Nepal Dalit leader says Modi's stress on consensus has meant dilution in draft constitution

The Dalit face of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly says some of the key provisions for the 74.2% Bahujan community were dropped after Modi's second visit.

Vishwendra Paswan is the Dalit face of Nepal’s 601-member Constituent Assembly. Some of the key provisions for the 74.2% Bahujan community that he championed were dropped from the draft constitution. Strangely, this happened shortly after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kathmandu for the second time and stressed the need for consensus in constitution making. With few lending an ear to his concerns in his country, Paswan, who is also the chairman of the Bahujan Shakti Party and an avowed Ambedkarite, is now touring parts of north India, seeking the support of the Bahujan community there. He spoke to Anil Varghese during his stopover in New Delhi. Excerpts:

What worries you most about this constitution that is in the works?
A constitution that is the result of a lot of investment and sacrifice should be in the interests of the nation and its people. It should be in the interest of the Nepali common man, whether they are in the Himalayas or the foothills or the Terai. But the draft that has been tabled doesn’t seem to be of this kind. What is most worrying is that this constitution will again fail in a few days, months or years. This has raised the possibility of new rebellions being born.

Why do you say the constitution in this form will fail?
The most important reason is that this constitution goes against the sentiment of the Nepali people. It doesn’t look like it has taken into account the sentiments of all the sides and regions. It lacks the intent to fully arm the people with their rights. The existing forms of discrimination in the nation have been allowed to remain in the writing of the new constitution. Hence, it isn’t the nation’s obligation to stop the discrimination. This is what is most worrying. The nation can never be absolved of its obligation. The nation must fulfil its obligation. The government, politicians and parties have to fulfil theirs. But none of this is happening.

Is this something that’s just been happening of late?
No. This was seen even in the first four years. The first Constituent Assembly was given a period of two years to pass the constitution. When they couldn’t meet that first deadline, they sought a 3-month extension, then 6 months and so on and it went on for four years. Even then they didn’t have a constitution and so the constituent assembly was dissolved. There was again an election, and the debates began in the new Constituent Assembly. They had said they would finish writing the constitution in a year, but now it’s been one and a half years and still there is no constitution. Therefore, the leaders haven’t been working in accordance with the sentiment of the people.

What about the Bahujan sentiment?
This draft constitution is clearly not in the interest of the majority Bahujan Nepalis. And a constitution that goes against the interest of the majority won’t last and won’t be acceptable. The intent has been to keep these Nepali citizens – belonging to those societies, communities, regions, linguistic groups deprived of a stake in the main centres of power – out of the influence of the state in the drafting of the constitution. This situation prevents the nation from being prosperous, and the democracy from being strong and permanent. Therefore, while drafting a democratic constitution, democratic principles and processes, and systems based on democratic forms and processes, should be put in place. As long as this is not done, there will always be voices of dissatisfaction and dissent.

How have 601 representatives in the Constituent Assembly not been able to think about the interests of the Nepalese people?
This is not about 601 individuals. Some of the parties in the Constituent Assembly and some of their leaders, with all due respect, are likeminded in their casteism. Some of them have dictatorships. Because some of them run dictatorships, the constitution is not being written for the common, majority Bahujans represented in the Constituent Assembly. The constitution that goes against social justice is being boycotted, burnt, torn and opposed by society.

Why can’t some likeminded members of the Constituent Assembly team up and fight this attitude?
The members of the Bahujan majority community are spread over different political parties. The members of these political parties are living in slavery. Their role in the Constituent Assembly is zilch. What I understand is either they aren’t willing to or haven’t been allowed to speak during the making of the Constitution. They should have been present there having recognised the need to speak during the process of constitution making, but that hasn’t been the case so far.

You had mentioned in your address to those present at the seminar organized by the Bahujan Diversity Mission at the Constitution Club, New Delhi, that Pushpa Kamal Dahal (chairman, Maoist party), KP Sharma Oli (chairman of the Communist Party (UM-L) and Prime Minister Sushil Koirala (also president of Nepali Congress) have been running the show in the Constituent Assembly, that only their views count?
That’s right. No one else contributes to the decisions. Sometimes, they threaten their party men and sometimes they offer inducements. This is how the constitution is being drafted and agreed upon. The draft is the result of an agreement between Sushil Koirala, KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal and doesn’t seem to have the mechanisms to protect the Bahujan majority’s rights. Even though the draft that goes against the rights of the Bahujan majority has been opposed, the three of them have stuck to their stand, pushing for the passage of the draft and releasing it to the public. Therefore, if the constitution is written going by what the three of them say, it won’t last.

The constitution has to be written. The process of writing the constitution should not stopped. But Pushpa Kamal Dahal, KP Sharma Oli, and Sushil Koirala should have realized that they can’t draft a constitution that goes against the interest of the deprived communities and society. This is injustice – injustice against the people and the nation. It is not just the betrayal of a particular community but of the entire nation, because with such a constitution, the nation cannot prosper or be inclusive. It cannot be a country that belongs to all who share a sentimental bond. They don’t seem to be thinking about making a Nepal that belongs to all its citizens.

In that case, there might not be much of a difference between the thinking of the king and these three leaders?
The thinking of the king was clearly not in favour of Nepal and its people. These three leaders are a slightly improved lot in that they talk about democracy and citizen’s rights. But they don’t seem to practise these ideals they talk about. The king used to suck the blood of the people and never went out among the people. But while these leaders go to the people, speak up for them, they are scared about losing power and their political careers coming to an end. Hence, they are not honest about representing the interests of the Bahujan majority.

What have these three leaders found common among themselves despite belonging to parties with starkly different ideologies?
There are three things. All three have the same DNA, they have the same intention. 

What do you mean by the same DNA?
They belong to the same race.

Race meaning brahmanical?
Yes. Then they have come together to bargain for power. They’ve forgotten that they need to work towards a change that the country and its people need. Why so? Because they don’t wish for a constitution that brings about a change. It’s not enough saying Nepal will be an inclusive and secular republic and democracy and that the people will have the rights. These mere words won’t enable the Nepali citizens to get their rights. These are ideals. These ideals are also written in emotions and imaginations. With just these ideals, they won’t be able support the Nepali people in their daily efforts to sustain themselves. The situation so far has been the rulers covering up the reality – of citizens who are suffering, exploited, persecuted and neglected and those who are deprived from the influence of state – by cheating and lying to the rest of the world. They are planning again for such a rule – for a so-called democracy – by going against democratic principles and processes. There’s a massive opposition against this state of affairs.

What are your demands?
Our first demand is social justice for Nepal’s deprived sections of society. Dalits, Other Backward Classes, minorities and the poor should enjoy a stake, proportionate to their share in the population, in all aspects of the state: all organs, tiers and systems; regional, national, international, governmental, non-governmental; forests, land, jobs, economy.

Second, there should be a special provision for a Diversity Act in the constitution.

Third, the corrupt, smugglers, black marketers and enemies of the state should be punished with death. There should be a constitutional provision for nationalisation of their property. Rapists should also be hanged and their properties nationalised. There should also be a provision for life sentences.

Fourth, today, the centre and the provinces are far apart. The centre does not want to give anything to the provinces. There are no doubts over federalism or borders. But on the question of giving powers to the provinces, we are for giving 70% of the powers to the provinces, which in turn should forgo 70% of the powers to the local bodies.

Fifth, ration cards, clothing cards, free-education cards, health cards should be provided. Why do we need to have this provision in place? Because, from the Rana-era to the kings’ Panchayati rule and then from Panchayati rule to the present rule of democratic governments, there haven’t been any subsidies, even on a kilo of salt. Even when the government procures rice, it prioritises the well-off families in the Himalayas. The government distributes rice, salt and sugar among them. This is not just. The nation shouldn’t discriminate against its own citizens when it comes to subsidies. What is happening now is that there is discrimination even in the distribution of food supplies. This policy should be changed. Ration cards should be issued in the Himalayas, the hills, and the Terai or the plains.

We have submitted these demands for discussion. A document signed by Sushil Koirala, KP Sharma Oli, Surya Bahadur Thapa and myself was acceptable to everyone but now that’s been rejected. After the 16-point agreement, the earlier document has been set aside. But some aspects of the 16-point agreement are against the interests of Nepal and the Nepali people. This is why this draft is of a constitution that doesn’t make sense. I told the assembly, Sushil Koirala, KP Sharma Oli and Prachanda just that. What this means is that democratic principles and processes haven’t been followed in the making of this report. That’s why such a report won’t help the country become peaceful and beautiful.

What sort of influence has India had on the making of the constitution in Nepal?
All friendly nations, including India, agree that Nepal’s constitution should be written and passed. They are in agreement that Nepal cannot be stuck at the making of the constitution, that it has to move on. Nepal’s leaders have also understood that they shouldn’t delay the passing of the constitution. But the difficulties have arisen on the issue of making a constitution that is relevant to all Nepalis.

What has been India’s role?
In all the changes that take place in Nepal, respected personalities in India, who feel that the changes should take place in accordance with the democratic principles and processes, have given suggestions both openly and in private. But it’s up to the Nepali people to act. Hence, Nepal appears to have followed the suggestions and advice. But lately, I’ve found that friendly nations want to address and include the demands of those in Nepal who want to draft a good constitution based on their own needs.

You mentioned in your speech this afternoon that ever since Modi mentioned about passing the constitution by consensus, there has been a change in attitude in the Constituent Assembly.
What Prime Minister said in his first speech was very good. But after he visited again and stressed the need for a consensus, there have been efforts to cut back on the rights of the Bahujan majority in the draft constitution. Was Prime Minister Modi indirectly trying to say that the new constitution should not guarantee rights to the Bahujan majority or the Dalits, Adivasis [tribals],  OBCs and Muslims? This is how the prime minister’s utterance of the word “consensus” has been perceived. The Indian prime minister should understand what he said then and what he needs to be saying today. The problems of the Bahujan majority in India and Nepal together appear to have not been addressed in reality.

Anil Varghese is editor (English), FORWARD Press monthly magazine 

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