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

Sindhupalchowk ( 8-9 July 2008), Bhaktapur (23-24 July 2008) and Myagdi (5-6 August 2008)

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 Chautara of Sindhupalanchowk district, in Sallaghari of Bhaktapur district and Beni of Myagdi district. 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 meaningfully. Moreover, one of the main aims of this programme, among others, is to bridge the societal gap between different societal groups and bring them into the common platform so that problems of all societal groups could be identified and brought into the forefront for their inclusion into the policy in order to address them in a peaceful way.

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, and representatives of trade unions and other stakeholders of society. There were 170 participants in Charikot, 110 in Bhaktapur and and 140 in Beni respectively. Except in Bhaktapur, in both the district the programme was chaired by the respective judges of the district court (Mr Mahesh Kumar Marasaini in Charikot and Tarka Raj Bhatta (Judge of the Baglung Appellate Court) in Myagdi district). Other high ranking officials including CDOs, security personnel present in the district also attended the programme.

The proceedings

Head of FES in Nepal - Mr. Dev Raj Dahal discussed about the current state of political affairs in the country. He said that modernity is a continuous process and is not based on layer. Layers should fragment as we move towards modernity and it (modernity) should come into every domain and should embrace economy, politics, lifestyle, governance and etc. He recalled on the fact that our investment on politics is very high compared to the return which perhaps is the reason, among others, behind anti-political approach in the country. He cautioned that merely holding election and carrying movements do not solve our problems or guarantee our basic needs. In order to address the basic needs and straighten politics - our politics should be people oriented, rather than regime oriented said Mr Dahal. He said that from state centric conflict, we are now moving towards society centric conflict and we have not developed mechanism to control this phenomenon. There is no transitional justice which could have played a key role in minimising societal conflict(s). By contrast, we are developing 'class based politics' rather than having 'class based policies' which would, otherwise, have subdued societal antagonisms.

Mr Kashi Raj Dahal, Constitutional Expert, presented various models of federalism and emphasized on the fact that management of federal state into the national system (integration) is crucial. In the same vein, integration within the federal state is as important as their integration onto nation as a whole. What is crucially important for a state like Nepal in term of federalism is financial viability or sustainability in the longer terms of the federal states said Mr. Dahal. He said that in the event of Nepal entering into federal state-system there will be multiple governments in the country and whether the state government(s) can financially support themselves or have had to rely on central government will be a litmus test as well as deciding factor as far as their sustainability is concerned. Having hundreds of ministers in the country will cost fortune to the nation and will be suicidal for a state like Nepal whose economy is aid-dependent. 601 CA members are already proving "white elephant' what will happen if we have double the number of parliamentarian what we have currently, said Mr. Dahal. He cautioned that this will only create further layers in society and push developmental works at bay. Mr Dahal said that politics and law should defend national interest.

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. He also shed light on the fact that equilibrium between domestic and foreign policy is crucial in order to provide due recognition of our demands in the polity.

The Floor Discussion

Majority of the questions were asked on federalism, education policy, political culture, external intervention in our domestic politics (citing the case of presidential election), quality of leadership, the nature of civil society, 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 all three districts.

In Chautara, majority of the participants were more concerned about policy related issues such as on education, health, employment rather than giving too much importance to politics. They were of the view that politics should address basic needs of the people and state should craft policies accordingly. One of the participants, Ganga Poudyal, said that political leaders have to be responsible towards state and citizen rather than capturing state and system. In order to address multiple problems we should not give too much focus on political doctrine, we should rather develop political culture that can embrace all societal groups and addresses issues honestly that will provide an opportunity to live a dignified life. It has been, however, revealed that Maoist's cadres give too much importance to political doctrines as against members of other political parties. Participants were concerned about national sovereignty. Likewise, Ms. Indira Sigdel said that we can only have political stability in the country if we have strong economy and she emphasized on the fact that state should work towards this end.

In Bhaktapur, majority of the participants were concerned about citizenship, religion and social harmony in addition to the issues related to federalism and policies related to economy, education, health and employment. One of the participants Mr Jit Bahadur Chauhan said that education, health and employment are the foundations of modern state and the project of state-building should embrace all these three elements. Mr Chauhan also said that the 'transitional period' should end. The need of the hour is politics of consensus among political parties but majority of the participants feared that 'politics' is taking different course (mathematical citing the formation of current government) which will invite further instability in the country. Likewise, Hari Prasad Nepal of Nepali Congress said that in the name of "religious secularism" are we trying to invite other religions (in his own words International Religion - Christianity). Majority of the participants have said that 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.

Participants also said that federalism on the basis of region, ethnicity and religions should be opposed as it will jeopardize national integrity. Cooperative federalism would be based suited for Nepal, said many participants. Moreover, all political parties should clearly spell out their agenda on federalism. One Mr. Sushil Koirala said that the provision of granting citizenship to everyone who comes from South (India) should be discouraged as it is fueling societal conflict and displacing rightful Nepalese from their maternal land.

In Beni, main focus was on policy related issues in addition to the issues of federalism, constitution making, political process, women's issues and alike. People here wanted to have pragmatic and realist approach to politics. Participants talked about state's inability to bring youths into the institutional life of the state, state's inability to craft sovereign polices (intervention in policy). One woman participants also said that 33 percent representation of women in policy is not possible due to backwardness of women in every aspects and nothing has been done to include women in the political network- they are still suppressed and marginalised. One of the participants also said that the proportional electoral system failed to assimilate many ethnicities (for example Chhantel) to its manifold.

Majority of the participants emphasized on having economic equality and promoting the culture of cooperation and coordination in the country. They were dissatisfied with Presidential Election where 'mathematical formula' took centre stage. Participants said that political parties talk about radical issues during the election period but they do 'classical' things after the election (as old habits die hard). Against this background, many participants argued that how can we have new Nepal within the old notion of thinking.


What has been sensed from the participants of these three seminars is that the process of writing constitution is taking backseat whereas the politics of forming the government and appointing clients in the state organs is dominating political discourse in the country. Likewise criminalisation of politics and politicisation of bureaucracy are proving detrimental to upheld rule of law in the country. In the same vein, civic political culture is completely missing in our political class which is urgently needed to do political undo's which are anti-democratic and anti-people. Participants in all three places vociferously said that state should take care of education, health, employment and outright opposed private health and education system. They have squarely blamed our political leaders for too much of external intervention on policy and politics.

FES has tried to fulfill the existing gap by 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 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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