Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why Nepal's New Constitution Is A Sham

The international community should not be fooled into thinking Nepal's recently promulgated constitution has been the outcome of a democratic exercise. It has been anything but, and is hence deeply flawed.

There are a lot of people in the world who might have a soft corner for Nepal and its peoples. But understand that the peoples you might be referring to (like the Sherpas) are precisely the peoples this new constitution seeks to suppress. The cultural diversity that you might so appreciate has been fought tooth and nail for almost a decade now, and has been shunted aside in a terrible counter play to what should have been federalism.

There is a cynical elite in Kathmandu, composed of Hill Bahuns, the bureaucrats, the politicians, the media people, the human rights activists, the mendicants, who will do the strangest thing like do nothing to help the earthquake victims despite a four billion dollar pledge from the international community. The earthquake victims are Gurungs, Tamangs, Newars and Dalits, communities this new constitution seeks to marginalize to the max.

How did we get here? Through a subjugation of the democratic process. When the two status quoist parties, the Nepali Congress and the CPN UML, were in a stark minority in the first constituent assembly, they threatened "rivers of blood" should federal states be demarcated like they should be: several might end up with names to do with the indigenous peoples. Their kith and kin in the permanent state structure, the armed forces, the judiciary, the administration, helped them bring an end to that assembly, lead the "neutral" government that would hold the elections to the second assembly, and, key, helped sabotage that exercise in favor of the anti-federalists. There was massive electoral fraud.

No wonder now the Hill Bahun elite is counting on the same security personnel to help see them through. Half the country is up in arms against the constitution, with another 30% in much sympathy, but not in a position to engage in vociferous protests, yet, close to 50 protesters have been martyred so far: they have all been shot illegally, mostly in the head and the chest. A security solution is being attempted to what is a political problem with an obvious political solution.

Once the elections were over, the leaders got rid of their party manifestos. Otherwise they had all contested wanting federalism. The ruling party had pledged three states in the southern plains. It had promised federalism like it should be: states with their own judiciary, and bureaucracies. If it had abided by its own manifesto, the street protests might not have happened.

Once elected the 601 members of the Constituent Assembly were treated like cattle by the party leaders. The key agreements were always reached outside, in the privacy of their living rooms. The elected members did not much participate in debate and discussion. This was supposed to have been a constituent assembly where the party whips did not apply. Well, the party leaders whip lashed the elected members anyway. The president of the country, with Nepali Congress roots, and the Speaker of the constituent assembly, with roots in the CPN UML, took turns acting like they were party cadres at the beck and call of their party presidents. That was not how it was supposed to be. They were supposed to be above the fray.

The new constitution was supposed to build upon the interim constitution and incorporate the progressive agreements reached in the first and second constituent assemblies. None of that happened. The unitary state has been preserved as much as possible, if not outright like with the judiciary. Dalits have been shortchanged. Women have been shortchanged.

Sushil Koirala, the barely high school graduate prime minister, once personal assistant to the most regressive character in modern Nepali political history, Tulsi Giri, has this attitude that, if you elect me as your party president, and your prime minister, why do you not then listen to me? There is no pretense that his party fought with a particular manifesto, promising to do certain things. He is amazingly dysfunctional and ineffective on regular matters of governance, but has a particularly sharp eye for ethnic politics.

Soon after the street protests unfurled, the army was deployed. The president was never consulted, like he was supposed to as per the interim constitution. The security personnel killed over 40 people before the Supreme Court issued an order saying it is not legal to shoot protesters in the head, in the chest, in the back. People continue to be shot in the head, and the chest, and the neck, and the back.

On top of all this the ruling elite has had the temerity to complain of "interference" when India has repeatedly pointed out that it is concerned about the political agitation in Nepal's south that is having spillover effects in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. There are tens of miles of trucks stranded. Indian voters have been reacting to their relatives getting killed across the border. Nepal has become a major issue in what is a must win election for Prime Minister Modi in poll bound Bihar. And now Sushil Koirala has come up with the brilliant idea to go "sell" this deeply flawed constitution to the larger international community in New York in an open attempt to bypass India and show it its place in the scheme of things. This is supposed to be Nepal's newfound "independence" from India. That would have been a wonderful concept had it been grounded in democratic processes.

It has taken Nepal 10 years to practically go back to 1991. The only difference is now Nepal is a republic. Otherwise the constitution lacks basics like press freedom, secularism, and outright makes fun of federalism and inclusion. There is no semblance of one person one vote democracy. It has been designed to continue the rule of the Khas elite that has been going on for 250 years now. The Maoists, the third largest party, have become indistinguishable from the NC and the UML. They are by now just another Bahun party.

It is an open secret that this constitution has a severely short life. It started breathing its last as soon as it was promulgated. It is deeply, fundamentally flawed. The next dude in line to become Prime Minister is another barely high school graduate who fashions himself a hardliner: KP Oli, known for his soundbites. Things should get worse, if that is possible.

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