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Seminar on The Role of Youth in Civic Education

Organized by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)

8 April 2007, Dhading


Dhading was another new venue for Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies to organize a seminar. On 8, April 2007, a NEFAS team reached this central urban hub along with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung representative in Nepal, Dev Raj Dahal, to hold a discussion on civic education. NEFAS has been organizing civic education seminars in different parts of the country, an ongoing effort not only to make people aware of the need for civic education, but also to acquaint schoolteachers with the subject and help them deal with the problems that they may be facing, especially if they are already teaching the subject. In most parts of the country, teachers have helped provide valuable comments on the subject for NEFAS to update its publication on the subject. In Dhading, meanwhile, the scheduling of the event appeared to be slightly off-key, especially with regard to the fulfillment of the latter objective. Since the function was organized in the midst of the SLC exams, the thin presence of teachers at the discussion could be felt throughout the session as most of the participants dwelt on the political issues haunting the nation, rather than getting down to talk the brass tacks of teaching civic education in schools. The seminar was chaired by Lekhnath Lohani.

The discussion kicked off with NEFAS Executive Director Ananda Srestha introducing to the participants the organization's activities and the theme it was putting before the audience. He requested the participants to be forthcoming in their comments as they would form an important component in the publication that was being planned at a later date, the ultimate objective of the seminar. The discussion would also help in raising awareness among youths on issues that have contributed to the political instability Nepal has been facing over the years.

FES head in Nepal Dev Raj Dahal introduced his organization's support to various activities in the country before entering into the discussion on political resolution of conflicts through a constituent assembly. His theme was that a constituent assembly can be accommodative of all the diverse interests during the draft of the basic law so that they do not manifest themselves in the society. He described the nature of the different types of conflict that could trouble a society, some are latent while others are manifest, he said. Even among the latent types, some are structural- those that are to do with incompatibility of policies while there are also those that may have to do with the kind of constitution devised and the social values that exist. For peace to be long-term it must be based on democratic foundations, not one that is imposed. Even the peace imposed by the majority can be counter-productive, he said and added that Buddha's Golden Mean could provide the way for us to follow.

Shiva Raj Dahal made his presentation on The Role of Youth in Civic Education in the country where he tried to compare the existing bleak scenario in the public sphere with the ideal that Nepalese youth should be striving for. His thesis was this: Lack of political guidance was robbing the country of its vital youthful resources as many were either engaged in rebellion or going abroad seeking work. The muscle and brain drains can be reversed and their toil utilized for the nation. But for this, the youth need to be inculcated with civic sense.

Dahal's presentation was followed by Prof Gunanidhi Sharma's comments which tended to look into the need to decentralize state powers through a federal structure of government. The local people must have a say in determining their own future, but the local government units must not be based on unnatural and man-made customs such as caste and ethnic classification of people, the professor said. All the issues can be managed by the local units, except security and foreign policy issues, he said.

The floor discussion was quick to pick up on the issue of state restructuring along federal lines. Some thought that inclusiveness was the way out in devising a new state structure while others said that it could also get out of hand with demands for ethnic and linguistic states including the right to self-determination. Some were afraid that political parties could disintegrate to give way to ethnic sentiments, instead of political ideologies and issues. Comments were also made regarding foreign meddling in Nepalese internal affairs contributing to destabilization.

Women participants talked about the need to change the mindsets of the opposite sex to end feudalism while others said that such a mindset is prevalent in the political culture as a whole, not just regarding gender issues.

After the presenters furnished their replies, the seminar ended with the Chairperson praising the paper presented by Shivaraj Dahal saying that it had tried to show a positive direction to the young generation with regard to politics and the kind of leadership to follow.

Proceedings

Chair: Lekhnath Lohani

Ananda Srestha's welcome address. We have been organizing discussions on issues of national importance in various parts of the country. It is in this course that we have arrived here. Please contribute by commenting on Shivaraj Dahal's paper so that it can be published in a more complete form.

Why have we chosen this topic? We feel that the main reason behind the political instability in Nepal is the absence of participation by the youth in Nepal. We think that interest in politics by the younger generation creates the necessary pressure on the political leadership to do something about it. This series of discussion has been possible because of cooperation from FES.

Dev Raj Dahal's presentation: FES is a German social democratic organization, one of the various foundations that Germany has, to assist in the promotion of democracy in different parts of the world. These foundations do it in cooperation with the German government.

Democracy involves independence, social justice, solidarity, human rights and peace. A discussion on this topic in the 90s led us to develop a book which was later taken up as a text book for civic education by schools. We thought that if we can convert people into citizens we can make them enjoy the fruits of democracy. It is the identity given by citizenship that we carry with us when we interact with other people outside the country.

The political leadership constantly seeks inputs from FES on policy matters. And, we carry out these debates to come up with ideas necessary for the inputs. Today, we are talking of the constituent assembly. We are talking about openness. If we can have awareness, participation and inclusiveness, then we can make the democratic process a successful one as people will take up the ownership of the process itself. Once the electoral preparations are complete, we plan to work on voters' education.

If the constitution making process is open and inclusive, the constitution will last a long time as it will have been owned by the people. There is debate regarding the widening of the participation by al the forces in the society. That way, it can be more representative than otherwise.

Secondly, peace. Peace depends on the kind of state structure we devise. We have structural conflicts inherent in the state structures. Another kind of conflict is dormant- one between the constitution and the social values. The constitution says one thing while the social values are contrary to it leading to this type of conflict. Today's constitution gives us the freedom. But we need to think a bout structures that can accommodate such a wide base of freedom.

Policy must be oriented towards the social values and constitutional provisions. The policies that we adopted post-90 were not consistent with the social welfare provisions of the constitution.

The third kind of conflict is manifest conflict. We saw the excluded groups demanding their place as soon as we wrote the interim constitution. Democracy must be inclusive, especially in a country of minorities like ours. Peace process should follow the same trends. A peace process should not give birth to enemies, but friends.

Latent conflict is the fourth kind. Unless we have foresight, we cannot see conflicts that could emerge in the future. The peace agreement that was signed recently could be one way for Nepal to deal with future conflicts. The agreement talks about conflict transformation through social, economic and political transformation, and does not talk about conflict resolution as such.

Citizens are not subjects. They are sovereign. Changing of political terminology is not helpful here. And, confusion prevails regarding the loktantra we have. The term 'Lok' has not been defined. 'Praja' does not mean subjects like in the pre-1950 days. Citizenship is what matters and this is not reflected in the term 'lok'.

Peace too can be contextual. During the Rana days, peace prevailed, but because it was brought about through suppression by the ruling class. The peace after 2007 was a peace imposed by the majority; this is known as hegemonic peace. Today, we want democratic peace. The golden mean of Buddha must be the axis around which peace revolves.

Shivaraj Dahal's presentation

Gunanidhi Sharma: We are undergoing a period of transition. Our aspirations are to build a new Nepal, a Nepal that is prosperous, peaceful and beautiful. The role of youth is vital here, as others will not be able to play the role on an equal footing. The role that Nepalese youth have played in world history has been noteworthy, whether in WWI, WWII, or in UN peace missions or even during independence movements in the region. Our politicians were directly involved in these movements. In our own country, many in the young generation were martyred to give Nepal a new face. We have seen their contribution in the changes since 2007.

Today, we find that they may be misguided or misdirected, in spite of our efforts to build the new Nepal. The fault lies in governance that was centralized. The result is rebellious voices, leading even to bloodbath. A lot of youths lost their lives and many remain disabled. It was when both the rural and urban youths merged their movements that brought us where we are today. Today, we are talking of restructuring the state. It is for this that we want the constituent assembly.

The constitution is a document that lays down all the different aspects of national life and guides the government structure towards the desired goal. Our aspiration is economic, social, linguistic, ethnic and political upliftment. The constitution is supposed to look into all these aspirations.

Even the 1991 constitution talked about it, but could not deliver on its promises. This was because we gave space to feudalism. Now we talk of ending feudalism. We want something that incorporates the aspirations of all. We want it to be a participatory and an inclusive constitution.

The decentralization that we want has led us to look into provincialism or federalism. But we should be cautious here. We do not want a disintegrated Nepal, as it is already fragmented. There are issues of national interest or those related with security which must be handled by the centre, because the national interest is paramount. Still, linguistic or development or other social problems could be dealt with locally. The fear is the fickleness of the leadership which has not been able to deliver even on small and minor issues. We doubt their political will to carry out such a huge task. This is where the awareness of the youth comes.

The doubt also comes from the deviations seen in a large portion of the young generation today. They appear to be fed up with the Nepal they live in; and are searching greener pastures elsewhere. Others have taken up weapons. Today we stand at the crossroads where we can build the Nepal that we want. The youth possesses the energy to carry it through. We must make them aware of their potential and help them develop the capacity for executing the change for a new Nepal.

If the youth realize that they live in Buddha's country, they will find out that they should learn to be examples of living in peace, diversity, harmony and tolerance.

FLOOR

Guru Prasad Burlakoti: After the loktantric movement, we talk of inclusiveness as a necessity. The multiparty system could not address the problem. But today, in the name of inclusiveness, we hear of demands for ethnic states under federal rule. This has added fuel to the existing fire.

They also talk of right to self determination. This is not a joke as a bushfire has been started. This could lead to the disintegration of political parties, along ethnic lines.

Khem Lohani: GNS appears to take federalism positively. I too feel that the leadership does not behave well. Add to this the neighbouring countries' interests. The right to self determination demand therefore could be a problem.

We do not see any homogenous ethnic province, not even a village. Everywhere, there is a mix of different groups of people that exists. I do not deny the need to bring the excluded to the mainstream, jut that let it not lead to disintegration. People are talking about ethnic rule. The problem would then be the other ethnic groups residing within such an ethnic state.

The Bahun and Chhetris have been taken separately by different groups to prove their point, although I feel that they are one. The statistics we have could play havoc with the separation of Bahun from the Chhetris. Should not the Bahun-Chhetris talk about a separate state in the federation? Will they not come out with this idea in the times to come? I do not see thinkers and politicians addressing this problem. How do we address this ethnic federalism issue?

Biswo Raj Adhikari: Prof. Sharma said federalism is needed. How many provinces do you want?

Guna Nidhi Sharma's reply
Regarding the economic basis for the federalist argument, I feel that inclusiveness should not solely be a political issue, but an economic one as well. Each part of the country has its own resources and economic foundation. Hence, we should allow all resources equal opportunity in the production system. If that happens economic transformation takes place very quickly. If we continue to accord priority to urban resources and neglect the rural ones, then the problem will not be solved. Equality in opportunity must be applied not only among different groups of people but all the different resources as well.

Federalism has been interpreted by many different people in different ways, some through anger, some have taken the deviated route and some are deliberately trying to mislead. If we can assure everyone that their problem of exclusion will be resolved in the state structure, these problems will be resolved automatically. And, since the fundamental problem is one related with social justice, that should be our focus.

Januka Simkhada: The problem today is that there is still miserliness regarding equal participation, in spite of talk about inclusiveness. We need to change the mindset. We need a potent medicine to cure that.

Guna Nidhi Sharma: The issue you raise is about feudalism. Politicians feel they are landlords and treat you accordingly. We want to end feudalism.

Harihar Dahal: You see many janjati youths going abroad for jobs. There is no way to employ them immediately at home. We said the problem is with feudalism. Will we give space to feudalism in the next constitution as well? Since the foreigners have a big impact, what is there to say that it will not happen again?

Dev Raj Dahal's reply
The 21st century democracy should be participatory democracy, not just inclusive. The constituent assembly takes care of representativeness. Inclusiveness is a bourgeois term, which calls for inclusion of those without powers. After the industrial revolution, ideologies became divided along two separate lines, the capitalist line and the working line.

In our context, we are trying to adopt everything in our ideology. The parties are not clear about what they are following. This leads to unstable policies. They come out with one policy for the election, quite something else once they are elected.

Our policies are all imported- imported from developed post-industrial revolution countries. Ours is an agrarian society. They do not fit in our context. Hence, we talk of participation. Although Marxist analysis can be universally applicable, the means he mentioned must be changed to suit our context.

Statesmen must treat the whole nation as their constituency. Politicians limit themselves to their own electoral constituencies. The local feudals do not care about what all these mean to them, they just want to boss some section with their political parties. These are the different kinds of leaders that we come across everywhere. You decide what kind of leaders that we have from among these choices.

Ethnic movements for autonomy do not make rational choices. People say what is convenient to them for the moment as the issues are generally emotional. When the state is not democratic all these issues come up. Not just the state, but even political parties must be democratized.

We see that the Dalits are marginalized in spite of their traditional monopoly over production. Democracy seeks separation of powers and prevents monopoly.

Regarding federalism, we saw that resources were not being distributed properly. Since we have already adopted federalism, we must think about whether we can bear the economic burden of managing such a state structure. We will have about 200 ministers to take care of. Hence, our resources must be taken stock of before working on whether we can address all these needs.

Regarding the right to self-determination, it was Lenin who propounded the idea. The Soviet Union has disintegrated once again, although there is still a lot of homogeneity. Also related is the case of de-colonization.

In Germany, the local governments have so much power that they say that they have the right to self-determination. In Nepal, we are afraid that we might be following the Indonesian line. Our leadership has not defined what it wants through federalism.

Also, ethnic issues are being raised by leftist parties, but Marx only talks of class, not caste. In sum, parties must take up the social issues in a serious manner.

The monopoly of violence, taxation authority and loyalty to the state are preconditions for a state's wellbeing. All these are a waning force in Nepal at the moment. Hence, disintegration is not just something we fear from federalists but that it is already happening even without it.

In spite of the overwhelming share of youth in the population, their participation in power is almost nil. I think this will change as people become aware and start voting them to power.

Ever since 2007, we have never had indigenous policy. All of the development policies have been formed by outsiders from the modernization theory down to privatization and structural adjustment. Although we live in the international regime, and we have signed many international conventions, the promises that politicians have been making cannot be fulfilled.

Shivaraj Dahal's reply
NEFAS is an academic organization conducting national debates. The seminar aims to consolidate and strengthen democracy in the country. Another objective that the seminar has is also to meet the requirements of the school curriculum for civic education.

We aim to end the militant culture among political activists as this weakens democracy and increases tolerance.

Chairperson's remarks
I am grateful for the opportunity provided to me to chair an academic discussion such as this. The seminar today has apprised us about the quality of leadership that we need.

Regarding the working paper, it has tried to paint the political picture that we have today giving a historic background of trends. The paper inspires us to be more politically accountable and loyal to our nation. It also talks about proper policymaking so that it is in the popular interest. The paper treats the people with respect as they are the foundation of politics and politicians.

It also seeks to show the way for people to choose leaders capable of showing statesmanship. It calls for a state structure that accommodates the aspirations of all the people by making it inclusive. It lays down the conditions for the youth to become good leaders. The paper therefore prompts us to build the new Nepal that we want. The constituent assembly elections are supposed to take place on Asar 6, but the pace of preparation shows that it may not take place at the stipulated time.

Inclusive democracy should be based on geography and communities, not castes and ethnic groups. I think the ability to give everything in a nutshell is the quality of the writing shown by Shivaraj Dahal.

Vote of thanks by Shivaraj Dahal.

 
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