Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very happy to be here this afternoon. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Today I wish to share some of my thoughts and experiences on recent developments in Nepal. I will focus on our efforts to promote peace and democracy in our country and briefly touch upon recent trend in Nepal-India relations.
In Nepal, we are passing through the most difficult time in our contemporary history. Since the unification of modern Nepal by the Great King Prithivi Narayan Shah in the middle of the eighteenth century Nepal has gone through several ups and downs. While there have been several changes in the political system and regimes, it has never experienced the crisis of this magnitude and character that we are facing now.
We went through more than a decade long violent and painful Maoist insurgency from 1996 to 2006. It not only took seventeen thousand lives, moreover, it shook the very foundation of our social fabric and economic base. To bring the Maoist in the mainstream we had to compromise many things.
One year ago, on 25th April last year, Nepal was hit by a massive earthquake. It killed nine thousand people, destroyed six hundred thousand private houses and displaced three million people. It is believed that the losses from the damages incurred in the earthquake have reached more than seven billon US dollars. Realising the urgency of the hour, keeping aside serious ideological differences Nepalese political parties came out with a new constitution. But after four days of the promulgation of the new constitution, Nepal had to face an unexpected disruption of transit and supply system. The damage caused by this disruption in our socio-economic and political sector can’t be measured in terms of values.
All these events have caused unprecedented damage to our country. However, having said that, I am quite optimistic about Nepal’s future. Nepalese are known to be resilient people and while we face several challenges in re-establishing normality, we also see opportunities.
The present moment is a mix of opportunities as well as challenges.
These opportunities are present because the insurgency followed by a peace process has come to an end. We have a new constitution that offers us a chance to start afresh. The constitution provides the platform for political stability and democratic environment that is essential for peace and prosperity. We also have the opportunity to latch on to the explosive growth of our neighbours. We have to make the most of these opportunities to achieve peace and stability along with economic development
However, these opportunities are not without challenges. The situation in Nepal is still full of challenges necessitating a sensitive approach. We have a heavily politicised society. Our governance structures and institutional support bases are yet to be strengthened. And while the expectations from the government are very high, we are low on resources to meet our potential.
Having said that, whatever the challenges may be, Nepal cannot afford to miss the opportunity to build towards political stability and peace. Failure to capitalise on the opportunity now could lead to a serious threat to our pursuit of peace, stability and prosperity. There would be real risks posed in being a poor and resource constrained nation between two prosperous giant countries. Experience shows that political change without economic development is futile. In order to sustain democracy and bring about stability, economic development is a must. The prosperity of people brought about by economic development has to be our strategic focus now.
We believe the platform for us to take off into a new era of prosperity and stability already exists. Hence, we need, and actively seek, the support and encouragement of international community, especially from our immediate neighbours to achieve peace, stability and economic developments.
Drafting the constitution through the Constitution Assembly was a tough task given Nepal’s political, ideological and socio-cultural diversity, which was reflected in the elected Constituent Assembly. While there are some forces that are unhappy with the constitution, I don’t consider it unnatural. Since the new constitution is a document of compromise, it can’t make everyone happy. Even I am not very happy. In fact, my party has voted against the constitution. But, we have supported it because it was approved by an overwhelming majority of the CA and that is the beauty of democracy. Despite the shortcomings and my own differences, I can safely claim that there are many positives in the constitution.
It is democratic document and incorporates universal values and norms of democracy and freedom. It is a living, dynamic and amendable document. It has the capacity and provisions to resolve conflicts and crisis while staying within its framework. It is inclusive, with reservation for marginalised communities and one third of the seats guaranteed to women in the federal and provincial parliaments. At the local government level forty percent of women participation is mandatory. Significantly, either the President or the Vice-president has to be woman. It’s same with the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker. Thanks to the new constitution I am proud to say that out of the four top positions, at present three are held by women. We have a woman President, Speaker and Chief Justice. The constitution also ensures that there is no discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity and religion.
We are the second country, after India, in South Asia to draft constitution through Constitution Assembly, a representative body elected by the people. In our endeavour towards democratization of our society we always looked towards India for inspiration. It is not only a matter of coincidence but rather a living truth that only after India got independence Nepal succeeded in overthrowing century long despotic Rana regime and establish democracy. So when we drafted the constitution through a rigorous democratic exercise, naturally we thought India, the largest democracy in the world and our closest neighbour, would be the first country to welcome it and encourage us. After all India has been a valued supporter in our transition to democracy.
We believe that a stable and democratic Nepal is not only in India’s interest but also serves as a brilliant example of long-standing friendship, solidarity, fraternity and cooperation between our two countries and peoples.
Last year when Nepal was hit by devastating earthquake Prime Minister Narendra Modi took personal initiative and sent relief and rescue team with necessary equipments and personnel within hours. Nepalese people have taken this emotional gesture as a testimony of deep-rooted bond between Nepal and India. We have to build our relations on such goodwill and cordiality.
Let me assure you that the new constitution aims to provide a platform for peace, political stability and an inclusive and effective democracy. We believe that economic development and democracy are twin features that fuel each other. We are also well aware that peace, inclusive democracy and market economy are ideas that have conquered the world and we intend to safeguard these ideals through the new constitution.
World history and our own experience of six decades have shown that political change of whatever colour can’t be sustained without economic development and prosperity of the people. It is therefore necessary now to focus on economic transformation in order to sustain the democratic system and the momentum of change that has already taken place.
It is therefore at this crucial juncture we obviously look to the support and encouragement of India in our endeavour to consolidate the political change and achieve economic development. At present Nepal-India relations is cordial and moving in the right direction. Misunderstandings and irritants that had figured in the recent past have now been removed. Bilateral meetings and contacts are back in track. Our relation is marked by cordiality, goodwill, cooperation and mutual respect and understanding of each other’s concerns and interests.
We are very happy to see the rapid progress that India is making in the field of governance and economic development. As a next-door neighbour and a close friend we feel pride in India’s rise as a global economic powerhouse and would like to take advantage for our own betterment. We believe in the destiny of shared prosperity.
Thank you once again for this opportunity.
(Statement by DPM/FM Kamal Thapa at the programme organized by Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi on June 10, 2016. )