Constitution amendment, Terai resolution before India visit: Nepal PM

Kathmandu, Jan 12 (IANS) Nepali Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli has expressed confidence that his country’s new Constitution would be suitably amended to address the concerns of the Madhesis agitating in the Terai and a solution found to the issue before his visit to India next month.

“We have presented a bill in parliament… The Constitution is going to be amended,” Oli told IANS in an interview at his office in Singha Durbar here.

“We have agreed to treat special privileges as fundamental rights. This is democracy… Sometimes in a democracy, such things happen and we have to tolerate (them),” Oli observed while talking about the more than four-month-old anti-Constitution agitation by Madhesi political parties and indigenous groups.

The Madhesis have been agitating for the past more than four months in the Nepali Terai against “discriminatory provisions” of the country’s new Constitution, which was promulgated on September 20. The protestors blockaded the India-Nepal border entry points hindering movement of vehicles carrying supplies of essentials to the landlocked Himalayan nation — and thus resulting in acute shortage of food, fuel and medicines, among others.

Asserting that the fuel and gas crisis in Nepal in the wake of the Madhesi agitation was slowly improving, Oli hoped that the situation will be “completely normal” within a few days.

Oli, 63, who is also chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxists-Leninists) [CPN-UML], however, made it clear that the proposed changes in the Constitution to address the issues raised by the Madhesi parties were against his own conviction and he was only agreeing to them for the sake of democracy in the country.

He maintained that there was no discrimination in the new Constitution, promulgated on September 20 last year, and the effort therein was to develop a competitive society with provisions to bring the backward communities to the forefront.

He said that under the new Constitution, there was 45 percent reservation in stipulated areas for Backward Communities and they could also be part of the open competition.

Referring to the over four-month old agitation by Madhesi parties over provisions of the new Constitution, he said the “supplies were stopped unnecessarily”.

Oli has alleged that the shortages were the result of an “embargo imposed by India”. However, New Delhi maintains that supplies of essential commodities have not been able to move across the border because of the Madhesi agitation.

Oli said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was widely hailed for his vision when he first visited Nepal in 2014 but there have been severe shortages of gas and fuel supplies from India in the wake of the Madhesi protests.

“Modiji came for the first time as prime minister and delivered his speech in the Nepali parliament. Not only his words, his body language was showing that he is speaking from the heart, manifesting his friendship with Nepal. The Nepali society was so happy and relations between India and Nepal saw a new height. But afterwards there was no gas, no diesel, no petrol. That sort of situation happened.”

Oli said “the situation is improving gradually and I believe in a few days it will be completely normal”.

Asked if a solution would be found to the issues raised by the Madhesi protestors before his visit to India next month, Oli said emphatically: “Yes.”

He also said he had “good expectations” from the visit — his first abroad as prime minister.

Nepal’s southern plains have been simmering with protests against the new constitution, with over 55 people, including agitators and police personnel, killed during the agitation by the Madhesi community.

The Madhesi protestors are demanding, among other things, a redrawing of the boundaries of the provinces as proposed in the new Constitution and representation in parliament on the basis of population.

Nepal’s Left government has held more than a score of rounds of talks with leaders of the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha, which is spearheading the agitation, but without any breakthrough so far.

Oli said there were complaints about exploitation in Terai but the real reason was landlordism and “lack of consciousness” about education. He gave instances of higher levels of education in the hills and said these areas also did not have problems like “dowry” and “witchcraft”.

“There was no landlordism in the hills, it was there in the Terai. Its effect has been that only a few people moved ahead. Others are suppressed,” Oli said.

He said the new Constitution provides for a competitive multi-party system, periodic elections, separation of powers, independence of the judiciary and many fundamental rights.

Oli, who became prime minister last October after the country adopted the new Constitution, said the Nepali people and leaders and he personally could not think of anything else except friendship with India.

“But there were some misunderstandings that some people were able to create. I do not know why and how they were successful… I want that our two countries come together. It is a special relationship. There is no scope for misunderstanding,” he said.

Asked about the Madhesis’ demand for reorganising parliamentary constituencies on the basis of population, he said the constituencies in India were also organised on the basis of both “geography and population”.

He said hill districts with sparse populations should also get representation.

“We copied the sentence ‘on the basis of geography and population’ from the Indian constitution,” Oli said.

Asked about the demand by Madhesi parties of redrawing state boundaries, he said there was geographic and ethnic diversity in Indian states also.

“They are making demands pertaining to other areas. These things do not mean much. If they are talking of their own place, then it makes sense,” he said.

The major demand is for the formation of two provinces in the Nepali Terai — the Madhesi pradesh extending from the Mechi river in the east to the Narayani river in mid-western Nepal and Tharuhat pradesh from the Narayani to the Mahakali river in the west.

The protestors are demanding restoration of rights granted to Madhesis in the interim constitution of 2007 which, they say, the new charter had snatched away.

Terai has almost 51 percent of the country’s population yet gets only one-third of seats in parliament — and proportional representation in government jobs.

Asked about the anger among the people over shortage of fuel and gas supplies from India, Oli said it would vanish once the supplies were fully restored.

He assured that the Nepal government would provide full security to trucks entering from India.

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