Slow pushback

  • The failure of the political parties to reach consensus is providing regressive forces with a platform to mount a comeback
- KAMAL DEV BHATTARAI
Slow pushback

Oct 27, 2014-

A group of Nepali Congress (NC) leaders, who were against the signing of the 12-point understanding and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, has recently launched a campaign to revive Nepal as a ‘Hindu state’. These are the very leaders who were against the overthrowing of the monarchy and the turning of Nepal into a secular state. Some of them have faced corruption charges and though they are unpopular, they still seem to hold some command among the NC rank-and-file.

But more importantly, these leaders have only dared to speak out against the achievements of the historic 2006 Janaandolan due to the failure of the political parties to institutionalise these very achievements. The parties’ failure to draft a new constitution to properly institutionalise republicanism and secularism has contributed to the gradual rise of rightist forces in the country. If parties delay further in promulgating a new constitution by engaging in a blame game, such conservative forces will only gain strength. Their failure to meet one major deadline—mid-October—to prepare a preliminary draft of the new constitution has already tarnished their image. Almost a year has gone by without any substantial progress on contentious issues of the constitution.

Continuing beginnings

This, however, is not the beginning. Anti-federal and anti-secular forces had already gained strength because of the lack of seriousness on the part of the political parties. The Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), which contested the election on the agendas of the revival of the monarchy and a Hindu state, gained more than two dozen seats in the second Constituent Assembly (CA). Of late, even the slightly more moderate Rastriya Prajatantra Party, chaired by Pashupati Shumsher Rana, has been saying that secularism should be settled through a referendum. Earlier, the party had expressed its commitment to secularism and republicanism.

The RPP-N has further intensified its campaign to exert ‘pressure’ on reestablishing Nepal as a Hindu state. A section of NC leaders, led by Khum Bahadur Khadka, and the RPP-N is holding talks about joining hands to launch the movement. The RPP-N plans to give less priority to the monarchy agenda and more to a Hindu state. Though Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi did not support the RPP-N agenda  during his Nepal visit in August, the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India has boosted the morale of Hindu forces in Nepal. Various Hindu organisations are also preparing to launch a movement against Nepal as a secular state.  

January 22 is not a constitutional deadline and there will likely not be any vacuum even if the parties miss it, because the second CA also has a four-year tenure.  But, if the parties fail to write a new constitution within this period, regressive forces will gain further momentum, posing a serious threat to the achievements made so far. The Hindu movement will obviously agitate the various Janajati outfits, which means that radical forces will prevail, further complicating the statute-drafting process.

That is why the major parties should work to promulgate the new constitution, giving up their current mindset that nothing will happen even if the deadline is missed. For the parties, political legitimacy matters more than constitutional and legal legitimacy. Though more than 80 percent of Nepal’s citizens are Hindus, any movement to turn Nepal back into a Hindu state will invite tensions.

On the other hand, some influential party leaders, including the UCPN (Maoist) and some Janajati parties, have expressed serious reservations against Hindus and Hill Brahmins in particular. These parties too should remember that attacks against particular religions are against the principles of secularism and thus should be avoided by responsible parties and their leaders.  

Capitalising on discontent

After January 22, the CA will lose its political legitimacy and rightist forces will initiate a campaign against the elected body. The people who voted enthusiastically in the second CA will be even more disappointed and anti-change forces will try to capitalise on their sentiments. Though chances of the revival of a monarchy are slim, the Hindu movement will gather momentum, given the large population of Hindus. If the constitution is not promulgated within the deadline, there will be no guarantee that the new constitution will ever be promulgated.  

The only way to nip this movement in the bud is to promulgate a new constitution as soon as possible. At the same time, parties should also address the issue of forced conversions, which are taking place in the various parts of the country. Such changes are providing credence to the sentiment that all Hindus should unite to preserve their religion.

The ruling parties—NC and CPN-UML—seem to think that the opposition will lose if the constitution is not drafted on January 22, as the former will continue to remain in power. The opposition parties, on the other hand, claim that the NC and UML will fail if the constitution is not promulgated on time. Both viewpoints are mistaken, as it will be a collective failure. There have already been sufficient discussions among the parties and outside the CA regarding contentious issues of the new constitution. There is no need to further prolong the process, as the 12-point understanding and the CPA has laid the foundations for fundamental issues of the constitution. If all parties are genuinely committed to the spirit of these two historic documents, along with the Interim Constitution, there should be no delay in finding a meeting point.

Once a new constitution is promulgated, republicanism and secularism will be institutionalised. Secularism, federalism, republicanism, and inclusion have been committed to by at least four political forces—NC, UML, UCPN (Maoist) and the Madhes-based parties. These are the core principles of the new constitution. No party can shy away from these agendas because they were integral parts of the parties’ election manifestos. The major stakeholders of the peace process need to seriously consider the recent Hindu revivalist movement. Once again, the only option to prevent the rise of such regressive forces is to promulgate the new constitution by January 22.

Bhattarai is with the political desk at the Post

Published: 28-10-2014 09:06

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