New Delhi changes tack, assumes ‘neutral position’

  • Observers say India has softened stance on Nepal’s constitution and is encouraging Madhes-based forces to take part in polls
- KAMAL DEV BHATTARAI, Kathmandu
Delhi for long maintained that there should be broader acceptance of the constitution for which the demands of the Madhesi, other marginalised groups need to be addressed

May 17, 2017-

The successful conduction of the first round of local elections which took place on Sunday after a long spell of uncertainty has paved the way for the second round polls on June 14, and if the current political mood is anything to go by, the agitating Madhes-based parties will actively participate.

During a meeting with the leaders of the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN), a newly formed unified force of six Madhes-based parties, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Monday urged them to participate in June 14 polls.

Not much of resistance was shown by the Madhesi leaders, according to sources. How the government will take the constitution amendment bill forward is yet to be seen, as a change of guard is on cards and a new government under the Nepali Congress is likely to hold the second round of elections.

Will the Madhes-based parties, which earlier vehemently objected to local polls and announced to disrupt them, will participate in June 14 polls then?

They will, say officials and experts.

Their belief that the Madhes-based parties will go to polls stems from developments in the recent months at home as well as in New Delhi.

Some officials and experts the Post talked to on Tuesday were of the view that India is encouraging major political parties and the Madhes-based forces to soften stances on constitution amendment and polls.

Though Delhi maintained silence for long on Dahal government’s plan to hold local elections, it about 10 days before the May 14 polls came up with an official version on the announced elections.

“Local elections are an important tool in any functioning democracy for

consolidation of grassroots democracy,” Gopal Bagalay, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said on May 4.

This was viewed as India’s changed position when it came to constitution amendment and the way it was carrying the Madhes-based parties’ concerns.

Delhi has for long maintained that there should be broader acceptance of the constitution for which the demands of the Madhesi and other marginalised groups need to be addressed.

Observers say it now appears that New Delhi does not want to stick to that view that strongly, thereby encouraging the Madhes-based parties to moderate their stance on constitution amendment and participate in polls.

“We feel that both sides [the establishment and agitating forces] should sit for regular dialogue and consultations to find a middle point on constitution amendment and conduction of second phase of elections,” an Indian government official told the Post requesting anonymity.  

The successful conduction of the first round of polls too has created pressure on the agitating forces to participate in the second round.

“The demands of the Madhes-based parties are related to the conclusion of the peace process. I think India wants early consensus between major parties and the Madhes-based forces,” said Nihar R Nayak, a research fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Nepal-India expert.

Following the promulgation of the constitution, the Madhes-based parties were up in arms, resorting to protests at major Nepal-India border points, particularly in the eastern region. India’s terse response to adoption of the new charter in Nepal and subsequent border blockade resulted in souring of relations between the two countries.

But two years down the line, New Delhi seems to have decided to take a “neutral position”.

When the Post asked a Madhesi leader whether there has been a change in India’s stance, he expressed his ignorance.

“This question should be asked to Indian ambassador,” Laxman Lal Karna, a Madhesi leader, said. “I do not have any information about it. So no comments,” said Karna.

The Madhes-based parties, however, have been saying that the constitution should be amended before the second round of elections.

A revised constitution amendment bill is currently in Parliament.

The next meeting of Parliament is scheduled for Friday. Ruling parties so far have been hesitating to move the amendment bill forward, as they say they lack the required numbers to endorse it. Two-thirds majority will be required in 593-strong House to endorse the bill.

Published: 17-05-2017 07:52

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