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Seminar on Building Modern State through Constitutional Process

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

18-19 March (Baitadi), 20-21 March (Doti)


Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung,Nepal Office, organised a two day seminar on Building Modern State through Constitutional Mechanism in Baitadi and Doti District of Far-Western Development Region on 18-19th and 20-21th March, 2009 respectively. There were 121 participants in Baitadi and 130 in Doti Districts which included leaders of the political parties, members of civil society, lecturers, teachers, students, journalists, high-ranking government officials and other stake holders of the society. In Baitadi, the programme was attended by the Chief District Officer - Keshav Raj Ghimire, Swikirti Parajuli - District Court Judge, Sukhdev Neupane - Deputy Superintendent of Police and Colonel of Nepal Army. Whereas in Doti chief district officer of Doti Bhawani Parajuli, Colonel Chitrakar (Ganapati) of Bhawani Datta Gana, Doti and Mukesh Singh - Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) actively participated in the two days programme.

In both the programmes, Dev Raj Dahal, Head of FES Nepal Office, Kashi Raj Dahal - Chairman of the Administrative Court and Constitutional Expert and Chandra D. Bhatta from FES presented papers on state, constitution and democracy respectively.

Speaking in the programme Kashi Raj Dahal said that there is no possibility to formulate the constitution in time. There are 16 different areas including the issues related to federalism, forms of governance, judicial independence, political pluralism, and election and others where no agreement among has been reached among political parties. Likewise Keshav Raj Ghimire , CDO, of Baitadi expressed his happiness for having this programme in the district as it will generate ideas for building state. He said that security is declining in the country due to lack of implementation of law and order and developmental works have come to a standstill and the need of the hour is to prevent state failure. Swikirti Parajuli , District Court Judge of Baitadi said that upcoming constitution should upheld the notion of social justice for constitutional stability as well as for people to feel change. He further said that we need to have fair, just and reasonable laws so that distributive justice can reach out to the grass root level citizens.

Likewise, speaking in the programme, CDO of Doti said that religion, morality and law could organise society but we have not been able to strike a balance among these three elements as a result state is facing multiple problems. Colonel Chitrakar said that foreign aid is not utilised in our interest. Civil society and media should have worked towards this end but both of them are working against the interest of the state . He said that civil society is paralysed and we do not have national media houses, as a result, we are forced to adopt policies floated by the external elements as a national policy. In the name of inclusive democracy, we have brought wrong people in the right places. All these factors have led to the hijacking of our national interests and democracy has not been realised by the people at large.

The proceedings (Baitadi)

During the floor discussion, many important issues were raised by the participants. For example Ram Lakhan Mandal argued that rather than investing too much on politics which is completely unproductive, we need to invest in agriculture to improve our agriculture in order to meet our demand as the arable land is declining. Jagdish Man Shresha suggested that we need to set criteria for the political leaders as most of our political leaders are unaware of importance issues such as national security, national interests, foreign policy and alike. Ganesh Bahadur Bhandari suggested of converting five developmental regions into federal states. He said that we should not extend the tenure of Constituent Assembly.

Geeta Kumari Joshi talked about women's r rights appealed that we have to protect women's rights. She further demanded for an impartial Public Service Commission. She also demanded for setting the minimum qualification to become a lawmaker. Devaki Thakunna said that we should not make too many federal states. Harka Bahadur Chand argued that we need to modernise our education system in line with the demand of our society that incorporates our local values. We need to have trade unions with political rights. Raj Bahadur Chand said that our political leaders have become constituency oriented who are more worried about their own profit and loss. He also said that we need to develop our own model of governance. The women's rights were established in the Vedic period. But today, we talk about women's rights but if there is an opportunity of making money we are ready to sale our women's in the Gulf. He further said that we need to have unitary state with the provision of decentralisation of power. We also need to have Hindu State as the Christianity is spreading like wildfire and every attempts should be made to prevent it. He also said that our foreign policy is in doldrums and there is an urgent need to deal with Bhutanese refugee issue. He further raised a very important point of political culture and political socialisation of the country. Citing the examples of Panchas, he asked, why Panchas have failed to protect monarchy if they were really good Panchas or the supporter of monarchy, why democrats have failed to defend democracy, if they truly believe in democracy. By analysing these events, one can conclude that those who do not get space in politics go against it and make it failure.

Sukhdev Neupane (DSP) said that we need to have a proper dress code that reflects Nepali nationalism. We should not carve out federal states on the basis of ethnicity. Rajendra Saud (President - District Bar) has said that political parties have spoiled this country. We need to develop provisions of having national parties on the basis of people's mandate. There should be some sort of mechanism to control the political parties in the country. There is an urgent need to respect pluralism in multiparty system. Dikendra Bogati, citing the example of ethnic states, asked can minority rule the majority ? We should not go for a Hindu State and also should not carve out federal states on the basis of ethnicity. Nepali should be made national language. Likewise Narendra Bista of UML has said that civil society in this country rather than becoming a critical sphere has become a sphere through which elites can push their personal agendas.

The Proceedings (Doti)

Ram Bahadur Air said that we need to have improved parliamentary system of governance with mixed and proportional electoral system in place. Tek Raj Paneru of Doti campus has said that federalism should not be materialised on the basis of ethnicity. Central state should have the right over natural resources wherever they are. He further said that we need to have certain rules and regulations (though we have) to grant citizenship certificates. The hotchpotch policy of granting citizenship certificate merely by forming commissions is seen as anti-state and society. The repercussions of granting of citizenship certificates to 40 lakh Madeshis (who were brought from outside) have been felt by the Madeshi community as they are getting sidelined but not by the political classes of this country. The of language, flag, national symbols were merely raised to create problem. He further said that federalism is not feasible for this country; it is only going to serve the interest of political classes. Shiv Shankar Timilsina asked how state can fulfill new rights while it is yet to address the issue of basic rights. The foreign aid that is being used to meet the political demand of the state is directly challenging the sovereignty of the state. We have not been able to design policy as per our interest. So the time has come as how we can minimise foreign influence in state-building. Our economy does not even generate enough revenue for debt servicing. When state itself does not have right to self-determinaation, how can we have federal states to enjoy full autonomy. One participants from Samyukta Jana Morcha has said that federalism is the grand design of India as it was not the demand of Nepali citizens. Nepal can be developed through decentralisation as well.
Keshav Raj Upadhyay demanded for the timely promulgation of constitution for Nepal to be a functional state as it is tattering between order and anarchy. He further asked why should government make decision about the West-Seti project - it should be decided by the people of the region. We need the federalism but not the ethnic federalism.

Ashok Singh of Doti Campus asked if federalism was necessary, perhaps Prithivi Narayan Shah would have declared Nepal as a federal state long time ago. He wanted to protect Nepal from the onslaught attack of East-India Company. Madesh movement was directed by outsiders and today we talk more about federalism and less about nationalism. This raises some serious questions whether nationalism and federalism can go together or not?

Tirtha Raj Joshi also said that the issue of federalism was never raised during 19 days movement of 2006. The employment crisis in the country has generated crisis in the feeling of nationalism in Nepal. We have floated major political issues on the basis of loss and profit be it federalism, model of governance, or army integration not from the perspective of nationalism. He also pointed out the fact that we have gone for secularism but why we are talking about ethnicity as the issue of ethnicity contradicts with the values of secularism. Sita Raymajhi said that we should not have ethnic federalism.

Many participants said that we do not need federalism, what we really need is development. The privatization of education is not serving the interest of state and society. Majority of the participants advocated in favour of unitary state with full local autonomy. Many participants also questioned about the nature of Nepalese civil society. Damber Air suggested that we need to slowly stop relying on foreign aid. The economic liberalization has only promoted Indian goods in Nepali market. We need to extend our industrial base. Dhan Bahadur Nepali said that Dalits do not want reservation, what we want is special rights. Salu Maya Limbu said that political parties should clean-up their image.

Conclusion

The conclusion that we can draw from the discussion that we have had in the Far-west Nepal is that the political awareness is very high but people are not that much enthusiastic about the change. They wanted to see some sort of political normalcy in the country that can bring about changes in their lifestyle as well. Federalism is not welcome in the masses as it has been popular in the Ring-Centered political classes. Many people argued that the major political issues have been decided by the top political leaders without even consulting other political parties let alone people at large. FES's initiative was welcome in the region.

 
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