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#4805, 14 January 2015

Himalayan Frontier

IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Pramod Jaiswal
SAARC Doctorate Fellow, Centre for South Asian Studies, JNU

This edition of the IPCS Column, 'Himalayan Frontier', is a precis of the larger document of the same name, that is part of the IPCS's 'Forecast 2015' series. 
Click here to read the full report.

Since the end of the decade-long Maoist insurgency in 2006, Nepal has struggled with the difficult transition from war to peace, from autocracy to democracy, and from an exclusionary and centralised state to a more inclusive and federal one. The newly-formed federal, democratic republic has also been struggling for a constitution since then.

Internally, Nepal’s immediate priority in 2015 is the promulgation of its constitution. If it does not succeed, the country may encounter prolonged chaotic conditions. Nepal’s political parties are aware of the potential problems in the event of failure to promulgate the constitution on time. If the May 2015 deadline is missed, Nepal might have to wait for it till 2017. Externally, improving relations with India will be an important issue.

Constituent Assembly: Will it deliver in 2015?
In 2014, there wasn’t much progress in the country’s constitution-making process. The second Constituent Assembly (CA) of Nepal began to hiccuping immediately after its election in November 2013. The political parties did not learn much from the past. Though almost all the parties had agreed to produce the first draft of the constitution by 22 January, 2015, they took almost a month to decide who had the legitimacy to call the Constituent Assembly and wasted six more months to form the Council of Ministers – and still, the CA is not complete.

The constitution is the document of compromise and the debate to make the new Nepal inclusive must ensure the aspiration of historically marginalised peoples towards making all citizens equal, and simultaneously not making them unequal via federalism. It is impossible for the political parties to produce the draft of the constitution by 22 January. It is in the interest of all the political parties to forge broader consensus on the contentious issues and promulgate the constitution on May 28 – the Nepalese Republic Day. However, looking at the rigid stand of the ruling parties, it’s a Herculean task to forge consensus among the major political parties in such a short period.

A multi-party system of governance is constituted of many individuals with different ideas, and a government is usually pressured to impose new legislations to improve the constitutional rights of the country. The political parties’ self-imposed deadline of 22 January – for the new constitution – is only a week away, but these parties are still negotiating on the four contentious issues – including federalism, forms of governance, electoral system and judiciary – that led to the failure of the first CA. The second CA adopted all the achievements of the previous CA and decided to resolve the four key issues, but has failed miserably.

Will the Political Parties Come Together?
Rifts within/ among major political parties slowed down the constitution-making process. Restful Prime Minister Sushil Koirala failed to deliver on many fronts. Due to lack of leadership qualities, he had to struggle a lot during government formation and appointments of officials to several key positions lying vacant in the administration, judiciary, foreign services and security. He could not take any important decisions or pressurise the government to push forward for the timely constitution. However, Nepal successfully conducted the 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit during his tenure in November. As expected, the 18th SAARC Summit could not deliver much, but Koirala cannot be held accountable for that.

Consensus is the only way to get the constitution implemented in Nepal. So far, Nepal has had six constitutions, at different points in time, and the debate to get an acceptable constitution for long-term social peace and stability, continues. All previous constitutions failed to bring peace and deliver to the aspirations of the citizens because it had not taken all the political actors into account. Hence, there was demand for a new constitution via the Constituent Assembly that could be implemented through consensus. If the NC and the UML try to get it passed via majority votes – which is unlikely as their Madeshi/ Janajati leaders have announced to oppose party orders – it would not be successful. The Madheshis and Maoists are uniting and are gaining ground despite multiple splits. Simultaneously, such undemocratic acts would invite polarisation in the ruling alliance (NC and UML) and opposition (Madheshi/Maoist/ Janajati parties).

If all political parties fail to come to any agreement in January, the general public will lose trust in political actors. The situation might get more fluid and difficult to handle.  The ruling alliance will start fighting over who will become Koirala’s successor. The UML had supported Koirala in 2014 on the condition of getting the reins back in 2015. This mess will benefit the ‘radicals’ and would make the constitution making process more complicated. New issues would erupt on the negotiation table. Netra Bikram Chand, who broke away from the CPN-Maoist (Baidya faction) to complete the remaining task of ‘people’s war,’ would gain support among the radical communists while Kamal Thapa would demand for a ‘Hindu state’ and the ‘role for monarch’. Similarly, Madhesi activists like CK Raut would capitalise on the dissent, frustration and absence of government in the Tarai plains and plop up even more untenable demands. The Modi government in India also poses fear among the Nepalese political parties who stand for a secular and republican Nepal. They think India might support pro-Hindu parties to fight for a Hindu Kingdom.

This unstable debate of constitution-making and quest for power will continue in Nepal. If Nepal postpones the identity criterion of federalism, the constitutional debate will be likely to be endless – merely postponing the social peace and stability. The Madhesis and Maoists might form alliances and protest in Madhes for identity-based federalism. The heat of unified protest of Madhesi/ Janajati/ Maoists and new forces like Jay Prakash Gupta/ CK Raut will be tougher for Kathmandu to resist.  

Sandwiched between China and India: Improving Relations with New Delhi after Modi’s Visit
Nepal, a small nation sandwiched between China and India, has a huge influence of its neighbours. India figures prominently in the Nepal’s foreign policy, and New Delhi has stakes in Kathmandu’s peace process and constitution-making. In 2014, Nepal and India achieved new heights of their diplomatic relations. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Nepal in August 2014. He became the first Indian prime minister to visit Nepal in 17 years. During his visit, Modi enchanted the Nepalese people with a rousing address in the Parliament of Nepal, which was the first such address by a foreign leader. He announced a soft loan of $1 billion and committed to assist Nepal in several infrastructure development projects.

Several political parties of Nepal had raised voices against the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 and some other ‘unequal’ treaties. Hence, during Modi’s visit, both the countries agreed to review, adjust and update the 1950 Treaty and other bilateral agreements. The Power Trade Agreement (PTA) and the Project Development Agreement (PDA) between the Investment Board of Nepal and India’s GMR Group for the development of the Upper Karnali hydropower project was signed in October 2014. Again, during Modi’s second visit to Kathmandu in November 2014, to attend the 18th SAARC Summit, he inaugurated an Indian-built 200-bed trauma centre and flagged off a Kathmandu-Delhi bus service. India also provided a helicopter to the Nepal Army and a mobile soil-testing laboratory to the country. Similarly, the Joint Commission which was formed in 1987 at the Foreign Ministers’ level with a view to strengthening understanding and promoting cooperation between the two countries for mutual benefits in the economic, trade, transit and the multiple uses of water resources was reactivated after a 23-year gap during the visit of the Indian Minister of External Affairs in July 2014.

This edition of the IPCS Column, 'Himalayan Frontier', is a precis of the larger document of the same name, that is part of the IPCS's 'Forecast 2015' series. 
Click here to read the full report.

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