KARACHI: India’s interference in Nepal’s domestic politics and its alleged fuel and economic blockade of the country probably stemmed from the Modi government’s failed attempts to steer the Nepalese constitution to be more “friendly towards India”, said Kanak Mani Dixit, a publisher of Himal Khabarpatrika and the editor of Himal Southasian, during his lecture at a university here on Thursday.
He added that Nepalese politicians were even summoned to India but the Modi government wasn’t “effective” in persuading the politicians and the resulting blockade was a tactic to pressure its neighbour.
His talk on ‘Nepal’s Search for Constitutional Stability’ at Habib University revolved around the history and political context of the passing of Nepal’s constitution — the first in nearly 250 years as a nation state — and highlighted the crisis gripping the small but diverse nation.
Mr Dixit said that historically “South Asia as a whole received its constitution after Partition” but since Nepal was never formally colonised — unlike the rest of the region — the country didn’t ‘inherit’ one.
What made the country’s constitution-writing unique was that “in most of the decolonised world, the constitution was written by the elite who had the same ethos and values as the departed Europeans”, but this was not the case with Nepal — a very diverse nation consisting of more than 120 ethnic groups — as politicians made an effort to accommodate the “spectrum of demands” put forward by the electorate and any group that “was organised or raised a voice”, he said.
The main reason the constitution writing was so democratic, according to him, was greater public awareness of rights due to the social media, a strong independent liberal media and education. He felt that the media in particular had been instrumental in pushing people to demand their rights. The Nepalese people, Mr Dixit said, were “well versed in news” and that unlike countries such as Pakistan and India, there was no “English-vernacular divide” in the media and “FM radio channels can chose their own news”.
It was due to such an inclusive process during writing of the constitution that many groups were protected not under the law as was common in many other countries but under the constitution, he said.
He said “fundamental rights” on the basis of “religion, gender, women’s rights, children’s rights and sexual orientation” etc were guaranteed under Nepal’s constitution. “LGBT rights are the most progressive under the constitution,” he said, adding that Nepal was also the first Asian country to provide constitutional protection to the LGBT community. “This constitution is providing fundamental rights beyond civil and political rights which the state has to fulfil,” he added.
But Mr Dixit said one of the negative aspects to emerge from the passing of the country’s constitution was the “political agitation” of the minority group, the Madhesis, as under the constitution, children born to a Nepali married to a foreigner were ineligible for full citizenship rights. Madhesis, an ethnic minority, who reside close to the India-Nepal border and often marry Indians, particularly felt marginalised and targeted by the passing of the constitution that also resulted in street protests. However, this controversy was being blown out of proportion since most of “the constitution is very flexible and amendable” and the Madhesis’ demands could still be incorporated into the constitution, he explained.
He severely criticised India’s interference in Nepal’s domestic politics and the economic blockade of the country, pointing out that any differences should be resolved within Nepal and that “it wasn’t for any outside power to dictate”.
Mr Dixit said Nepal was unique in that “the distance between the ground-level politics and the national politics” was very small as it was “a nation of micro-communities” and thus “needed democracy and political stability” not just the latter.
On an optimistic note, he concluded that given that Nepal entered the “modern era only in 1990” and that a decade-long Maoist insurgency ended only in 2006, the passing of the constitution was something that should be celebrated and that the main challenge for the small nation in the next three years would be figuring out how to implement it.
Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2015