Committed to Social Democracy...
FES in Nepal
FES Worldwide
Media Development
Trade Union Development
Regional Cooperation
Conflict Resolution
Good Governance
Past Activities
FES in the Press
Annual Reports
Seminar/Workshop Reports
List of FES Publications
Book Reviews
FES Publications in University Curricula

Seminar Report on the relevance of Democratic Socialism in Nepali Context

Organised by Martyrs' Memorial Foundation (MMF)

Global Financial Crisis, Social Democracy and Nepal's Choice Keynote speech by Dev Raj Dahal

18-19 May, Lalitpur

By Chandra D Bhatta
Email: cdbhatta@yahoo.com

Introducing the Programme

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) - a German Political Foundation and Martyr Memorial Foundation Nepal has organised two day seminar on Democratic Socialism in Nepali Context inLalitpur on May 18th- 19th , 2009. Altogether 70 participants actively participated in the programme. Participants came from major political parties, including CPN(Maoist). Former Prime Minister and leader of the Nepali Congress Sher Bahadur Deuba was the Chief Guest of the programme. Former speaker Mrs. Chitra Lekha Yadav, Mrs Vidhya Bhandiari (now Defense Minister) from the Communist Party of Nepal - United Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML), Mr. Narhari Achayra, Member of Constituent Assembly from Nepali Congress, Mr Dip Kumar Upadhyay (Nepali Congress leader), Mr Dhundi Raj Shashtri of Nepal Congress (who is also one of the veteran proponent of democratic socialism in Nepal), Mrs Sarita Giri, Constituent Assembly Member and Chairperson of Nepal Sadhbhavana Party, Mr Pradip Gyawali, former minister and Constituent Assembly Member from - CPN (UML), and Constituent Assembly members from Samyukta Janmorcha - Nepal participated in the seminar. There were good number of participants from civil society, academia, trade union, journalism, students and policy makers.

The main thrust of this seminar was to explore different dimensions (social, economic and political) of Nepali society and relate them with polity, that is, what type of polity would best serve the interest of Nepali society. In other words, to what extent social democracy could be relevant in Nepali context given the huge gap between haves and have-nots and widening gap brought about by the bourgeoisie politics/policy of yesteryears. That said, the seminar was meant to find out 'common platform' in order to address the exiting social, economic and political gaps in society. Majority of the political parties of Nepal, from Nepali Congress to the hard-core leftist, have in principle agreed to fulfill all sorts of human rights and bridge societal gaps thereof. But in reality they have failed to translate these principles into practices. When we compare promises with that of reality, it appears that political parties of the country are drifting away from their original stances/commitments on democratic socialism. In many occasions, they have become victims of their own doing and at other times they have been forced to pursue neo-liberal policies under external pressures. In a nutshell, the main aim of this programme, among others, was to bridge extant societal gaps by bringing them into the common platform. This will help to minimise societal conflict and ultimately help to construct egalitarian society.

Former Prime Minister Mr. Deuba rightly pointed out that Nepali Congress's commitment towards Liberty, Equality, Justice and Fraternity could only be fulfilled when we have right policies in the right place. He was of the view that, democratic socialism is the right choice for Nepal. What is needed for Nepal is to strike a balance between different sorts of rights and which can only be done by expanding the role of the state. The liberal policy have reduced the role of the state and increased the role of the market. This has created gaps in rights, gaps in policies and practices and alike.

Dev Raj Dahal, Head of FES in Nepal, has rightly pointed out that, "the current global financial crisis marks the end of one epoch to begin the next. The triumph of neo-liberalism - defined by the Washington Consensus caused the regulatory failures of state and has become one of the greatest threats to global economic stability. The financial crisis has forced policy makers worldwide to create stable global system that can serve the interest of not only the powerful states and multinational big companies but for all states. The message of London Summit is clear: judicious role of state in social, economic and ecological justice has to be redefined. In the context of Nepal, we cannot have an egalitarian society as long as social and economic inequality persists. These 'inequality' can only be bridged through policy persuasion. And we can not have political stability unless we reduce the poverty and bridge the existing gap. Hence, even in the context of Nepal, state has to fulfill not only civil and political rights but also social, economic and cultural rights in order to enable democratic conditions for "positive citizenship". Nepalese people of various positions require different policies for equitable and just distribution of resources through a thriving public sector, gainful employment and a support to the welfare state. In this context, the poor and dispossessed Nepalese requires not only protection but also additional opportunities so that democracy crates level playing filed for all for life chances and equal participation in public life rather than cretin winners and losers. It views that if losers do not have any stake in the political system, democracy becomes a game of power specializing elite and electoral political cannot generate political and constitutional stability".

Dahal further elaborated that realisations of social justice require substantial democratisation of power, investment in job creation, health, education, disabilities, critical development infrastructures and fulfillment of basic livelihoods. Some interests are non-negotiable such as basic needs while others rest on maters of individual choice - like professional job preferences. The structural condition of Nepalese society, the nation's constitutional commitment to the enlargement of social rights, endorsement to the Universal Declaration of human Rights and ILO Core Labour Standards are orienting Nepal's constitutional making process towards a social state.

The proceedings

The technical sessions were divided into four parts. The first part dealt with theory and practice of democratic socialism and Mr Khagendra Prasai presented a paper. Prof. Yagya Adhikari of the Tribhuvan University commented on the paper. The main argument of Mr Prasai's paper on democratic socialism was that it is crucial for a state like Nepal to strike a balance between political and civil rights and economic and social rights. Commenting on his paper Prof. Adhikari reminded of the fact that Nepali Congress principally has decided to adopt principles of social democracy some fifty years ago in a bid to construct an egalitarian society envisioned by the leaders of that time (particularly B. P. Koirala) who thought that social democracy is so desirable for Nepal that only this can resolve problems of inequality and poverty. Mr Prasai's paper was theoretically embedded and dealt with various facets of social democracy and there relevance in Nepali context. The main gist of his paper was that liberalism gives priority to individual freedom, socialism to equality and both are children of modernity. Democratic socialism lays emphasis on the fact that individual freedom is only possible when the formal equality of legal rights has a material substance in wealth and the challenge with us is how we are going to change society or interpret these values.

His paper received many questions on the prospectus of democratic socialism in Nepal. There were questions whether democratic socialism could resolve ethnic problems? Others said that B P Koriala's principle of socialism has been completely sidelined by the current party leaders. They blamed that Nepali Congress has failed to strike a balance between democracy, socialism and nationalism. As a result country is passing through serious political crisis one after another.

The second part dealt with the economic aspects of social democracy and the paper was presented by Dr. Narayan Narsingh Khatri. Dr. Khatri presented comprehensive paper which covered the economic realities of the Nepali state. He provided detailed sketch of the inequality persisted in Nepali state and argued that unless and until we bring state back we cannot resolve societal problems linked with economy, poverty and backwardness. He argued that state should play proactive role within the changed global scenario. The session was chaired by the former vice-chairman of the National Planning Commission Dr. Jagdish Chandra Pokhrel and commented by former minister Mr. Deepak P. Baskota. Commenting on his paper from the floor Mr Mukunda Subedi said that the challenges that lie ahead of us is how we can make poor rich. He said that unless we bridge the gap in policies education, health, and employment we cannot bring social transformation. That said, state should make polices that can uplift poor from poverty and backwardness rather than making polices for those who are already super-rich. This will help to promote equity and equality in society. Echoing with Mr. Subedi, Ms. Madhvi Katwal (teacher) also said that state should have upper hand in health and education rather than handing them over to the market.

The third session dealt with federalism and the paper was presented by Mr Narhari Achayra - CA member from Nepali Congress. Mr Shanta Bahadur Nepali from Samyukta Janmorcha Nepal and Ms. Sarita Giri from Nepal Sadhbhavana Party commented on the paper. Although Mr Narhari Acharya strongly supported the idea of federalism and provided different models of federalism but he failed to convince majority of the participants. Majority of the participants from the floor and including one commentator spoke against the very idea of 'federalism' in Nepal. They have said that the idea of federalism was induced from outside (India per se factor) and is here to stay to serve long term interest of Indian establishment rather than Nepali state and citizens. Many participants blamed that the interim government decided to go for federalism merely to douse the fire of Madesh movement without understanding the ground realties. Some even pointed out that the one of the major demand of the Madesh movement was the resignation of the then Home Minister Mr K P Sitaula but not the 'federalism'. Federalism merely came into the scene to serve and accommodate the interest of expanding political sphere which is now proved to be suicidal for the country. Without properly designing the basis of federalism - how could we go ahead - asked many participants. It appears that in the long term the federal structure will not be able to balance the geopolitics of Nepali state as well. Federalism has already created problem and it will create further problem in the days to come. By and large, majority of the participants from Nepali Congress spoke against federalism.

The final paper was presented by CA member Pradip Gywali on the political framework of new Nepal and the constitution. Mr. Kashi Raj Dahal, Judge of the Administrative Court commented on the paper. The main thrust of Mr. Gyawli's paper was that new Nepal's political ideology should be based on social justice. He said that democracy will only survive if people feel ownership towards it and the upcoming constitution should attempt to address the grievances of the people rather than merely balancing political imbalances.

Responding on his paper form the floor many participants were of the view that social justice with social security should be incorporated in the upcoming constitution and future politics of Nepal should respect sovereignty of the state and its people which it has failed perpetually. The unabated border encroachment from Indian side and Nepal's subsequent inability to conduct foreign policy in a balanced manner should be looked into very carefully.


Modern social democracy has gone beyond Marxism, without forgetting that capitalism endogenously produced injustice. For the political norms of modernity will only be recognised as valid and legitimate when these political norms give priority to what is that made people their ultimate right of 'sovereign'. In a modern democracy citizens are demos, the sovereign. Together individuals make up their minds, about what polices they consider as optimal. They have an interest in doing so, because they are all affected by the policy decisions. Hence question of which polices should be decided at the state level will be answered by looking at who is affected. By shrinking the public sector, neoliberal policies have broadened the scope for private and reduced the space for democratic decision-making. Going by the discussion that took place in the seminar hall, what is clear is that majority of Nepali wanted social and civil state rather than political state. Their ideal model of governance focuses on welfare state. The advocacy of welfare-state is clear manifestation that inequality can only be bridged through policy persuasions and that policy, many opined in the context of Nepal, could come through Democratic Socialism. This will acknowledge that Nepali citizens are equal citizens with equal rights to decide what they consider their best interests.

Copyright©2001. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office
The information on this site is subject to a
disclaimer and copyright notice.