The hush-hush manner in which the ruling parties have gone about the task of amending the new constitution has created suspicions among common folks that their top leaders are once again up to no good. Various aspects of the proposed amendments, which are now apparently being discussed among top leaders of major political forces, have come out in popular press. For instance the new amendment proposal, some media outlets report, has proposed making Hindi as a common language of communication and that it allows naturalized citizens to occupy even senior-most government positions. We would not like to get into whether these proposals are desirable. Desirability, after all, is subjective. In fact, we are happy that at long last there seems to be some kind of a political understanding developing between the ruling and the Madheshi parties. As we have repeatedly pointed out, there will be no viable constitutional settlement unless each side is ready to be flexible. So if Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal does indeed have a magic formula to resolve outstanding constitutional issues, we could not be happier. But we also doubt that the process of amendment will be straightforward.
What troubles us the most is that the proposed amendments are not being discussed inside the sovereign parliament. The amendments, after all, will have to be passed by two-thirds majority in it. In fact, it is not clear that there is unanimity even within Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center), the two main coalition partners. Senior Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel has highlighted the need for greater intra-party discussion of the proposed constitutional changes. Top Bahadur Rayamajahi, a senior Maoist leader, meanwhile, has categorically ruled out any changes in the current federal demarcations.
With their own house divided, it is hard to see how the ruling parties can win over the parties in the opposition like CPN-UML and RPP (Nepal), whose support will be crucial for any amendment. This is why all the agendas being discussed must be brought into a wider debate, at least in the parliament. Such open and participatory discussions are the hallmarks of the democratic process. A small coterie of leaders cannot hijack this all-important deliberative role of the parliament.
Again, we believe that save for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, there should be no sacred cows in these political discussions. For instance some believe that federalism should be implemented by keeping the current 75 districts intact. This is nonsense. Administrative units should serve the political reality of the new federal, democratic republic, not the other way round. There is also no reason why there should be only two provinces to span the entire Tarai-Madhesh. The provinces higher up deserve at least one point of access to the Indian market. But these are issues to be decided by the parliament after extensive discussions. Some might say that bringing important constitutional issues into the parliament is a risky strategy. After all, even in the recent past there have been many incidents of vandalism, rowdy protests and fisticuffs inside the parliament. This is why such acts of violence in parliament should not go unpunished in the future. Also, as hard as the process is, there is also no other way to democratically resolve these key constitutional issues. For these are the matters far too important to be left to the whims and fancies of a handful of (seemingly unaccountable) leaders.