Secular Constitution In Nepal Big Blow To Modi Goverment
Nepal PM Ram Baran Yadav displays a copy of the new Constitution
NEW DELHI: The adoption of a federal, democratic and secular Constitution in Nepal is a historic occasion. The protracted struggle of the Nepalese people against feudal authoritarianism and democracy has culminated in the establishment of a federal, democratic and secular State. Eight years after the interim Constitution, after a tortuous process, the Constituent Assembly voted overwhelmingly (507 out of 601) to approve the Constitution. We congratulate the people of Nepal, the three major political parties – the Nepali Congress, the CPN(UML) and the UCPN(M) – and all democratic forces for this significant achievement.
India should have been the first to welcome the adoption of the Constitution. Instead, the Modi government has adopted a negative attitude and an unwarranted interventionist stance. Two days after the adoption of the Constitution in the Constituent assembly, the Modi government sent Foreign Secretary Jaishankar to Kathmandu to meet the president and the prime minister and leaders of major political parties in an attempt to stall the formal proclamation of the Constitution which took place on September 20. The plea made for this blatant interference in Nepal’s sovereign matters is that that Constitution was not inclusive enough and there was serious unrest among the Madhesi people.
After the formal promulgation of the Constitution, the Indian foreign ministry issued a statement expressing concern at the protests and violence and just “noted” the adoption of the Constitution. This was followed by two statements on successive days expressing concern about the situation in the Terai region and calling upon the Nepalese government to take the Madhesi people’s concern on board as far as the Constitution is concerned. The Indian Ambassador was also recalled for consultations.
There has often been a big brother attitude to Nepal on the part of the Indian ruling establishment. This has however been taken to new heights now with the callous disregard shown to Nepal’s sovereign right to formulate the country’s Constitution as per their own democratic process.
The Constitution has enunciated fundamental rights of citizens which are more wide-ranging than those provided in the Indian Constitution. The electoral system has provision for proportional representation for 45 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. Quotas are provided for women, dalits, Madhesis and janjaatis in various constitutional bodies. There are seven provinces and three levels of government – the federal, provincial and local. There are many features of the Constitution which represent an advance over existing democratic Constitutions in South Asia, though there may be some shortcomings too.
One of the clauses in the draft constitution which was opposed vehemently by some sections in Nepal was the definition of Nepal State as secular. The pro-monarchy Rashtriya Prajatantra Party and various other Hindutva outfits organised protests throughout the country demanding that Nepal be declared a Hindu State. The Constituent Assembly rejected this proposal overwhelmingly.
The RSS and all the Hindutva forces in India campaigned, supported and propped up the forces within Nepal who wanted a Hindu Rashtra. BJP MP Avaidyanath had written to the president of Nepal and the chairman of the Constituent Assembly calling for Nepal to be declared a Hindu Rashtra. Earlier, Rajnath Singh, the union home minister, as a BJP leader had visited Nepal to attend the funeral of then Prime Minister GP Koirala in March 2010. On that occasion he had said “We used to feel proud that Nepal was the only Hindu kingdom in the world. I will be happy when Nepal is a Hindu state again.” (IANS, March 22, 2010). The Hindutva organisations from India sent their sadhus and leaders to participate in the campaign for a Hindu Rashtra in Nepal.
The rejection of the demand for a Hindu State and the assertion that Nepal will be a secular republic has outraged the Hindutva forces in India. The BJP shares this anger, though it cannot display it openly. This has probably contributed to the negative stance taken by the Modi government.
The Madhesi people who constitute 50 percent of the population of Nepal may have legitimate grievances. But the Modi government’s open stance advocating their cause cannot but be construed as an interference in the internal affairs of a neighbouring country. The Modi government’s stance of tacit support to the Madhesi agitation is also motivated by the Bihar assembly elections where a large number of people in the border districts are linked to the Madhesi people across the border. Such narrow political considerations are also at play in harming relations with Nepal. The government and the political leadership in Nepal will have to consider how to accommodate the aspirations of the Madhesi people. Constitutions are not rigid static documents and changes can be made through the democratic process.
The Modi government’s arrogant intervention has only vitiated the good neighbourly relations between the two countries. It will also send a cautionary message to all other countries in South Asia to be wary of India’s big brotherly attitude.
(Prakash Karat was the former General Secretary of the CPI(M),India)