Nepal Foreign Affairs (KATHMANDU, November 16) – India has created a false narrative on Nepal’s new constitution. Several Indian commentators, former envoys to Kathmandu and noted journalists, despite criticizing India’s intimidating approach to Nepal, seem to agree with the erroneous narrative that Nepal’s new constitution is discriminatory towards the Madhesi population. To prove their point, they have repeatedly misused the facts from Nepal’s new constitution and overlooked its most inclusive provisions.
Let’s see some of the examples.
Saying that India’s current Nepal Policy is fast moving towards failure, former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to Nepal Shyam Sharan lamented in Business Standard (Put Neighborhood policy back on track, November 10) www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/shyam-saran-put-neighbourhood-policy-back-on-track-115111001450_1.html): “..when the crisis did erupt it was important (for India) to keep control over the narrative..”Sharan, often considered India’s architect of the policy to bring Nepal’s Maoists into political mainstream, thinks India is not doing enough to command the Nepal situation, but paints Nepal’s pro-constitution forces as “hill-elites”, a biased term grossly misused to address the people from Nepal’s hills whose problems are often as bad, if not worse, as that of Madhes. The statement also insinuates that the narrative was created but was slipping away at India’s dismay.
Similarly, India’s most revered Nepal expert SD Muni rightly points out the shift in social awareness of Madhes and why Delhi and Kathmandu must step back, but perpetuates the narrative that the “two provinces and inadequate (disproportionate) representation” is the primary source of Madhes discontent. (India and Nepal must step back from the precipice: http://thewire.in/2015/11/08/india-and-nepal-must-step-back-from-the-precipice-14976/)
India’s former Ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood continues in the same vein in his write up in The Hindu newspaper. He correctly writes, “Indian policy of overtly backing the demands of the Madhesis led to an upsurge of Nepali nationalism” (Overcoming the stasis in Nepal, The Hindu: 31 Octoberwww.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/overcoming-the-stasis-in-nepal/article7823808.ece) but believes that the new constitution gave Madhesis a “sense of betrayal”.
The newest addition in this lot of lies is one Omair Ahamad, who goes to the extent of saying, “The Constitution passed by the Nepali Constituent Assembly discriminates against the Madhesis and Tharus” www.dailyo.in/politics/bhutan-nepal-china-india-wen-jiabao-jigme-yoeser-thinley-lpg-narendra-modi/story/1/7331.html )
However, a close examination of the provisions of Nepal’s new constitution proves otherwise. The narrative of ‘discrimination and betrayal’ was created only to push Nepal towards the precipice for the reason of Nepal’s refusal to become Hindu state, as per the wish of India’s ruling Right Wing, now also called the Hindu Taliban (India is being ruled by a Hindu Taliban: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/12/india-hindu-taliban-narendra-modiwww.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/12/india-hindu-taliban-narendra-modi)
Only Taliban can go as far as imposing an economic blockade against a friendly neighbor, which has just adopted a democratic and progressive constitution.
Going by Nepal’s constitution, only the Madeshis are given their community identity and protected more clearly than any of the 123 social groups of Nepal. Tharus and Muslims are entitled to Constitutional Commissions for the betterment of their communities.
In a federal Nepal, the province 2, comprising of 8 districts where the agitations are currently focused, has been created entirely on the basis of Madhesi identity. One of the demands of the agitation is its own expansion beyond Koshi River in the east and Parsa district in the west. This is problematic for two reasons: first, the districts they demand to be the parts of province 2 reject this idea outright. Jhapa, Morang and Sunasari districts have only 8% Madhesi population. Dividing certain parts of these districts, floated as a solution, has also been rejected by the elected representatives of these areas. Second and the most problematic part is that the people of the smaller geography in the east of Koshi, if the districts are divided at all, will be disenfranchised all the way since their ability to influence through electoral votes would be far reduced compared to the districts west of Koshi. They will have an insignificant population isolated by the Koshi River.
The narrative of discrimination is totally based on falsehood. Nepal’s constitution guarantees right to equality, affirmative action through 45% reservations including to the Madhesis on the basis of population in government jobs.
The fact is not that the Madhesis are discriminated; it is actually seeking more power to the Madhesi parties decimated in the last elections. With India firmly standing by their side, these parties seek to be more equal class than the others by raking up the false narrative of discrimination India has carefully weaved for them.
This is where the question of ‘inadequate representation’ comes into play.
Nepal’s new constitution is not a document that guarantees political representation on the basis of ethnicity. Representation is political and this is the standard followed in India, USA and other democracies.
Nepal does not have a system to nominate Hindu priests in the parliament, like in the UK, where top bishops of national churches are automatically entitled parliament seats.
People of all ethnicities of Nepal are free to form political parties and participate in elections. The constitution sets aside 60% seats for direct election and 40% for proportional representation in both national and state parliaments. 33% reservation for women has been constitutionally guaranteed.
One of the objections of the Madhesi parties is that the constitution does not guarantee parliament seats in proportion to the population in Madhes. This is wrong. The constitution says that election constituencies are created on the basis of population and geography. This would certainly result in the proportional representation from Terai as well as from hills. Indian scholars should know that the constitution does not create election constituencies. It is created by an Electoral Constituency Delimitation Commission which will be formed before the elections. Screaming that there is not sufficient representation of Madhesis is like protesting against something that is yet to exist.
Sadly enough, India seems to have tried to sell the same false notion in the UK when Modi and David Cameron met a few days ago. To discuss Nepal in a top bilateral meeting with UK is a colossal foreign policy failure of India; an acceptance that it is no longer in command of the bilateral affairs with Nepal. Sad it is.