Midwife’s apprentice

The Interim Constitution (IC), the sixth in six decades, stands to be the first to undergo an amendment in so short a time, less than two months after its promulgation. The awkwardly named legislature-parliament is set to pass the first lot of changes today as it could not do so on Tuesday because the number of MPs present fell short of the two-thirds majority required to amend it — in itself a sad commentary on the habits of the MPs — so the four big political parties had to issue the whip for their MPs’ presence in Parliament today. After much discussion, the eight parties decided to complete the process in two phases — immediately to incorporate the pledges made by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala in his recent address to the nation aimed at addressing the key demands raised in the Madhesi agitation.

In the first phase, the IC will incorporate a guarantee of a federal structure of government, provide for “proportional inclusion” of Madhesis, women, Dalits, and others, in all organs of state structure, additional constituent assembly (CA) seats based on population growth, and realignment of electoral constituencies with reference to population increase, geographical features and expediency. The eight parties have agreed to push through the second part of the process without delay to take care of things like the changes sought by various parties and the conclusions of talks with various groups. Some people are stressing that the government should address the grievances raised by all, instead of trying to resolve them on a piecemeal basis as and when they arise, so that there may not be future agitations or further need to amend the IC.

On the one hand, it is impossible to satisfy all these groups, some of the demands of which are contradictory and some are outrageous, parochial or may not sit well with advanced forms of democracy. Moreover, the IC is only a temporary arrangement. However, there is no harm in trying to make it as flawless as possible. But frequent changes in response to disruptive protests of one group or another will be not only immature and harmful to the government’s credibility but also unfair to many other people who are not vociferous or violent. It is also patently wrong to equate the demands of certain vociferous groups as reflective of the majority voice of the sections of society they claim to represent. Almost all of the currently agitating groups’ demands properly fall into the domain of the CA, which the actions of some of these groups seem to affect. Moreover, any amendment to the IC, which reflects an eight-party consensus, will merely represent their collective commitment, which cannot be held to be binding on a popularly elected CA. The IC represents a considerable advance on any of the earlier constitutions when it comes to protecting the interests of various groups like women, Madhesis, Dalits, backward communities and regions. Only the CA can produce the final product. The government should make it clear to all rather than seem to play to the gallery or yield to the any group threatening to disrupt normal public life.