In a historic moment for Nepal, bolstering its transformation from a Hindu monarchy to a secular democracy, President Ram Baran Yadav in Kathmandu announced the adoption of the constitution, the first to be drafted by elected representatives after seven years of painstaking efforts and controversial deliberations.
The new constitution, which came into force on September 20, was pushed through the assembly despite protests by ethnic minority groups. The move to create a new federal structure that will devolve power from the centre has widespread support, but critics say the planned internal borders will leave some historically marginalised groups under-represented in Parliament.
The process to put in place a new constitution gathered urgency after massive earthquakes struck Nepal in April and May killing thousands of people and displacing many more. Despite the constitution being successfully adopted with an overwhelming majority of the Constituent Assembly voting in favour of it, the move has led to massive protests in parts of Nepal mainly in the Terai region, largely dominated by the Madhesi groups. They include the Madhesi and Tharu ethnic minorities, mainly from Nepal’s southern plains along the border with India.
Congratulating the people of Nepal on the transition to a democratic and secular country, India said it has taken note of the promulgation of constitution in Nepal but is concerned about the violence, which has seen some parts of southern Nepal shut down for weeks.
“We are concerned that the situation in several parts of the country bordering India continues to be violent. Our Ambassador in Kathmandu has spoken to the Prime Minister of Nepal in this regard. We urge that issues on which there are differences should be resolved through dialogue in an atmosphere free from violence and intimidation, and institutionalised in a manner that would enable broad-based ownership and acceptance. This would lay the foundation of harmony, progress and development in Nepal,” a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs said.
The dissatisfaction in the Terai region is mainly about the seven province federal model adopted in the constitution. The Madhesi groups believe it is detrimental to their interests. They have been rallying for equal representation in the country’s political structure and the new constitution, despite comprising more than half of Nepal’s population. There were protests by ‘Right Wing Hindu’ parties as well, who were against the constitution adopting secularism and wanted Nepal to be a Hindu nation. However, this move faced stiff resistance from members of the CA and was eventually rejected.
Concerned by the growing protests in Nepal, India had sent its Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar to defuse the tension in the Himalayan state, a move that invited criticism from many sections in Nepal who termed it as ‘interference by India’.
The Terai regions also border the Indian states of Bihar and Uttarakhand, which naturally has India worried about the consequences in the border regions. There is plenty of movement across the border with many Nepalis coming to India on a regular basis to seek employment.
While India has taken note of the promulgation of the constitution, it hasn’t welcomed the constitution coming into force at a time when there is escalating violence in Nepal and has many stakeholders protesting against the development.
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