Nepal is security and stability. It wants a guarantee that the long porous borders with Nepal are not used against its security interests. From Indian perspective, Nepal has become a hotbed for anti-India activities. Fake currency circulation happens from Nepali land. Terrorists are found to have used Nepal as a hideout to target India. India wants Nepal to take security sensitivity seriously. If Nepal can assure India that Nepali land will never be used against India’s security interests, it will raise Nepal-India relation to a new height. Instability in Nepal bothers India. India also seems concerned about the activities of other international actors in Kathmandu.
Why do you think India supported the border blockade of Madheshi parties?
Let there be no illusion. The beneficiaries of India’s support in Nepal have always been non-Madheshis. If India had wanted, it could have mediated to resolve Madhesh crisis long ago. It played the role of a mediator between Ranas, Congress and King in 1950. It did so between SPA and Maoist in 2005 and made the 12-point pact possible. Don’t you think it could have done so with Madheshis as well? But it was not interested. Yes it is concerned about Madhesh because Madhesh borders India and instability in Madhesh affects India. But Madhesh does not seem to be India’s priority. The government of Nepal asked India to stand witness when it signed the 22-point deal with us in August 2007. The government held dialogue with us in presence of representatives of Indian government. So India could have asked Nepal to implement that deal. Did it ever do so? This proves that Madhesh is not India’s priority.
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