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Seminar Report

Initiative for State-building within the context of constitution making process

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

15-16 June (Jaleshwor) and 16-17 June (Janakpur)

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 'Modern State-building and Constitution-making Process' in Jaleshwor and Janakpur. The main objective of the programme was to educate people at the peripheral level on state-building and issues underpinning constitution-making process in order to enable them to participate in the political process significantly. Moreover, 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 problem of Madesh could be explored and brought into the forefront for their peaceful solution.

The programme was attended, among others, by political leaders of all political parties (including Maoist), academicians, teachers, NGO personnel, members of civil society, students, government officials, youths, representatives of trade unions and other stakeholders of society. There were 125 and 110 participants in Jaleshwor and Janakpur respectively. In Jaleshwor, the programme was chaired by the judge of Mahottari District Mr. Dayanath Kharel while Mr Netra Prasad Sharma Chief District Officer (CDO) of Mahottari had also attended the programme. Likewise in Janakpur Mr Bhola Kharel Chief Judge of the Janakpur Appellate Court chaired the session. Also present was Mr Giriraj Poudyl Judge of the Appellate Court.

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 main argument 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) as well as challenges brought about by the emergent political situations 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 said that in order to establish a strong state the focus should be on empowering citizens at large. What Nepal needs today, he emphasized, is durable peace, democratic constitution, forward looking state policies by ending all sorts of discrimination.

Mr Kashi Raj Dahal, Constitutional Expert, while presenting his paper said that unless political parties come out with clear political agendas on different issues such as state restructuring, future model of governance, head of the state and the model of federalism. He maintained that none of the political parties so far have clear scientific agenda on various issues, which perhaps is becoming major cause of political deadlock in the country. He said that political parties so far have failed to find out a common consensus on federalism. We have to be clear that what type of federalism would suit Nepal and what would be the relationship between the central state and federal state and between the states. What type of democracy we wanted to have - what type of electoral system we wanted to have as all these issues needs to be incorporated in the upcoming constitution.

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. Mr Bhatta also talked about the role of civil society in post-conflict societies. He said that civil society could play a crucial role both in writing a democratic constitution and guiding peace-process to the logical end.

The Floor Discussion

Majority of the questions were thrown-out on the problem of Madesh and centered on the issues of federalism, regional autonomy, state-restructuring, ethnic federalism, model of governance, nature of political parties, contents of democracy (human rights, rule of law, separation of power, good governance, pluralism, globalisation and economy, the culture of peace and alike) in both the district. In Janakpur majority of the participants vociferously supported the idea of regional autonomy of Madesh based on territory. They 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. While in Jaleshwor - the participants were more serious about the overall political situation of the country rather than only Madesh. Majority of the participants in both district were of the view of having one state - one Madesh in Janakpur. Both in Janakpur and Jaleshwor, majority of the participants have said that the declaration of Nepal as a secular state without respecting the conscience of 85 percent Hindus is not fair. Perhaps the issue should have been decided through the CA.

The participants from the region challenged that the present government has failed to address their issues even through the CA. 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 Janakpur were of the view that they have been cheated by the state and living as a second- class citizens in their own motherland. Madeshis feelings towards the state have never been realized and it has become very difficult for them to prove Nepali.

On federalism - majority of the participants were of the view that the federal states have to be created on the basis of geography. Questions were also raised on the 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. That said many participants wanted to know how self-determination works at the individual, sub-nation and the state levels so that local identities do not contest with, rather contribute to, the formation of national identity.

Many participants wanted to know how people can enforce the accountability of leadership and transform political parties into mass-based organizations and political leaders accountable to the people at large rather than posing as rulers and creating a layer of elites. For example one of the participants Mr Ganesh Yadav in Jaleshwor said that elite class has captured both state power and it is the need of the hour to bring down these elite classes from the state power.

Against this background, many participants 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.

Conclusion

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 the 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 issues underpinning state-building process. The debate in all places generated very valid questions, which need immediate collective attention from the state. 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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