Nepal marked its first Constitution Day on Monday against a backdrop of disenchantment and opposition, with a lot of work yet to be done to make the new statute acceptable to all sections of people.
A total of 59 people were killed and scores injured in protests against the Constitution that began in September last year in the southern plains bordering India. This was followed by an economic blockade of key border trade points for six months.
An alliance of agitating Madhes-based parties, Adivasis and Janajatis dubbed the occasion a “Black Day” while major political parties that supported the Constitution marked the day with fanfare at a public function held in the heart of Kathmandu.
The president, prime minister, heads of constitutional bodies, ministers and diplomats were present at the celebrations. The government also announced a public holiday.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” agreed that the new Constitution needs to be amended as Madesh-based parties and others are still dissatisfied with it.
Just last week in New Delhi, during his meeting with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, Prachanda said the promulgation of the Constitution last year by the popularly elected Constituent Assembly was a “historic achievement”. He added his government has made serious efforts to “bring everyone on board as we enter the phase of the implementation of the Constitution”.
Though Prachanda’s government has been mulling various options for the amendments, there is a sense of fatigue among Madhesi leaders because of a lack of a serious dialogue on the issue.
India too has continuously pushed Nepali leaders to meet the aspirations of various sections of society. Two Nepalese prime ministers – Prachanda and KP Oli – visited India this year to seek support for the Constitution but New Delhi said the statute must accommodate all sections of society.
Prominent Madhesi rights activist Dipendra Jha said that “it was expected the government would create an environment to mark the day together with agitating parties and parties who supported the Constitution”. He added, “But the government failed to create such an environment and at last we were forced to celebrate it as a Black Day.”
Three-tier elections, to local, provincial and central bodies, are key to implementing the Constitution and the government must hold these polls within the next 17 months. If the elections are not held, the whole process could collapse, experts said.
Consensus with the Madhesis, Janajatis and Adivasis is a must for holding the polls. The Madhesi groups have said that they will not end their struggle if the government doesn’t address their demands such as making the Constitution more inclusive, changing the demarcation of seven federal provinces, representation of Madhesis in key state positions according to the size of the population and ending discriminatory provisions in the statute.