The rapid unraveling of the Nepal Communist Party government, with its two-thirds strength in parliament, and the subsequent political instability, have deepened the debate about the desirability of the new constitution, promulgated on 20 September 2015. The constitution was meant to apply salve to a country traumatized by devastating earthquakes earlier that year. The major political actors mended fences to finalize the constitution, in what was an amazing show of unity. Yet the ‘fast-track’ constitution had started facing strong headwinds since the day of its promulgation, which was immediately followed by a six-month-long border blockade.
While Kathmandu and many mountainous communities celebrated the constitution—which had been seven years in the making at a cost of around $5 billion—parts of Tarai-Madhes marked it as a ‘black day’. In the reckoning of Madhesi parties and a large segment of Madhesis, many of their democratic aspirations had been crushed by the fast-tracked national charter. To this day, they continue to agitate for amendments.
So what would have happened had the constitution been delayed, as the Madhesis and some other sections of the society wanted? Expectedly, there are divergent views. “We would have gotten a constitution, but through some commission,” says Radheshaym Adhikari of Nepali Congress who was closely involved in making the 2015 constitution. “Such a national charter would not have reflected people’s aspirations”. CK Lal, a public intellectual, on the other hand, says in that case the Interim Constitution could have been given a permanent status, which would have been a better outcome as the 2015 constitution “is more regressive than the interim one.”
The debate will rumble on and perhaps even gain currency as disenchantment continues to grow against the current political leadership. Outstanding constitutional issues must be amicably resolved—and soon—to salvage the post-2008 progressive changes. Make no mistake: they are in grave danger.