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Nepalese Politics In Shifting Lights

Multiverse of Nepal's Democracy

Editors: Dev Raj Dahal and C. D. Bhatta

Published Date: 2010

Published by: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

Price: Not mentioned, Pages: 177

By Ritu Raj Subedi

Multiverse of Nepal's Democracy is a postmortem of Nepali democracy, constitutional practices, civil society and feminist movements. It has five long articles wherein one can notice intellectual sparks that take the readers into new horizons of political discourses. The book deals with the topical agenda and matches the historic time of constitution writing and peace process. Seemingly, the FES has brought this publication to give inputs to the politicians, civil society leaders, journalists and other agents of change so that they could be able to carefully manage the country's turbulent transition.

Tone Bleie and Dev Raj Dahal, in their 'Multiverse of Democracy: Is Culture of Constitutionalism the Agenda?', attempt to synthesize the gist of 'post-liberal democracy' with a diagnosis of Nepal's social, political and religious conditions since the time of its unification. It discusses a wide range of issues and offers insights to widen the meaning of democracy to fulfill the genuine aspirations of citizens as every section of the society has sprung up to stake claim to resources, power and opportunity from the state that is itself in a flux.

They suggest the new leadership should embrace the values of social democracy to ensure the people's social, economic and cultural rights, which they note, are undermined by conservative and liberal political systems. "Central challenges to Nepalese democracy today are thus to build up a common commitment to a negotiated culture of constitutionalism, to bind the citizens and leaders by a common authority of laws and develop a set of institutions and rules which can protect the rights of citizens, elicit their informed participation in public spheres and peacefully manage conflicts arising out of diversity," they say.

The dissertation shows concerns as to why the political institutions and practices in Nepal are becoming more undemocratic and the peace process more fragile. The rising ethnic tension and identity issue are important topics of discussion. There is a tendency of exploiting radical ethno-regional differences for political mobilizations. The writers are of the view that leaders of new Nepal must be able to reconcile the mushrooming of ethnic and regional identities with a new sense of common nationality to overcome the current crisis of national identity.

However, their observation of political philosophy adopted by the mainstream and Madhesi parties is not cut and dried. Nepali Congress and CPN-UML have been pursuing neo-liberal agenda for the last two decades although both claim to follow socialism. The Maoists have also compromised with capitalism for economic growth. Madhesi parties are confined to parochial group interest, not to universal values of social democracy. But, the authors note that NC and Madhesi parties are practicing 'multiverse of social democracy,' which is, in fact, not true.

Constitution expert Kashi Raj Dahal conducts a comparative study of six constitutions that Nepal got in six decades. He argues that the parties' fight for executive power led to one constitutional crisis after another. He notes the widespread poverty, inequality, ineffective power-sharing mechanism, political patronage, and the propensity to use extra-constitutional means when it suits the interest of those in power hinders the process of democratization, weakening the civic political culture essential to sustain the constitutional system.

Economist Meena Acharya's Changing Discourse on Women's Movement examines the feminist movements in Nepal and their role for increased women empowerment. She admits that the Nepalese women movements remained erratic and uneven. "Nonetheless, it continues to grow encompassing ever new issues - increased political representation, equal legal property rights, citizenship rights, inclusion of women's contribution to GDP, and empowerment in general," she said.

Senior journalist Yuvraj Ghimire in Shifting Role of Media in Constitution-Making gives emphasis on the role of media as mediator in the peace process and constitution writing. According to him, the Nepalese media were pro-negotiation at the height of conflict but now they are divided on the issue. Ghimire notes that economic and political controls pose a threat to the professionalism and independence of the media. "Nepali media have woken up to the threat from organized political groups including the state, but are yet to respond to the problem of direct and indirect economic control."

Ghimire seems to be harsh on the Maoists and complains that the Nepalese media have not shown the needed guts to criticize 'the Maoist highhandedness' following their entry into the peace process. His write-up would have been more balanced if he had focused on the constructive role of media to encourage Maoists to embrace the path of peace and non-violence.

'Unpacking Nepal's Civil Society' by C D Bhatta is highly critical of Nepalese civil society organizations. Bhatta argues that a large part of the civic sphere is still dominated by the urban bourgeois on the basis of a 'hierarchical' system in its rank and file and has failed to include those who cannot form their own associations to bargain with the state and market or even to carry out advocacy. Many civil society groups are here engaged in opposition politics and regime change, carrying the agenda of political parties. They sorely lack a sense of civic value, charity and volunteerism and are donor-driven, he says. While trying to make critically disect at the burgeoning Nepalese civil society groups, Bhatta, however, fails to appreciate their role to generate democratic awareness against autocracy and authoritarian leaders.

The book reminds the leadership of frontline institutions for its increased role to expand the people's choices in the new political set-up. Since all the writers are authority in the respective fields, their analytical writes-up offer fresh approach to the topics discussed. It is the politicians who can benefit much from the collection to mend their ways as they are on the defensive with the public venting its ire against them for their poor handling of national politics.

Source: Friday Supplement , The Rising Nepal Daily (3 June 2011)

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