Sunday, January 24, 2016

Making Amends In Perpetuity

Phew! That was fast.
Less than four months of its promulgation, our Constitution has been amended to address the demands raised by agitating Madhesi parties. The agitators, though, aren’t terribly impressed. Even the Indians, while welcoming the amendment more warmly than the main document, seem to see it as part of a wider political process of inclusion.
In retrospect, we should have listened to our astrologers. Most of them had said way back in September that the time chosen to promulgate the long-awaited new basic law was simply not propitious. The opposing line held that a secular state need not pay heed to such antiquated analysis. Good point. The challenge, as pointed out by Maila Baje, thus remained whether the political class could prove the astrologers wrong.
Express amendments per se are not a sign of a constitution’s feebleness. The first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution, for instance, were proposed almost simultaneously with the effort to seek states’ ratification of main document. In the late eighteenth century, while we were fighting the Tibetans and Chinese, the anti-federalists in the United States were too suspicious their rivals’ drive to constrain the power of the state.
Of course, Nepalis last September were more trusting of their representatives in the constituent assembly to go the full way. As numbers mattered more than notions of nationhood, disaffected Nepalis treaded a familiar path of protest. The outgoing government, just in case, had draft amendments ready. That duplicity alienated the Madhesis and infuriated India, whose displeasure is being felt by every Nepali every day ever since.
Those expecting the streets to cease their surge of fury anytime soon may have to step back a bit. The amendment, like the constitution itself, was forced on the community and was therefore not acceptable, said Upendra Yadav of the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal. Rajendra Mahato of Sadbavana Party also claimed that the agitation would continue as the amendment had been effected without taking the alliance into confidence.
Rumblings of discontent are being heard from the other side, too. The party of Deputy Prime Minister Chitra Bahadur KC voted against the amendment, while Comrade Rohit of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party called the amendment a latter-day version of the Sugauli Treaty.
With the CPN-UML, UCPN-Maoist, RPPN and the other parties in power whistling in the dark and the main opposition Nepali Congress mired once again in internal power realignments ahead of another crucial national convention, Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai’s ‘new force’ is sputtering to life.
The agglomeration of political has-beens, ex-bureaucrats and security officials and fading actors may or may not capitalize on the inertia in the mainstream. Despite its emergence in a semi-institutional incarnation, the new formation’s ideological hue remains nebulous beyond the centre-left identity its leaders have bestowed on it.
In any case, since Dr. Bhattarai abandoned his original ‘new Nepal’ enterprise midway, he hardly inspires the confidence his compatriots need today. Maybe it’s time to let the astrologers chart the next couple of amendments. The force of that would be something entirely new.