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Seek consensus on constitution: Jaishankar to Nepali leaders

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By Anil Giri
Kathmandu, April 3 (IANS)
Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar on Friday wrapped up his two-day official visit to Nepal conveying a common political message from New Delhi to the leaders of the Himalayan nation that they must draft their new constitution on the basis of broader consensus and compromise.

Jaishankar met President Ram Baran Yadav, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, Constituent Assembly chairman Subash Chandra Nembang, chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) K.P. Oli, United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and leaders of an alliance of Madesh-based parties.

Though these meetings were held separately, the Indian foreign secretary conveyed two key messages from New Delhi to Nepal’s political leadership — that they must seek broader political consensus on the constitution-drafting process and that federalism was an internal matter of Nepal and India has no say in it.

He returned to New Delhi on Friday after wrapping up his Nepal visit which was part of his Saarc Yatra.

This was the second phase of Jaishankar’s visit to SAARC-member countries. He visited Bhutan on March 1, Pakistan on March 3 and Afghanistan on March 4.

“I conveyed to them that India is committed to working with the people of Nepal for a democratic, stable, peaceful and prosperous Nepal,” the Indian foreign secretary said in his departure statement, adding that India’s relations with Nepal are, and will continue to be, a matter of the highest priority.

In separate meetings with top political leaders on Thursday and Friday, Jaishankar highlighted the importance of consensus in the statute writing process and urged the leaders to finalise the new constitution as soon as possible.

According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister Office, Koirala, during his meeting with Jaishankar, appreciated Indian’s ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ in its foreign policy architecture and hailed the recent initiatives by the two nations in strengthening bilateral relations.

Koirala also assured the Indian diplomat that Nepal would vote for India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

According to the statement, Jaishankar stressed for better connectivity among the Saarc member states including energy cooperation and conveyed best wishes to Koirala in advance for promulgation of the new constitution.

Promulgation of the new constitution is the key agenda for Nepal but the political parties have already missed the January 22 deadline to do so. Due to irreconcilable differences among the top parties, an understanding could not be reached on finalising the constitution despite two successive constituent assemblies working on the issue.

According to Maoist leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Jaishankar told the party leaders that India wished for early promulgation of the constitution in Nepal.

“There are precedents elsewhere in the world that the constitution is written on the basis of broader consensus and compromise. We also encourage the same in Nepal that will direct the political competition in the right direction after promulgation of the new constitution.

“Constitution writing is like setting the rules of the game,” Jaishankar told the political leaders. “Once that is done, the real game and political competition begin.”

A statement issued by the Nepal foreign ministry after the meeting between Constituent Assembly chairman Nembang and Jaishankar said the Indian foreign secretary expressed India’s desire to see continued stability and democracy in Nepal.

“He also stressed the need for increased level of exchanges between the parliaments of the two countries.”

According to Narayan Kaji Shrestha, matters related to constitution- writing and Nepal-India relations were discussed during Jaishankar’s meetings with the Maoist leadership.

The Maoist leaders told the Indian foreign secretary that the opposition alliance also wanted to see broader understanding among the signatories of the comprehensive peace accord on the agendas of federalism, republicanism, secularism and inclusiveness.

Jaishankar also shared with the leaders the deliberations underway in India about taking the ties with Nepal to a new high.

“There have been discussions in New Delhi that there should be new dynamism and vigour in bilateral relations,” Jaishankar told the leaders.

As part of its “Neighbourhood First” policy, India was committed to strengthening its multifaceted and mutually beneficial relationship with Nepal, the Indian foreign secretary said.

“We support the aspirations of the people of Nepal for peace, stability and prosperity.”

In his meeting with Madhesh-based leaders, Jaishankar made clear that federalism was an internal matter of Nepal and India does not have any prescription for what kind of federalism Nepal should have, or how many states and the modalities.

“The role of democratic and republican force is key to bringing out a new constitution,” he told leaders from the southern plains of Nepal that border India.

The constitution should be drafted on the basis of past agreements and mandate of the people, he said.

(Anil Giri can be contacted at girianil@gmail.com)

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