Since the constitution was promulgated in 2015, governments and Madhes-based parties have maintained rather vague and, at times, impractical positions on amendment of the document. The government has been saying it is not opposed to amendment per se but there has to be a justified reason for this. On their part, Madhes-based parties have been accusing the successive governments and big parties of being indifferent to amendment demands. Arguments and counter-arguments have persisted and neither side seems to be flexible. In May, 2018 Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN), a Madhes-based party led by Upendra Yadav, signed a two-point agreement in which ruling NCP agreed to address the demand related to constitution amendment on the basis of “mutual understanding.” Following this, not only FSFN joined the government but Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN), another Madhes-based party, also supported it. In between, there have been rounds of meetings and discussions but there has not been clear progress on this front.
While Madhesi parties, particularly RJPN, have been drawing the attention of the government over the issue time and again and even threatening to pull out support and start fresh agitation, the government has been promising to address the demands. Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli had assured to address those demands before Tihar festival. Now the prime minister has sought one more week to respond to them. During a meeting with RJPN leaders on Tuesday, Oli promised to hold discussions within his own party on constitution amendment and respond to RJPN within a week. RJPN’s demands on amendment are related with granting citizenship by descent to foreign women marrying Nepali nationals and redrawing of provincial boundaries. These have been the sticking points in dialogues between Madhesi leaders and big parties over the years.
The situation today is different. Madhesi parties are the part of this government formed under the new constitution. They should be able to understand the gravity of the issue and see what can and cannot be done. Madhesi leaders seem to have politicized the amendment issue. They threaten to withdraw support from the government and even start street protests if the demands are not fulfilled. Such posture, we are afraid, will further generate mistrust between the two. On part of the government, it seems to be deferring issue by citing one or other excuses. It promises to resolve the issue by one deadline and fails to meet it. Both sides should sit together and discuss the issues in earnest. Citizenship and boundary alteration are broader national issues. Madhesi leaders and the ruling party need to consult with main opposition party and other stakeholders as well. Thus rather than blaming each other, if both sides demonstrate some flexibility, understand the gravity of the matter, and understand each other’s limitations, they will come close to resolving it. The dialogue between the government and Madhesi parties should be centered on resolving amendment issue instead of further prolonging it. For that, both sides need to discuss the sticking points wisely and pragmatically.