Discussion proceedings of ‘Nikaskaa lagi bahas’

On September 20, 2015, Right Honorable Dr. Ram Baran Yadav (then President of Nepal) promulgated the Constitution of Nepal 2015 (2072) in the Constituent Assembly hall of Kathmandu as the world watched with eager eyes. The new Constitution signified all that Nepal had achieved post the decade long civil war (1996-2006) that overthrew monarchy and led towards the formation of a federal democratic republic. But on the same day that the Constitution was unveiled, Janakpur observed a complete blackout. In other areas of Nepal, particularly the southern plains bordering India, rampant protests against particular provisions or non-provisions in the law of the land began. Soon enough, this snowballed into an active sit-in protest at the Nepal-India border by Madheshi parties. The impact of the protest on the daily lives o Nepalese became more severe when Nepal’s southern neighbor showed ‘unofficial’ solidarity to the protest and stopped sending essential supplies across the border citing security reasons.

Nepal is almost entirely dependent on imports from India for all basic things. It is not only Nepal’s largest trading partner and the sole supplier of oil and cooking gas to the state owned monopoly importer Nepal Oil Corporation but also the point of access for almost all imports to a landlocked Nepal. Nepal’s economy, which recently suffered the blow of a devastating earthquake in April 2015, has been further paralyzed in the wake of the political crisis. Households are going without cooking gas, roads have emptied in lack of vehicle fuel, essential supplies such as medicine are in short supply, informal markets are rampant and the very core of survival of Nepalese is threatened signaling an imminent humanitarian crisis if the crisis is not resolved. The lives of common Nepalese have become brutally unbearable, particularly for the economically challenged.

Three months on, discussions to resolve these political problems threatening the core of Nepalese economy and daily lives of the people have reached nowhere. Thus, Samriddhi came together with Facts Research & Analytics, Avenues Television, Himalaya Television, News 24, and Sagarmatha Television, Broadcasting Association of Nepal, Annapurna Post, Nepal Samacharpatra and Rajdhani National Daily to host the agitating parties, ruling coalition parties and the opposition in one public platform for the first time since the protests began.

Named ‘Nikaskaa Lagi Bahas’ or ‘A debate for solution’, it was telecast live across Nepal through four national televisions (Avenues Television, Himalaya Television, News 24, and Sagarmatha Television) and numerous radio stations reaching millions of Nepalese. A studio audience of about 300 people at Hotel Himalaya, Kupandole attended the live debate and participated in the debate through a short Q&A session. The event was held on Dec 05, 2015.

The speakers in discussion were:

  • Hon. Mr. Upendra Yadav, President, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum, Nepal
  • Mr. Ashok Rai, Co-president, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum, Nepal
  • Mr. Mahanta Thakur, President, Tarai Madhesh Loktantrik Party
  • Hon. Mr. Laxman Lal Karna, Co-president, Sadhbhawana Party
  • Mr. Manish Kumar Suman, General Secretary, Sadhbhawana Party
  • Hon. Mr. Ram Sharan Mahat, Central Committee Member, Nepali Congress
  • Hon. Ram Chandra Paudel, Vice Chairman, Nepali Congress
  • Mr. Narayan Kaji Shrestha (Prakash), Vice-president, United Nepali Communist Party (Maoist)
  • Hon. Mr. Madhav Kumar Nepal, Senior leader, Nepal Communist Party (United Marxist Leninist)
  • Hon. Mr. Bhim Rawal, Minister for Defense, Government of Nepal

 

The following portion of the document aims to summarize the discussion in form of an FAQ, with the aid of the views expressed by the leaders during the program (presented in quotes below) and published information on the issue.

  1. What are the main agendas of the ongoing protest?

Answer: Following are some of the main issues of dissent presently:

  1. Determination of electoral constituencies based on population
  2. Provision of citizenship
  3. State boundaries and their nomenclature
  4. Inclusive representation in the government
  5. Autonomy of Madhesh states
  1. What are the current demands of the agitating Madhesh based political parties?

An 11 point demand list had been put forward by the United Democratic Madheshi Front (a political coalition of Madhesh based parties, namely Sadhbhawana Party, Tarai-Madhesh Loktantrik Party, and Madheshi Jana Adhikari Forum) post-constitution promulgation, which are as follows:

  1. There should be delineation of autonomous provinces, including two autonomous provinces in Terai/Madhes region from Mechi to Mahakali, based on historical background and identity in accordance with the Interim Constitution-2007 article 138, 1 (a), past agreements with marginalized communities including Madhesi, Indigenous and Janjatis and reports prepared by the Committee on State Restructuring and Distribution of Powers formed through the first Constituent Assembly in 2008 and High Level State Commission on State Restructuring. The autonomous provinces with high power have to be guaranteed.
  2. Under fundamental rights chapter, ensure a separate article with a clear provision of proportionate inclusion for the marginalized communities.
  3. Guarantee proportionate inclusion in all the state organs, levels, agencies and service commissions in all state organs at all level, including federal and provincial structures as well as service commissions.
  4. Determination of population-based constituencies for the election of House of Representatives and mixed electoral system as provisioned in the interim constitution. Formation of National Assembly through single transferable electoral system from the votes of elected representatives of Provincial Assembly on the basis of population and compulsory representation from each province.
  5. For the marital citizenship, there should be a clear provision in the constitution itself, not in federal law, and their representation in the constitutional bodies has to be either through nomination or as per the provision of the interim constitution.
  6. Restructuring of judiciary in accordance with fundamentals norms of the federal state, and appointments in the Supreme Court, High Court and Local Court in accordance with proportionate inclusion. Appointments of judges in the high courts and local courts on the basis of provincial laws.
  7. Execution of multilingual policies in all federal, provincial and local bodies.
  8. Formation of Inclusion Commission with representatives from all the communities and and all other commissions with their clear jurisdictions. Also, ensure the provision of representation from each province in the natural resources and financial commissions.
  9. Formation of local bodies and special structures as per the provincial laws.
  10. Democratization of the Nepal Army, giving it a national shape, and guarantee of proportionate inclusion in all security agencies including Nepal Army.
  11. Nepal should be defined as a multi-national state and not as a monolithic national state.

As translated at http://www.madhesiyouth.com/political/udmf-11-pt-demands/

  1. What sort of progress has been made so far on aforementioned points of dissent?

Answer: Following several rounds of formal and informal talks, so far two amendments to the Constitution have been registered, but they have not moved forward because agitating parties feel that the amendment will not adequately address all their demands. Leaders from the United Democratic Madheshi Front also expressed that all they wanted was for the government to simply implement the agreements they had made with them in the past (esp. in 2008).

  1. What was the agreement made between Government of Nepal and the United Democratic Madheshi Front in 2008?

Answer: An 8-point agreement had been signed between the two in 2008 which was inclusive of the following:

  1. The state shall declare as martyrs those who were killed during the Madhesh movement and shall provide adequate compensation to those maimed and those who are yet to receive compensation. Similarly, arrangements shall be made for those injured during the movement to receive medical expenses and those martyred shall be given due recognition and their families shall be provided rupees 1 million as relief, and those arrested shall be immediately released.
  2. By accepting the Madhesi people’s call for an autonomous Madhesh and other people’s desire for a federal structure with autonomous regions, Nepal shall become a federal democratic republic. In the federal structure, power shall be divided between the center and states in a clear manner according to the (constitutional) list. The states shall be fully autonomous and shall enjoy full rights. By keeping Nepal’s sovereignty and integrity intact, the decision regarding details of the (constitutional) list and the division of power between the center and the states shall be made by the Constituent Assembly.
  3. The existing legal provision for 20 percent, in Sub-section 14 of Section 7 of the Election of Members to the Constituent Assembly Act 2064, shall be changed to 30 percent.
  4. It shall be mandatory for the state to carry out appointments, promotions and nominations in a manner such that there is inclusive proportional representation of Madheshis, indigenous nationalities, women, Dalits, (people from) backward regions and minority communities in all state bodies, including the security sector.
  5. Proportional, inclusive and group entry [tr. entry in the army as a group] of Madheshis and other communities shall be ensured in order to give the Nepal Army a national and inclusive character.
  6. The Government of Nepal and the United Democratic Madheshi Front request all armed groups agitating in the Tarai to come to talks for a peaceful political process and to find a solution through dialogue. The Government of Nepal will take immediate steps to create a conducive environment for this purpose. We appeal to everyone to help conduct the Constituent Assembly election on 10 April in a peaceful, violence-free, impartial, fair and fear-free environment.
  7. The Government of Nepal will immediately release all those who have been detained, withdraw cases filed against Madheshi leaders and party cadres of the Forum as well as of other parties, and immediately implement all other points of the 22-point Agreement signed between the Government of Nepal and the Madheshi People’s Rights Forum on 30 August 2007 (2064 Bhadau 13).
  8. All the protest programmers called by the United Democratic Madhesi Forum shall be immediately withdrawn.

Translation by UNMIN

  1. Why is there a demand for a revision of clauses on particular issues as stated previously?

 Answer: Madhesh based leaders expressed that Madhesh has been historically discriminated against by the state – politically, economically and socially. They believe that they have been sidelined once again in the Constitution and are thus demanding a revision of certain clauses. They are also critical of the state using violence on people of Madhesh who are part of (or perhaps not even part of) the active Madhesh protests.

Hon. Mr. Upendra Yadav, President, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum, Nepal

“The major issue we have raised is, Madhesi, indigenous groups, Dalit, women, Tharus, Muslims and ‘simatki’ community, are highly discriminated (politically), economically exploited, and socially humiliated. For these communities, the existing protests in Madhesh and other parts such as ‘limbhuwan’, (which isn’t Madhesh), attributes to the fact that these groups have been politically discriminated, economically exploited and socially humiliated, and this is their battle for justice.”

Mr. Mahanta Thakur, President, Tarai Madhesh Loktantrik Party

“Has the condition of Madhesh ever been observed and understood? The consequences of the current blockade of around two months has been perceived so seriously that it has been named a humanitarian crisis, but no one cares about the people who have been facing the problem for 200 to 250 years. People of Madhesh are the ones in crisis.”

Hon. Mr. Laxman Lal Karna, Co-president, Sadhbhawana Party

“Let’s look at the presidents of India. People from every group have become the president although no such provision has been made. However, in our country the provision has been made but not been implemented in reality, which is the main problem.”

  1. What is Madhesh based parties’ stance on the current issue of federalism?

Answer: The party leaders from United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF) believe that the current form of federalism that has been put forward by the new constitution shall not lead to autonomous states but shall only mean federalism for the sake of federalism. They also believe that the current division puts power into the hands of a few as opposed to the many, particularly those who have always been in power.

Hon. Mr. Upendra Yadav, President, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum, Nepal

“What is an autonomous state? Not one state in Nepal’s constitution is autonomous. It is ‘federal’ but it is centralized, for example, the judicial system, security system and commissions all are centralized. Additionally, if we look into the distribution of power and resources, the provinces have minimum access to it and it has been made sure that the center remains all-powerful. “

“State restructuring should be done on the basis of identity and capacity and not breaking the social cluster, this is something we all accept. But creating 6 of the provinces in a way such that ‘khas’ dominate the provinces, don’t address the Madhesi and indigenous groups. This ‘mindset’ is the root cause of the problem.”

  1. What are the other party’s stances in response to the demands put forward by the UDMF?

Answer: Leaders from parties other than UDMF in the program believe that the amendments they have registered should address some of, if not all, of the Madheshi Front’s grievances. They also believe that allowing electoral constituencies to be dependent on population may greatly disadvantage those living in the mountains where population is sparsely distributed.

Additionally, they are of the opinion that because federalism is a new concept in Nepal, it can only be perfected with practice and asking for a perfect structure outright may be impractical. They also believe that there are groups other than the Madheshis alone who are aggrieved and require attention.

Leaders from Nepali Congress (opposition) and CPN-UML (ruling party) feel that the existing system is self-sufficient and should not warrant drastic changes as expressed in the statements they made during the debate.

Hon. Ram Chandra Paudel, Vice Chairman, Nepali Congress

“In order to eliminate this confusion, two amendment proposals had been put forward in the leadership of our party while still in government. We have tried to clarify the provision that people of different classes of the nation will get to participate on the basis of Inclusive Proportional System, not that there wasn’t such a provision in place already. It hasn’t been added, we have just tried to clarify; people who have read the constitution should know this. “On the basis of population and geography” has already been mentioned. We further clarified that clause and we have said that excluding a few exceptions (of the mountain regions) we will treat others as equals.”

Hon. Mr. Bhim Rawal, Minister for Defense, Government of Nepal

“According to Article 42 (related to social justice) and Article 285 (formation of government service) the provisions related to proportional inclusive representation is clearly stated. We have already said that if the inclusiveness principle of social justice isn’t enough for public service provision we are ready for amendment. With regards to electoral constituencies, Article 286 and 84 (related to representation) within the proportional inclusive principle, there are 110 mixed system, there is no country in the world which has our type of proportion system, this is a unique (fundamental) provision.” 

Hon. Mr. Ram Sharan Mahat, Central Committee Member, Nepali Congress

“We can’t put an end to the provision of districts. There are many districts with unique personality, identity, history and ethnicity such as Manang, Mustang and Karnali prevalent for 250 years. How can we put an end to their existence? Ultimately, the issue of annexing them with a state – if can’t be solved through consensus, we should let the people from those districts decide; this is the universally accepted principle. It is the right of the people to decide where to reside to secure their future and it is their right to determine their future themselves; you can’t challenge these rights.”

 “Can we compare electoral constituencies in the mountains, where it takes 3 months to journey to an electoral constituency and in the Tarai, where it takes only 2 hours for the same?”

Hon. Mr. Madhav Kumar Nepal, Senior leader, Nepal Communist Party (United Marxist Leninist)

“In fact, if there is any discriminated community in Nepal, they would be the Dalit. It has been proven by the facts. In parliamentary election of 2047/48, somehow just one Dalit from Banke got elected. Afterwards in the election of 2051, only because they are Dalits, people defeated them. No other community has been defeated in such a way. Women are the second discriminated group. Women were underestimated and voted out […] the third (discriminated) community would be minority Janajatis, the communities with a population of less than 50000. Fourth community is the economically and socially deprived/backward. If you refer to the reality of the Nepali society, special provisions should be provided to these four categories.”

Mr. Narayan Kaji Shrestha (Prakash), Vice-president, United Nepali Communist Party (Maoist) 

“Firstly, we have been unable to explain the achievements that have been institutionalized in the Constitution. Secondly, the oppressed castes, sections and sexes who had a number of expectations from this Constitution have been left hanging and rights that had been previously agreed upon have also not been included in the document. Thirdly, there is a divide between political parties for want of power. Fourthly, there has been external influence in our internal affairs, which has created more complexity. What is the result of all this? This can also be seen in 4 major points: First, enhancement of our national sovereignty and unity is threatened and challenged. Second, political complexity and threat has increased exponentially – this is taking the nations towards violence and signaling more violence to come. Third, there is an impending humanitarian crisis, worsened by the blockade. Fourth, the country’s economy is in the doldrums and this may not be a condition limited to the present.”

 

  1. How do political party leaders view India’s role in the ongoing crisis?

Answer: India was seen as a foreign entity with a more than healthy interest in Nepal by most party leaders but they were also aware than if one’s internal political ties were weak, the powerful would obviously try and manipulate our domesticities to their advantage.

Hon. Mr. Madhav Kumar Nepal, Senior leader, Nepal Communist Party (United Marxist Leninist)

“India should not interfere in internal affairs. Blockade should be called off. We need to move ahead towards economic growth and prosperity.”

Mr. Ashok Rai, Co-president, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum, Nepal

“From the ideological perspective, internal disagreement is the main factor that determines external influences. If you solve such internal disputes properly, no external forces can influence you. Otherwise, there will be a situation where your neighbors will try to peek. And then will start complaining about what happens. “

Mr. Narayan Kaji Shrestha (Prakash), Vice-president, United Nepali Communist Party (Maoist)

“There has been a trend among our political parties and their weakness is that they knock foreign doors whenever there is some problem”

  1. What is the proposed solution to all that is going on by the Madheshi leaders?

Answer: The Madheshi Morcha had come up with new 11-point demands post the constitution, which in essence ask for a re-establishment of a number of clauses as stated in the Interim Constitution 2063 which apparently was more inclusive than the current law of the land. They also believe that the two amendments to the Constitution that have been registered shall not address their demands. Find a complete list of their demands above.

Hon. Mr. Laxman Lal Karna, Co-president, Sadhbhawana Party

Whatever we have asked for in the 11 point agreement is that just keep the provisions as stated in the interim constitution. Whether it is about the representation, why did they turn back from the interim constitution?”

“It (the registered amendments) can’t address this issue, that’s why we didn’t approve this constitution. There would be no problem if they addressed it earlier. It is clearly stated in the interim constitution that Madhesh will get representation on the basis of population. We agreed on this together. Why are we trying to turn back from that? We are only demanding that the clause regarding proportional inclusion be stated as it were in the interim constitution. Where does this issue about 17 clusters come from? Where is the amendment regarding that? With regard to citizenship, we are just saying that whatever provisions that have been stated in the interim constitution be reinstated. They have been blaming that we don’t read the constitution. Perhaps, they think that we don’t understand Nepali language. This constitution has been burned in Madhesh by lawyers, intellectuals and professors. Aren’t they experts; aren’t they educated?”

Hon. Mr. Ram Sharan Mahat, Central Committee Member, Nepali Congress

“Don’t destroy economic growth for the cause of debate, protest or constitution. Don’t mix international trade with internal political issue. Keep trade free from any interference. Don’t use federalism to create division between Hill people and Terai people. Stop the protest in the street and let’s solve it with dialogue.”

Mr. Narayan Kaji Shrestha (Prakash), Vice-president, United Nepali Communist Party (Maoist)

“Those in the government and those in the opposition have a minimum agreement that we create a political committee. The committee could take up to three months to solve these issues, but we have not yet reached an agreement for this. To go forward, both sides need to be flexible.”

Hon. Mr. Upendra Yadav, President, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum, Nepal

“We need to follow a few steps if we want to forge a solution:

  1. Change the mindset, which views Madhesi, indigenous groups, women and marginalized community.

  2. Change the non-inclusive and discriminatory measures.”

Hon. Bhim Rawal (Minister of Defense) expressed his willingness to sit for a dialogue for as long as it takes to come to an acceptable solution. Hon. Upendra Yadav proposed formation of a political committee to draft solutions in three months but also warned that a solution is far-fetched if the mentality of the leaders does not change.

Questions answered as put by the audience at Nikaska Lagi Bahas:

Are you willing to take to the public referendum the contentious articles of the new constitution?

Answer: “Public referendum can’t be done any time anywhere. The assembly itself is representative of people and their decision represents the decision of people. Referendum is not always the solution. Rather than referendum the leaders should come to the negotiating table with intention of finding the workable solutions.

We don’t want to tie up Madheshi conflict to blockade and India. The nation and government should address their demands. We want to address it. But due to blockade the people are suffering and so are people from terai. We should try to look at commerce side and the demands of Madheshi people separately.” (as answered by Hon. Ram Chandra Paudel, Vice Chairman, Nepali Congress)

Did you just think of the consequences of the economic crisis after 113 days or did you think about it before as well? After 2 elections and effort after 6 years has given us constitution and the assembly. Why do we look for all our answers in the street? Does democracy mean just protesting for one’s right? When do you start thinking about Citizen and the country?

Answer: “Let me answer the second question first. We are not on the street with protests alone. I also told earlier that the solution to the present problem should come from the assembly and dialogue. The street protests should be ended and blockade should be ended.

Just a while ago Mahanta Thakur said that most affected by the current crisis are the people of Terai, they are not getting the basic needs. Just end the blockade for the sake of Madheshi people and give them peace.

And related to more than 100 days of economic difficulty and any difficulty that pushes economic activity backward is an economic crime, this is my personal opinion. Whatever is happening its hurting us economically very severely, this has to stop.

And the trade between two countries Nepal and India is based on treaties, it should not be mixed with internal politics.

Using internal politics to block trade from the border, this is wrong, it has to stop. Protest should be peaceful. Both sides have crossed the line of peaceful protest. This protest is not peaceful.” (as answered by Hon. Mr. Ram Sharan Mahat, Central Committee Member, Nepali Congress)

Final comments from Kush Kumar Joshi (Former President, Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce & Industry)

“When the earthquake hit us, we came together not as different caste, not as Terai or Hill people. There was no division; we came together to rise up to that occasion. Then there was the constitution. We expected a way for our future and prosperity from that constitution. But after the constitution there came man-made disaster that came with divisions based on caste and location. We came together in face of natural disaster but could not come together for this man-made disaster.”

“The earthquake took 9000 lives, millions of families are without home, 8 Kharab (NRs.) loss is estimated. Current crisis over constitution and the 117 of protests is causing daily losses of 2 Arab (NRs.) bringing it to 21 Kharab (NRs.) and 50 lives have been lost (so far). What I humbly ask our leaders is, how long do we have to take this?”

View photo album from the event HERE.

View the entire discussion: