Seminar Report on Building Modern State through
Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)
19-20 August, Gaur, Rauthat District
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) organized
a two-day seminar at Gaur, district headquarters of Rautahat in
Tarai, the southern flatland on August 19-20, 2010 on "Building
Modern State through Constitutional Process." Inaugurating
the seminar Chief Justice of District Court Giri Raj Gautam said
that constitution drafting involves many dimensions. "The
seminar today and tomorrow will be able to highlight those dimensions,
the constraints in drafting the new constitution and way out of
the deadlock in the formation of government. Three issues of fundamental
importance are-consensus on the rules of the game, federalism
and autonomy of judiciary. The last one is very important because
the autonomy of judiciary is associated with constitutionalism,
guaranteeing separation of power and fundamental rights of citizens
including press freedom."
The Chairman of Administrative Court
Kashi Raj Dahal speaking at the inaugural function argued that
three factors underline the sources of conflict in Nepal-crisis
of identity, crisis of representation and crisis of access to
the institutional resources of the state for various strata
of society. The mismanagement of transition in Nepal led to
a protracted uncertainty of the nation's future and risked undermining
the public faith in leadership. He added Nepal's politics, economy
and society have to bear the brunt of this transition as it
has also bred a tension between the necessity of modernity and
compulsive force of tradition. Dahal underlined a number of
contradictions to be addressed in post conflict Nepal.
First, despite the signing of peace
accord there was no peace monitoring body to expedite the peace
process in desirable direction. Second, the possibility of the
formation of a national unity government has been scuttled as
the rules of the political game has been shifted from consensus
to majoritarian which marked the beginning of politicians jockeying
for power than fulfilling their primary duty to promulgate a
new constitution. The passage of each article of new constitution
requires consensus which no party can command without the cooperation
of other. Third, Constituent Assembly (CA) election has legitimized
change but it is far from stable and institutionalized. The
advent of defeated politicians in the government has undermined
the legitimacy of electoral process and has weakened the power
of public. Fourth, CA also failed to promulgate the constitution
on May 28, 2010 instead added one more year's tenure without
popular consent. There are 18 unresolved obstacles, such as
federalism, forms of governance, election system, judicial autonomy,
self-determination, prior use rights, etc on the way of drafting
the constitution. And fifth, transitional justice remains weak
as culture of impunity continues and rule of law has become
difficult, corruption remains unabated and social cooperation
and peace are fraying. These issues need to be rectified for
undertaking any concrete national initiative.
Welcoming the participants head of Nepal
office of FES Dev Raj Dahal explained about the history, philosophy
and activities of his foundation and the need for building the
state by increasing the loyalty and capacity of citizens. He
added, "Building a constitutional state of Nepal can help
institutionalize democracy, achieve political stability and
foster a concept of civic culture which is both rationalist
and modern." Over 138 participants including 20 women,
four judges of district court, representatives of various government
offices, chiefs of Armed Police and Nepal Police of the districts,
election officer, heads of district political party offices,
college and school teachers, students, civil society and representatives
of various organizations took part in the meeting. The first
day two sessions were dedicated on the principles and practice
of modern constituently state and addressing various constitutional
issues while second day presentation and discussion took place
on "Handouts on Democracy."
Some participants asked questions while others
expressed their observations including their stand on many constitutional
issues which will be summarized below.
Three trends can be discerned from the discussion. First, participants
discussed about deteriorating national security, law and order
conditions in the country due to prolonged political transition
and deadlock and demanded alternative mechanism to end this
standoff at the central level-formation of non-partisan government
with the representatives of ex-judge, civil society and business
community; concentration of three major parties in constitution
making while allowing the government to be run by small parties
and public pressure on parties. Second, they also opposed the
discrimination of citizens between the rich and the poor by
bifurcating education, health, communication and economy between
public and private sphere. Third, patriotism must be fostered
through civic education at various levels of society and moving
politics beyond partisan domain. This can bring people for social
cooperation irrespective of their political, economic, gender,
regional and caste distinctions and work for common good. Shayam
Sunder Patel (leader of CPN-UML) affirmed that we are grateful
to FES for allowing us to debate on many issues of national
importance. He said, "State should be impersonal but we
have to resolve gender, class and regional concerns with a broader
nationalistic perspective in mind. Institutionalization of democracy
requires social transformation."
Beyond Partisan Politics
A number of participants discussed about the necessity of linking
morality to politics and building national character of citizens
and leaders through civic education. Exclusive partisan interest
cannot contribute much to "democratic and national discipline"
and enthuse a "feeling of national unity and national interest,"
said Chandrshwor Raut, lecturer of local Shree Juddha Campus.
"Without moving beyond self interest and partisan interest
politics cannot serve the people and the nation," he added.
He found the solution of this problem in true human spirit of
becoming selfless. Especially civil society members and educationists
argued the de-politicization of education, health, bureaucracy,
police, communication and production so that even ordinary citizens
should also have space in it and even poor feel a stake in the
nation's commonwealth and share the sovereignty. Ram Narayan,
member of local civil society argued, Bahujan Hitaya, Bahujan
Sukhaya, the greatest happiness of greatest number should be
the cornerstone of politics in Nepal. He believed that lack
of ideological convergence among the parties on the constitution
and a tendency of each party to impose its own ideology created
a situation of deadlock in Nepal. He referred to Prithvi Narayan
Shaha as an ideal model of nation-building. Ms. Rekha Jha, Central
Committee Member of National Teacher's Organization, asserted
that without raising the standards of education civic capacity
of citizens cannot be elevated. Partisan politics has undermined
educational quality necessary to improve democratic preconditions
and state building. Lal Babu Mukhiya, leader of Young Communist
League, appeared critical of Tarai-based parties for not opposing
external intervention in Nepali politics which is an obstacle
to drafting constitution and peace process and said that UCPN
(Maoist) is a patriotic party. He added, monarchists and Maoists
should form a patriotic front to consolidate statehood and democracy.
He also defended the role of Nepali language in national integration.
"National independence requires fulfilling the basic needs
of people especially food, habitat, cloth, education and health,"
said chairman of RPP Shailendra Singh. He also said that because
of foreign intervention Nepal was declared secular state. There
should be referendum on it.
"Democratic politics requires the supremacy of ballots
over bullets," said C. Raut adding that democracy fosters
a culture of listening and addresses every problem though a
dialogue. In Nepal, however, politics of violence has emerged
as a political culture and it is weakening the social fabric
of Nepali society. President of Rastriya Janamoracha Nepal,
Lakhinder Shah, favored unitary state, decentralization of power,
Nepali language, parliamentary system and de-linking law from
politics. In contrast, Central Committee Member of Tarai Madhesh
Loktantrik Party Mrs Prabhasini Sing and Journalist Binaya Kumar
Lal Das both opposed unitary state, Nepali language as a lingua
franca, in favor of Hindi as a link language, federal autonomy
for Madhesh based on self-determination and citizenship rights.
But, Prabhasini added, "Reform should begin from the self."
To this Das added, "Educational curricula should be democratized
whereby citizens develop a sense of affinity and deference to
the state." Ram Sebak Singh, district politician, added
that in democracy politics is for citizenship and not citizenship
for political use. He said that without the fulfillment of basic
needs it would be difficult to nurture sovereign citizens capable
of exercising their own choice without outside interference.
He criticized NGOs as they do not foster civic education and
work for the alleviation of poverty despite huge money they
spend. The government should streamline their activities to
national priority areas. Many participants viewed that at a
time when elite standards in politics is spiraling down it is
important to make democratic values, ideas and institutions
vibrant to increase social trust and cooperation for the upliftment
of marginalized. Jagat Pasban of Dalit Janajati Party spoke
for the need to make constitution also for the poor rather than
just elite domination. Social protection is the key to empower
the poor and increate their interest in democratic polity.
Centrality of National Politics
"Political parties failed to include experts and competent
people in the CA and, therefore, the drafting of constitution
has become difficult," argued advocate Jagadish Lal Yadav.
Despite four years of signing the CPA both the Nepali Army and
Maoist People's Liberation Army are advertising for new recruitment.
This will add an obstacle to both constitution and peace process.
We should not have more than five federal states as citizens
do not have financial capacity to sustain. Another lawyer Sheikh
Kaimuddin defended proportional representation on the basis
of population. He asked why leaders aborted 6 constitutions
made by them in the past? Asok Singh Rajput argued that the
centrality of politics should be national interest and education
and economy should be attuned to serve this interest. Unfortunately,
leaders are not patriotic and they don't think about the people
working in agricultural sector, the soil is sobbing and the
people helpless. He added, "Political parties should organize
referendum on Hindu state, monarchy and federalism." Advocate
Ragho Yadav also stressed the need for reform in political culture
so that public interest should strengthen the state. Shiva Balak
Mahato of Rastriya Prajatantrik Nepal observed if women, children
Janajati, Madhesi and Adhibasi only think of "me first"
how can the pluralist heritage of the nation be preserved. Why
do we talk of group rights when they automatically come under
the rubric of human rights? He demanded a national commission
for the protection of culture, public trusts, temple and public
lands as they shape the values for nation-building. Ms. Laxmi
KC. (leader of Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum) said that Nepali
language should be the lingua franca of the nation as it has
provided national identity. Men should help women come into
public sphere and economic policies should address youth unemployment.
Many participants observed that formation of a constitutional
state is necessary to abolish the culture of violence into peace.
Culture of listening is one way to address grievances of various
groups including the armed ones and improve communication between
leaders and citizens. Harmonious state-society relations requires
mediating structures-public institutions, polices, access of
citizens to state resources and realization of their rights.
Political parties and civil society can play role in the rationalization
of society if factionalism they face is mitigated. Similarly,
electoral legitimacy should have primacy over others and abolish
the tradition of converting defeated leaders into key decision
makers. Likewise, they also demanded the transparency of the
governing process. Participants also viewed that only transparent,
accountable and democratic political parties should be allowed
to operate as they link the bottom with the top of society and
contribute to building constitutional state.