Amended Nepali constitution bodes well for inclusiveness and will yank India out of sticky situation

Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli’s cabinet has taken the first step towards resolving the crisis that had gripped Nepal since the new Republican Constitution was adopted.

hidden December 22, 2015 20:37:59 IST
Amended Nepali constitution bodes well for inclusiveness and will yank India out of sticky situation

By Seema Guha

Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli’s cabinet has taken the first step towards resolving the crisis that had gripped Nepal since the new Republican Constitution was adopted in September. The stand-off between the Madhesh-based parties and the government, which resulted in an economic blockade, causing immense suffering to Nepali citizens, is likely to be lifted as soon as the Nepalese Parliament amends the Constitution.

The Madhesi parties have not called off their agitation, saying the Cabinet has not addressed all their concerns. They no longer trust the Kathmandu politicians and would rather wait and ensure all concerns are met at one go. But New Delhi is pleased and is likely to use its influence with the Madhesi parties not to be rigid.

The Indian government had sided with the Madhesis, believing that the people of Indian origin had been given short shrift in the new Constitution. In the process, ties between India and its Himalayan neighbour had come undone with Prime Minister Oli charging New Delhi of ensuring that the land route from India, which is a lifeline for Nepal, becomes inoperative. India now thinks it is time to repair ties as the crisis has continued for nearly three months.

Amended Nepali constitution bodes well for inclusiveness and will yank India out of sticky situation

KP Sharma Oli. Image courtesy: AP

But with Sunday’s cabinet decision which addresses three major demands of the Madhesi community, there is hope of an amicable settlement to the crisis. “Nepal was left to be handled by bureaucrats. The babus naturally had their say as Prime Minister Modi stayed aloof, mainly because there was little public pressure on Nepal, but with the crisis continuing, the politicians had stepped in to resolve the problem,” said Kanak Mani Dixit, publisher and editor of the influential magazine, Himal Southasian. He said Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa had been in constant touch with Sushma Swaraj over the last few days, and was talking to her even while on an official visit to the UK. “India could also not sustain the blockade which was leading to a humanitarian crisis in Nepal,” Dixit added.

Three amendments to the Constitution

The Nepalese leaders had always insisted that the Constitution was not cast in stone and could be amended. However despite amendments already in the house, nothing was done to take it forward. At the same time, Madhesi politicians were also impatient and felt that demonstrations and blockade were the only ways to make their voices heard.

The cabinet has now promised proportional representation for all sections including Madhesi, Tharu and other ethnic groups for government jobs. Electoral districts would be delineated on the basis of population, with one representative per district. The issue of a re-look at the demarcation of provinces, which were made in the new Constitution, and which had angered the Madhesi and other minorities in the plains areas, would be resolved through political consensus.

Kamal Thapa informed Swaraj on Monday about the Cabinet decision. India “welcomed these developments as positive steps that help create the basis for a resolution of the current impasse in Nepal. As a neighbour and well-wisher, India was deeply concerned at the unrest stemming from internal differences in Nepal on the Constitution. We urge all Nepali political forces to now demonstrate the necessary maturity and flexibility to find a satisfactory solution to the Constitutional issues through constructive dialogue in an agreed timeframe,” New Delhi said in a statement released on Monday. It also held out the hope of an end to the embargo: “We are confident that a return to normalcy in Nepal would create a more secure and predictable climate for unimpeded commerce between our two countries.”

Face-saver for India

India is happy at the turn of events. Many of the country’s former envoys to Kathmandu have applauded Modi for staying the course and forcing Nepal’s political leadership to have a more inclusive Constitution. “The Nepalese want it both ways. They have protests against India at the drop of a hat and at the same time they whine when things don’t go their way. From the days of the monarchy to now, the Kathmandu elite use the China card against India,” said a former ambassador who did not wish to be identified. “The fact is however much the rulers may want to be with China, the tough Himalayan terrain is a major deterrent. Trade through the Chinese border at the moment is much more difficult than with India.”

Nepal is preparing to sign a trade and transit agreement with China. Kamal Thapa will travel to Beijing on the weekend where this will come up for discussion.

Kanak Mani Dixit believes that “India was looking for a face saver to end the crisis and the Cabinet decision has given Delhi the opportunity to do so.” Analyst SD Muni agrees with Dixit: “No, the Nepalese did not blink. It took three months for India to work this out. India was looking for a way out as it had pushed itself to a corner earlier. Common folk in Nepal are waiting for India to lift the embargo, but that will perhaps come once the three decisions taken by the Cabinet are passed. The signs are good but it is now up to the Madhesi parties to decide.

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