By Krishna Koundinya Mothukuru
The Constitution of Nepal 2072 (signifying the 2072nd year of Vikram Samvat calendar) was finally adopted by the Constituent Assembly. After seven years, the efforts of the Constituent Assembly finally came into effect on the 20th of September, 2015. Termed as a progressive constitution, the modernist document in a post-modernist world, though far from perfect, is indeed laudable. The suffocating arduous task of achieving a consensus from a republican state transitioning from a monarchy needs to be applauded.
Nepal has had 6 constitutions in the past: 1948, 1951, 1959, 1962, and 1990. The 12 point agreement was reached between the Maoists and Nepal’s democratic parties in 2005, which was facilitated by India. The comprehensive peace agreement of 2006 between the government and Maoists declaring the end of the 10-year rebel insurgency resulted in a temporary constitution in 2007. Later, the Maoists quit and resumed their demand for the abolition of the monarchy, which was fulfilled in 2007 itself. The first constituent assembly failed to meet its deadline in May, 2011. The first constituent assembly ended in disaster, and this paved the way for the second constituent assembly, which could, at last, achieve consensus for a new federal constitution.
The Core features of the Nepali Constitution
Federalism: Nepal is now divided into 8 federal provinces with substantial autonomy. 7 federal states have been proposed as of now.
Secularism: Rejecting the demands for a Hindu nation, the new constitution envisages Nepal as a secular nation republic. It defines Secularism as “religious and cultural freedom, including protection of religion and culture prevalent since ancient time”.
Rights based Provisions: Full rights such as fundamental rights, human rights, voting rights, religious rights etc. are guaranteed to all citizens, including sexual minorities.
The Terai region communities, particularly the Tharu ethnic minorities and Madhesis have started an agitation because of a perceived threat of political marginalisation due to the new federal structure. Both these communities form 40% of Nepal’s population and it is therefore not prudent for a democratic state to ignore their concerns.
The relations shared as termed as “roti aur beti ka sambandh”
The Terai region spills over into India as well. The 1751 Km border is highly porous, facilitating full scale people-to-people exchanges. The relations shared as termed as “roti aur beti ka sambandh” (the relationship between our food and our daughters). The rights of Madhesis, Tharus and Janjati (adivasi) are perceived to be under threat. The Madhesis share close ethnic ties with citizens of Bihar and there is every possibility of the trouble spilling over into India. Nepal is historically and culturally the closest neighbour to India and such violent protests are a genuine concern for New Delhi.
Foreign Policy Failure
This has turned out to be a sour episode for Indian Foreign Policy. PM Modi’s high profile visit to our neighbour last year was very well received. A grand Puja, nearly 4 crore rupees worth of sandal wood donation, opening up a $1 billion credit line to Nepal and addressing the Constituent Assembly itself, it looked all sunshine and rainbows.
But Nepal has ignored 7 Indian suggestions/inputs in their new constitution. Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar spoke to the top leadership, but it was too late. The Madhesis have migrated to UP and Bihar over a period of time. These close ethnic ties have made New Delhi look to them as a bulwark against any pro-China tilt by Nepal. Taking advantage of this, China has shown solidarity and support to Nepal, thus making this issue even more complex.
Nepal has always resented the big brother condescending attitude that India has shown towards it. The curt jabs from India and equally stern replies from Nepal have dented foreign relations over the issue. Statements such as “Nepal’s Constitution is better than the Indian Constitution since it takes care of minorities as well as women” and “highly unrefined and immature diplomacy” [a statement given by India towards Nepal] show the extent of foreign policy failure.
The Way Forward
New Delhi should refrain from acting impulsively. Prudence, values, and tactfulness should guide the next steps. Instead of treating Nepal as an extension of India, we should recognize that Nepal is a sovereign nation with its own challenges. Applying the principles of Panchsheel (mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs), a respectful dialogue as equal partners will improve the spoilt relations.
Krishna is an MBA and a student of public policy with a keen eye for geopolitics