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Seminar Report Initiative for Democracy Building Education about Voters and Civic Rights

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

Birgunj (December 26-27), Gaighat (December 28-29) and Lahan (December 29-30)

By Chandra D Bhatta
Email: cdbhatta@yahoo.com

Introducing the Programme

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) - a German Political Foundation has organised training-cum- seminar on 'Democracy Building: Education about Voters and Civic Rights' in Terai area. The seminar covered Birjung (Parsa District), Gaighat (Udayapur District) and Lahan (Siraha District). The German Foreign Ministry supported the programme. The main objective of the programme is to educate Nepali citizens on civic and voters rights to enable them to participate in the political process, particularly, on the upcoming Constituent Assembly election significantly.

The programme was attended, among others, by political leaders of all political parties (including Maoist), academicians, teachers, NGO personnel, and members of civil society, student leaders, government officials, youths, representative of trade unions, participants from the Madehsi Forum, Janatantri Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM), members of the religious community (Muslims) and other stakeholders of society. The programme was well received by each and every community and succeeded to bring two communities (Paharis and Madeshis) into a common platform which in the long term will certainly help to cement the existing cleavages between these two communities.

There were more than 90 participants in Birgunj, more than 200 in Gaighat and 100 plus participants in Lahan who actively participated in the programme. The Judge of the District Court/Appellate Court in all three places chaired the programme. Also present were other judges from district as well as Appellate Court, high-ranking officials in each district including Chief District Officer, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Election Officer, District Education Officer, academicians, local political activists and members of the ethnic community.

The proceedings

Head of FES in Nepal - Mr. Dev Raj Dahal discussed about the current state of political affairs in the country. He recalled on the fact that mismatch between (people's) expectations and dispensation of political justice is slowly dashing away high hopes held on April showdown of 2006. The central thrust of Mr Dev Raj Dahal's presentation was that Nepali state should endeavour to strike a balance between different factors such as freedom, rights, duties, demand(s) and as well as challenges brought about by the new found political changes in the country. Failing to do so, he argued, will exasperate people's faith on political leaders and subsequently on (cyclic) political movements. Our attempt should focus to build civil state rather than a state based on class and clan, said Mr Dahal. Mr Dahal further argued that political settlement through democratic exercise is always peaceful. He further elaborated that democracy do not operate in security vacuum neither developmental work take place in such a situation. Hence, peaceful situation is always considered to be prerequisite to strengthen values in a given society. He emphasized on the fact that we should develop a mechanism to strike a balance between majority and minority and equally important is that the intellectuals and political leaders should work together for the welfare of the nation. Intellectuals should provide ideas/opinions to the political leaders.

Equally important is to strike a balance between written and unwritten constitution of the state. Mr Kashi Raj Dahal - the constitutional expert has said that unless political parties come out with clear political agendas on different issues such as state restructuring, the future model of governance - the proposed election to CA will not yield much result. He maintained that none of the political parties so far have clear scientific agenda on various issues which perhaps will become major cause of further conflict in the country or that Nepal might lose much hyped achievement of People's Movement (the agenda of utopian New Nepal). In Birjung, Chandra Kishore Jha, a local journalist, also presented a paper. Mr Jha's paper was mostly on Madeshi issues, which was well received by the community as the paper vociferously supported the idea of regional autonomy of Madesh based on territory. He said that Madesh is not only about 'territory' as it is understood but it is also about the mosaic culture and identity of Madeshis which needs to be brought into the national mainstream. Similarly Chandra D. Bhatta introduced hands-out on democracy. The central theme of hands-out was to promote democracy based on rule of law and introduces civic education at different layers of society, which will help to construct civic citizenship based on civic nationalism. The overarching aim of this programme in Madesh, was to bridge the gap between different societal groups and bring them into the common platform so that the problem of Madesh could be explored and brought into the forefront for their peaceful solution.

Floor Discussion

Majority of the questions were thrown-out on the problem of Madesh and centred on the issues of federalism, regional autonomy, state-restructuring, ethnic federalism, model of governance, nature of political parties, content of democracy (model of democracy) in all three districts. The participants from the region challenged that the election to the CA will not be held (they will not let it happen) unless their problems are resolved with due honesty. Heated debate took place in Lahan and Birjung on the current state of political affairs. The participants mostly from the low land (terai or Madesh) argued that pahari rulers, for centuries, have been subjugating Madeshis and Madesh Movement is to end this subjugation and guarantee the right share of Madeshis in the institutional life of the state (polity, governance, bureaucracy, forces and etc). Majority of the participants in Lahan and Birjung were of the view that they have been cheated by the state and living as a second- class citizens in their own mother-land. Madeshis feelings towards the state has never been realized and it has become very difficult for them to prove Nepali. One of the participants (Magen Kami) in Lahan said that what will happen if this country is taken by India or China or if Madesh becomes an independent state or merged into India. He said that they are not losing anything except Nepali nationality (which they have never enjoyed in the past in a real sense of the term). The losers will be the rulers of Kathmandu and that too, mostly, Paharis. Perhaps these types of feelings could be the reason, among others, why the activities of burning national flag are taking place in different parts of the country.

Questions were also raised on right to self-determination as in the earlier seminars. Kashi Raj Dahal clarified that right to self-determination (of 1648) does not necessarily provide legal basis for secessionist (state disintegration) right. By contrast, the whole idea of right to self-determination is to provide opportunities (freedom) within the federation for the economic development and alike of the people living within that federation.

Mr Arjun Prasad Gupta (advocate) from Lahan argued that how can we have new Nepal within the old notion of thinking. The rulers have never tried to listen the voices of Madeshis and so is the (in)organic civil society of the country. Participants from the Muslim community have expressed that Muslims have been segregated in the constitution making process. Many participants from the region were of the view that the problems have to be identified on the basis of 'class' and resolved with honestly.


The seminar organised by FES has been able to bring to antagonistic communities onto the common platform for the first time (this is (was) the view expressed by participant(s) themselves. And these types activities, surely, help to resolve extant political problems of the country. In this sense, FES has fulfilled its objective of advocating civic education and social democracy and nation-building. The debate in all places generated very valid questions, which need immediate collective attention from the state. A critical mass is forming in every domain and this mass wants to have equal share in every aspect of governance. The worry expressed at the rural areas on the national politics and their de-serious faith on democracy, nationalism (even in the Madesh) is noteworthy. Equally, important is their ability to differentiate chaff from the wheat (between bad leaders, bad policies, good leaders and good polices). Perhaps programmes like this needs to be further extended in other parts of the country.

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