No amendment

Published On: December 13, 2016 12:15 AM NPT By: David Kainee

The government should immediately take back the amendment bill which has failed to please anyone
With the registration of the seven-point constitution amendment bill at the parliament secretariat on November 29th, the Nepali Congress-CPN (Maoist Center) coalition seems to have stirred a hornet’s nest again.

There have been mass protests against the decision to alter the boundary of Province 5 for over two weeks. Even though the government has proposed to shift five hill districts (Palpa, Arghakhanchi, Gulmi, Rolpa, Pyuthan and eastern Rukum) to Province 4, from Province 5, so as to create a Madhesh-only state stretching from Nawalparsai to Bardia, this has failed to please Madheshi forces. 

Critics of the amendment motion believe the government is guided by the ill intent of splitting hill districts from the plains, thereby emboldening secessionist elements. The main opposition, CPN-UML, has openly accused the government of pleasing “external forces” of setting in motion a sequence of events which will eventually weaken the country’s sovereignty and national security. 

The recent “breakfast meeting” of Madheshi forces with Indian Ambassador Ranjit Rae has reinforced the belief that Pushpa Kamal Dahal government has indeed brought the amendment bill at India’s behest. The stern opposition against the bill could have been avoided if the government had first consulted UML and other Madheshi forces.

If the bill fails to pass, it could even bring down Dahal government. As of this writing, Madheshi forces, on whose demand the amendment bill is said to have been registered, have rejected the amendment proposal and have called for revision of the bill. They want the dispute over the five Tarai districts—Jhapa,Morang, Sunsari, Kailali and Kanchanpur—to be resolved right now. But this is easier said than done.

It would be an uphill journey to adjust these disputed districts in Madhesh provinces. An attempt to do so sparked one and half months of protests in the Far-west in 2012, and led to the dissolution of the first Constituent Assembly. Then, last year, the Far-west witnessed the carnage at Tikapur of Kailali.

There is strong sentiment in favor of both “undivided” Far-west as well as the Tharuhat province. So we need to find a fine balance between the aspirations of Madheshis and Janajatis. But there is a fear among hill community that east-west demarcations could boost the separatist movement.

And then there are legal complications. Legal experts have argued that amendment bill is unconstitutional as Article 274 of the constitution prohibits changing of federal provinces in the absence of provincial assemblies.

As things stand, the government is sure to face stiff resistance against the amendment in the days ahead. 

We are only 13 months away from a constitutionally-binding deadline to hold three sets of elections, before January 21st, 2018. Failure to hold local polls by next April will be a big setback to constitution implementation. But we can hold three sets of elections only if political parties stand on the same page. So what should be done?

First of all, the main opposition should give up its ultra-nationalist grandstanding and be more pragmatic. Madheshi forces for their part should realize their limited strength in parliament and curtail their revolutionary zeal. 

Madheshi forces are for revising federal boundaries by scraping the existing seven-province model or redoing them based on the report of the State Restructuring Commission of the first Constituent Assembly. At the same time UML wants to spearhead the mass protest against amendment and has been insisting that government should take back the amendment bill for there to be meaningful dialogue.  

So it makes sense that the government immediately rolls back the constitution amendment proposal which seems to have pleased no one, including Madheshis. 

As amendment proposal has failed to break ice, it is time for all parties to gear up for local elections by setting aside their vested interests. Otherwise the country will plunge into another prolonged crisis. 

Nepal has already suffered enough at the hands of their inept political leaders. We lost 60 lives in last year’s protests and faced a grueling economic embargo that caused a humanitarian crisis. 

Likewise, the blockade is estimated to have cost the national exchequer at least Rs 200 billion. For the first time in 30 years we witnessed negative growth last year. It is in the interest of all democratic forces to come together and work in national interest at this critical hour.

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