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India’s World – Violence over state boundaries in Nepal

India’s World – Violence over state boundaries in Nepal

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Summary:

After nearly eight years, Nepal has come up with the new constitution. In June this year four major political parties of Nepal reached a 16 point political agreement to facilitate the constitution making process. There was also a need to rebuild the country after huge earthquake of April 25th. However, the agreement left the borders of the proposed provinces of a federal Nepal undefined. In the August, the four parties agreed on six proposed provinces which would run North to South connecting hills to the planes with each province bordering India. The main goal was to keep each province economically viable. This was later on changed to have seven provinces because of protests by some communities. However, even then the situation turned violent. Some communities in Nepal have objected to the redrawn boundaries. They do not want to be clubbed with the hill districts dominated by the hill political elite. Most of the violence has been taking in western Nepal districts. The Terai plains bordering India have been paralyzed by strikes for over two weeks. Curfew has been imposed in some regions and clashes are frequent.

The new constitution of Nepal defines Nepal as a secular country, despite widespread protests for it to be declared a Hindu state. Many Nepalis, particularly the Madhesis, have been angered by a clause in the new constitution that talks of “religious and cultural freedom, with the protection of religion and culture practiced since ancient times”. Protesters argue that the constitution discriminates against women in terms of granting citizenship.

Many members of traditionally marginalized groups fear that the constitution will still work against them as it’s been rushed through by established parties which are dominated by high-caste, mostly male, leaders. One grievance is that a smaller percentage of Parliament will now be elected by proportional representation – 45%, compared with 58% under the previous post-war interim constitution. The PR system has helped more members of indigenous and low-caste groups, historically repressed and marginalized, get elected.

India is not happy with the new constitution of Nepal. India shares an open and contiguous 1751-km-long border with Nepal. It’s biggest concern is that Madhesis are totally against the new constitution that Nepal has put into effect. Madhes is a Terai region of southern Nepal that shares its borders with Bihar. Any political turbulence and violence in Nepal will inevitably have a direct adverse impact on Bihar. Madhesis, along with the Tharus, form the bulk of population of Terai. The Terai region constitutes one-fifth of Nepal’s landmass, but accounts for over half of the nation’s population. The Madhesis have been fighting for equal representation in the country’s political structure and the new constitution, according to them, has failed to meet their aspirations. Nepal’s new constitution promises to identify seven provinces of the country for administrative purposes.

None of the major Madhesh-based parties have signed the Constitution. The new Constitution has a provision for a 165-member Parliament, but the constituencies have been demarcated in such a way that the people of the hill and mountain region would get 100 seats, despite the fact that their share in Nepal’s total population is less than 50%. On the other hand, the Terai region constituting over half of the country’s population has been allocated only 65 seats.

India has been consistently telling to write a constitution based on consensus, a document that represents the aspirations of all sections of the society. However, Nepal has not paid any heed to India’s advice.