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Nepal: A Nation Divided By a New Constitution: Update No. 318

Note No. 747                     Dated 25-Sept-2015
By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
At last, the Koirala Government appears to have realised the seriousness of the situation.  The top three leaders who in the words of their own Baburam Bhattarai had transformed themselves into a “ruling class” met at Baluwatar yesterday and decided to withdraw the army to its barracks, provided the protests are peaceful.
Koirala also cancelled his trip to USA to attend the UNGA meeting and instead sent his Deputy Prakash Man Singh to lead the Nepali delegation.
More importantly and perhaps nudged by the President, two days after the promulgation of the constitution, PM Sushil Koirala made the first move in meeting Mahant Thakur, one of the Madhesi leaders at the latter’s residence.  K.P.Oli of the UML met Gachhadar of the MJF (democratic ).  Gachhadar in his turn asked the triumvirate to come out with concrete proposals before he could make any move.
It sounds strange but it is true that while one part of the country is celebrating, the other part continues to be in turmoil with violent protests.
Some of the protests in the last few days include-
* Parsa- A Police patrol was attacked in broad daylight.
* Kalaiya- A major clash took place between the members belonging to SLMM ( Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha) and the Police.
* There were continued violent demonstrations in Udayapur, Siraha, Saptari, Morang, Kapilavastu and Kailali.
* There was in addition a Limbuvan Bandh in eastern Nepal.
The leadership of SLMM and Sadhbhavana party of Rajendra Mahato have now threatened a blockade of east-west Highway as well as the Thirubuvan Rajpath connecting Raxaul and Kathmandu.  Already picketing has started at the customs check posts at three points.
There were rumours of a blockade ( blaming India as usual) creating panic in Kathmandu and people were said to be stocking their supplies.  Long queues were seen in petrol outlets.  Officials formally declared that there had been no blockade and there has been no obstruction in the movement of Cargo containers, trucks and fuel tankers to Nepal.
But the strikes and protests have hit the industries in southern Nepal.
Rumours were said to have been spread of India stopping the traffic to Nepal on instructions from Delhi.  These were found to be baseless.  Another rumour that had no basis at all was about the seven demands made by India to amend the constitution.  These were mentioned not only by a prominent daily newspaper but a popular weekly like India today also.
The fact of the matter was that the seven demands were made by the Madhesi Groups and not by India.  Surprising that the official denial from India was rather feeble and this had created unnecessary criticism on both sides of the border that India is “intrusive.”  Indian position as seen by the latest statement of the Ministry of external Affairs was- I quote “ We still hope that initiatives will be taken by Nepal’s leadership to effectively and credibly address the causes underlying the present state of confrontation.”  There is nothing wrong with this statement.
The Indian Ambassador was also called to Delhi for a briefing and he in turn, on return to Kathmandu on 23rd briefed Prime Minister Sushil Koirala.    
There is still time to begin a genuine dialogue with the Madhesi and other marginalised groups to make suitable amendments to the seventh constitution.  Normally each successive constitution was supposed to be an improvement  than the previous one.  But there appears to be many retrogade provisions in the current one from the previous interim constitution!
The draft constitution was rushed through with hardly anytime given to the people to understand the implications.  The public had only one week to make the suggestions.  Secondly, the promulgation of the constitution  was continued  despite the Supreme Court ruling that the delineation of the provinces should be  completed first.  Thirdly it is a “hill centric” constitution excluding the Madhesis and the Janjathis.  The latter has realised that this is the only chance they have, to redress the 240 years of marginalisation  they had experienced.
The key word is “inclusiveness” and this is what India has been pressing.  But India looks to be isolated in an issue where it is fully justified to take a position much against the support given by the international community. 
The President has called for a special session of the Parliament on 2nd October.    This session is supposed to elect a new Prime minister and within another 20 days a new speaker will be in position.  These changes are unlikely to bring any change in the mind set of the elite that is ruling the country.  I hope I am proved wrong.