Nepal | July 12, 2020

Opinion: This is the time to stay focused

Akshya Aryal
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The Lower House of the Parliament unanimously endorsed the Second Constitution Amendment Bill last week. The bill was approved by the Upper House in the following week after it was debated upon. President Bidya Devi Bhandari has authenticated the bill, thereby bringing it into force as the Second Constitution Amendment Act, 2077 (2020).

The bill aims to amend Schedule 3 of the Constitution and bring about modification in the national coat of arms with the addition of the disputed territories of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura, and Lipulekh in Nepal’s national political map. The diplomatic row with India began after New Delhi inaugurated a road link between India and China that passes through the area of Kalapani without prior information to Nepal.

In the aftermath of this incident, civilian parties from both countries have vocally expressed their dissatisfaction and outrage. The government of Nepal addressed the issue and classified the ‘encroachment’ as unacceptable. Ultimately, the government declared that this matter would be resolved through diplomatic means and the two nations will sit down for dialogue. However, before that could have been materialized, the Nepal government unilaterally endorsed a new map thus entering into a war of cartography with its neighbour. Following this, Prime Minister KP Oli addressed the parliament in a three-hour session on May 19 wherein he vowed to bring back the land to Nepal and assured the audience that it was not a mere rhetoric.

It is pertinent for the citizens of Nepal to know that as is the case with most disputed territories, both parties to the dispute have some sort of a ‘legitimate’ claim over the territory in contention and there is some merit to both sides and no one narrative trumps the other. This is a complex issue and not just that of gradual colonization. It is the responsibility of the government to keep calm amongst the citizens until this issue is finally resolved. Yet again, the PM has utilized ill-faceted manoeuvres in order to push his propaganda full of rhetoric as a means to cover up massive incompetency on part of the government to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nepal has been hit hard by the pandemic both in terms of spread of the contagious virus as well as its drastic effect on the economy. While the country went into lockdown with only one active case, the number has crossed ten thousand at the moment after almost three months of lockdown. Initially, the government arrived at a swift decision to implement a lockdown in order to contain the outbreak. Unfortunately, it seems that the only decision taken by the government in its fight against the virus was the implementation of the lockdown. The testing carried out was inefficient (and in many cases, inconclusive) and the border control was incredibly complacent.

Migrant workers with no financial means to survive were stuck in big cities while large groups of Nepali people were stranded at the Indian border with barely any access to food, water, and shelter. The situation was a catastrophe and the government refused to let its own citizens enter the country and stay quarantined. It seems almost impossible to believe that the government denied the right to entry to its citizens, who had left the country lawfully, in the midst of the biggest disaster in the contemporary age.

Moreover, the economic impact of the pandemic has been destructive and the government is yet to announce any substantial relief package for the affected. In the border issue, the government has found its perfect scapegoat, an opportunity to fuel the sense of hyper-nationalism amongst the people of Nepal to distract them from the series of failures on part of the government with respect to handling the pandemic, one after another. For a large period of time, the border issue was the topic of discussion everywhere. The government was once again successful in shielding their inadequacy and earned themselves a lifeline during a period of emergency. To make matters worse, while India was dedicating all its resources in its battle against the coronavirus, Nepal government was enjoying the public support and kept pursuing the narrative one way or the other while cases were soaring at an all-time high rate and the economy was further deteriorating.

Prime Minister KP Oli and his government have over the past three years become masters of rhetoric contrary to what was stated by him in his address to the parliament. With the successful instillation of the feeling of nationalism, any opposer of the Constitutional Amendment Act faced ridicule both from the ruling party as well as the general public with a particular member of the opposition having their residence vandalized. The freedom of expression is now only guaranteed in cases that are in conformity with the ‘patriotism’ exuded by the majority.

Moreover, when the youths took to the streets of Kathmandu demonstrating against the real, tangible issues that are at hand at the moment by demanding more efficiency in testing and an increased number of PCR tests, they were met with police aggression including water cannons, baton charges, and arrests. At this time, maybe the government can justify police action by claiming that protests are in fact in violation of the social distancing rules (which is possibly true), what cannot be justified is that even after three protests, the government has not yet acknowledged the matter and the demands of the protestors in a concrete manner. Once again, the government has not been held accountable for their actions.

This is not the time to be distracted. This is a time for the citizens across the country to be united and not give in to the nationalistic rhetoric of the government. We are facing significantly pressing issues at the moment and the government has the priority list skewed during these turbulent times. Experts have warned that we could be facing more cases after the lifting of the lockdown and the government needs to stay prepared for that at all levels.

Furthermore, they need to be more transparent and must be held accountable for their actions. With respect to the border dispute with India, the most pragmatic way to deal with this dispute with a neighbour is through diplomatic means that go back many years. If any result is unattainable through the same, the matter can be taken to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) for a decision. In the past, India settled its maritime dispute with Bangladesh through a PCA award and New Delhi accepted the decision even though it was passed in favour of Bangladesh.

While the border issue is an important and strategic issue and it is in the interest of Nepali citizens to defend our sovereignty, we must not bypass channels of dispute resolution and take the dispute in our hands. Furthermore, we must realize that unilaterally changing our map does not provide us with the desired outcome. We must hold our government to their promises, and during times of crises, there should be more pressure on them as opposed to the public.

Akshya is a recent graduate from Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad

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