Chief Minister of Province 2 Lalbabu Raut’s speech at the civic reception organized to welcome visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Janakpur on Friday has courted controversy. Raut took the oath of office under this constitution which he dubbed “discriminatory”. While delivering speech in presence of Indian PM, he complained that the constitution promulgated in 2015 was discriminatory against Madhesis and that they were still denied the rights of a provincial government as enshrined in the national charter.“Even today our struggle against the discriminatory constitution continues,” he complained. Raut is wrong for two reasons. First, as a chief minister, Raut does not only represent his party but the whole people of his province and the country. Second, Raut is CM today under the provision of the same constitution. Undoubtedly, the constitution is an amendable document. The legislature has already amended the constitution once and political parties have been saying that it can be amended based on need and relevance. Thus it was plain wrong of the CM to raise this purely internal issue with the PM of a foreign country. By doing so, he has been seen to invite Indian interference in Nepal’s domestic affairs.
Moreover, what in the present constitution has stopped CM Raut from going ahead with bold programs to right the historical wrongs? The provision of quota and reservation system in every public sector is a testament to the state’s acceptance of historical injustices. We cannot imagine everything to be corrected overnight. It will now be upon leaders like Raut to work on that progress, not find ways to shy away from the real hard work needed to make the change happen. Nothing in the constitution bars CM Raut and his government in Province 2 from embarking on bold economic reforms, the only sure path to social harmony and lasting peace. Nepali Congress and CPN-UML leaders have rightly said that Raut offended the nation. He showed disrespect toward the very constitution which made federalism and his rise to chief minister possible. Regrettably, Raut shows no compunction, forget apology, for this uncalled for remark. Raut’s move seems deliberate. It was not a mere gaffe, he was reading out from the written script. He has been defending his action by saying that constitution amendment is the major agenda of his party. It may be. But civic reception of a foreign delegate was not the right venue to discuss this. We have provincial assembly and federal parliament to find amicable solutions to political and constitutional questions. Also, Raut failed to direct the temple authorities to use Nepal’s national flag in the right shape. How can we be so insensitive toward the national symbol? Some of the participants in the program were seen to display ‘free Madhes’ placard. It is again regrettable that the chief minister could not prevent such elements, which are trying to disturb national unity and territorial integrity of the country, enter the venue and then take action against them later on.
Janakpur blunder also shows serious flaws of our foreign affairs machineries. The Office of the Prime Minister and Foreign Ministry should have approved his speech, in other words CM Raut should have consulted the Foreign Ministry beforehand. Thus it would be wise for the Ministry to orient chief ministers, ministers and top officials of all provinces regarding their dos and donts. Let us not forget, Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar had wanted to come to Kathmandu sometimes in 2012. He could not make it because the federal government did not approve his visit. A chief minister is supposed to take prior approval of what he will do or discuss with foreign officials, visitors and members of diplomatic communities from the central government. Mistakes have been made in Province 2. As we have just started to practice federal system, it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that such mistakes don’t happen in future. On his part, if CM Raut admitted his mistakes it would not belittle his stature.