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Seminar Report on Initiative for State-building and Constitutional Dynamics

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

(4-5 July) Terathum, (6-7 July) Biratnagar


Introduction

Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES) Nepal office recently organised two day seminar in Tehrathum (4-5th July) and Biratnagar, Morang district (6-7th July) on state-building and constitutional dynamics in Nepal. There were 100 plus participants in both the districts with significant number of female participants. In both the districts, the programme was attended by the leaders of all political parties, members of civil society, civil servants, lawyers, lecturers, teachers, students, journalists, bureaucrats, security officials and other stake-holders of the society. In Tehrathum, Chief District Officer Sita Ram Karki and District Judge of Tehrathum Guna Raj Dhungel also spoke in the inaugural session.

The objective of this seminar was to educate local political leaders/civil society activists on issues pertaining to state-building and constitutional dynamics in Nepal. Speaking in the inaugural session CDO Karki said that programmes like this help to shape public opinion which in turn can contribute to build modern responsive states. He further said that we need to have coordination between production and distribution if we really wanted to uphold the notion of social justice. He also emphasised that while writing constitution we have to bear local context (Nepali context) in mind merely floating the idea of doctrine of necessity will not help the state to move forward. Speaking at the end of inaugural session judge Dhungel said that we have to let the people know as what state is, what state-restructuring is, what the different models of governance and other concept are so that citizens at large take part in this historic debate significantly.

Speaking in the inaugural session, and setting the scene for discussion, Chandra D Bhatta, Programme Officer of FES said state didn't collapse in Nepal, however, it has failed to create authority as its authority has been shifted to political parties and their sister organisations, non-state armed actors and to some extent even to the individual leaders who play prominent role in national politics but failed to provide political stability. As a result, Nepali state's authority has been diluted and is on the verge of losing Weberian legitimacy in all spheres. The classic example of this crisis in legitimacy can be manifested from the gradual withdral by Village Development Secretaries (VDCs) across the country from their location citing security reasons. In addition to this, he further said that, there have been intermittent political changes in the country but they were only cosmetic primarily due to the fact that the agenda of change propelled by the masses has been hijacked by the elites from the political parties and their leader who, in turn, later compelled to co-opt with the former primarily because political parties lack the desired power/knowledge/ for the change whereas elites do not want to change. This tendency has not brought any positive change in a society and people at large lost their confidence both on state and system. So unless and until we do not restore the legitimacy of the state (people's confidence on state institutions) and translate people's agendas of social, political and economic transformation into action justice cannot be ensured. Moreover, under these circumstances Nepal is bound to face another political crisis. Finally, we really need to establish democracy that is more substantive and change oriented than procedural, said Bhatta. He further pointed out that social change in Nepal has been postponed primarily because of the non-implementation of the laws and by laws.

Speaking in the closing ceremony Prof. Bhesh Raj Dhamala said that we have to differentiate whether democracy is system or process. It is a process but since we are a late starter we could take it as a system and transform later in the process. Democratisation is never ending process and all the countries, even those who claim democratic, are also in the process of further democratisations. Therefore democracy is a process which ensures people's accessibility in the activities of the state.

Proceedings

There were three papers presented by Senior Journalist Yuba Raj Ghimire on State, Senior Constitutional Expert Kashi Raj Dahal on Constitution and Chandra D Bhatta on Democracy and Civic Education. Presenting his paper Yuba Raj Ghimire said that we cannot have civil state without people's effective participation. The main objective of democracy is to empower people but in our context only "leaders" are strong but both state and citizens are weak. In fact political change should have served the interest of nation and its people rather than serving the interest of few individuals. The constitutional amendment can be done but people's mandate could not be changed without consulting them.

But political leaders have dropped people's mandate for positive change in society and have jumped into power politics. The political discourse has taken politics of negation that exists in our all political parties. For example Prachanda, Dr Bhattarai, Sher Bahadur Deuba, Ram Chandra, Jhalnath Khanal, Madhav Nepal all of them negate each other. During the people's movement of 2062/63 monarchy negated political parties and thereafter political parties are negated monarchy. Now political leaders are negating people's active participation in the political process. After the movement people have minimal participation in the political process as we result it appears that people at large have become citizens of the political parties rather than being the citizen of the state. The classic example is three major issues (federalism, monarchy and secularism) were decided in advance by the few individuals without taking consent of popular voices. It showed that there was some sort of individual vested interest behind this approach and gradually which ultimately resulted in the loss of people's ownership on state and its institutions said Ghimire. There has been a mere negative acceptance by the people on these issues, which should have been decided by the upcoming constitution. How can we guarantee that federalism will be better than unitary system asked Ghimire? There are no bases for this. He further said that constitution is not dynamic it has to be operated by the people and those who operate it should keep people in the centre. The tendency to disown 'unsuccessful' and claim every 'success' will lead us nowhere said Ghimire. People's issues were rarely discussed in the CA over the two year time. He said that the journalism as a profession in Nepal has become partisan and has been blackmailed by those who are in power and also those who operate media houses. Journalism and journalists have been used to promote the business interests of media owners who have multiple interests with multiple stake holding. The tenure of CA has been extended by one year but no attempt has been made to explain how constitution will be written within that stipulated time-frame, if at all it is going to be written. No dearth was made why they have failed to write constitution within the given time-frame. This showed that Nepal political classes do not feel the need of being accountable to the people (the sovereigns). By contrast, attempt has been made to rebuild a state without people and history. What has been done, in contrast, is to develop slogans tailored to meet the demand of political parties and interest group which is inevitable and easy in a society like ours which is poverty stricken mainly due to inability of political leaders. This has resulted in the crisis in citizenship building.

The cumulative effect of all these have created constitutional as well as political vacuum in the country due to which the external interference increased dramatically over the years. Both China and India, followed by other international powers, showed keen interest on Nepal's domestic politics argued Ghimire. While elaborating China-India factors, Ghimire argued that like India China also came heavily and presented her views forcefully with Nepali state. China now is of the view that whatever interest India has in Nepal, we, too, have the same interests and thus wanted to treaty and agreements signed with Nepal at par with.

The need of the hour is to create central authority of the said Ghimire. Democracy is not a level its behavoiur of the state towards people said Ghimire. People at large, who are dynamic, are the elements of the state and state should realise/respect this dynamism through the political actors.

He pointed out that the popular movement of 2062/63 was waged to end all sorts of authoritarianism but with the rise of power centered individualistic and group politics we are caught up in the same cycle. He further said that the common purpose of the movement of 2062/2063 should have been explained, understood and implemented collectively by all the actors but that has not been the case due to which we have not been able to bring about the necessary change desired by the people through movement into action.

Presenting his paper constitutional expert Kashi Raj Dahal said that the upcoming constitution should address the issues of the people living in the rural areas and emphasis should be given on education, science and technology, economic development so that people at large feel ownership towards constitution. He also explained about the different models of constitution and emphasised that we need to develop the model that serves our interest most. Likewise Chandra D Bhatt explained about the components of democracy, civil society and other issues.

Discussion

Ramesh Niraula said that said that in Nepal we could not make distinction between leader, party workers and citizen due to over politicisation of society. He asked what type of economic policy would serve our interests. Ram Narayan Dhungana of Nepali Congress said that federal states should be crafted on the recommendation received from the state restructuring commission and such recommendation should be approved by the CA . He also suggested that federal state should be crafted on north-south wise. He further said that Nepali Congress does not believe right to self-determination and right to prior use. He pointed out that forming "ethnic groups" is the product of 2062/2063 movement wherein Maoist floated this agenda during the insurgency period merely to woo support from the ethnic groups. But now it has become very difficult to have safe-landing of this idea.

Kishore Chandra Dulal demanded that the constitution should be drafted within the extended timeframe. He suggested that state restructuring should be done on the scientific basis and we have to take various factors such as geography, economic condition, availability of the resources and composition of the people into consideration. We should promote economy by taking state investment, private sector and cooperatives together. Raghu Gautam of UCPN (Maoist) said that we have to analyse our past objectively and delve into serious discussion as why do we need the constitution, didn't we have constitution earlier. Perhaps the reason to have new constitution primarily lies with the fact that the past constitutions failed to provide political stability in the country and parliamentary system of governance was the major factor behind this. He also said that we need to focus on the model of democracy as per the need of our society; perhaps, we need to adopt the model of democracy which can address fault lines of our society and system. Renuka Bhattarai from UML said that we should not have ethnic state and promote vocational education. Surya Limbu (Mohan) of UCPN(Maoist) said that we have to clearly define who "citizens" are and have to instill people's ownership on the state. We should initiate land reform and there should not be absentee land. We should provide special rights to women, dalits and other marginalised groups who are historically left behind by the state or for any other reasons whatsoever. The state should adopt common social policy in all areas of public concern.

Prem Raj Tumbahamphe underlined the need of federal autonomy and there should be 12 states altogether. Chhetra Rimal of INSEC argued that we should increase the size of intellectuals who are politically independent so that they can contribute wherever there is a political crisis. Bhawani Khapung said that right to self-determination should not be equated with state disintegration and political parties should not engage in power politics. Kapil Dev Limbu have appealed for the political stability in the country and democratisation is required in each and every aspect of state affairs/institutions for the meaningful transformation of society. We need to focus to develop accountable public delivery institutions. Ishwar Basnet of UCPN (Maoist) said that common understand of issues will address our problems. Properties of those who rule the state and those of political parties should be nationalized and anti-state parties have to be banned. Subash Niraula said that we should have federal states on the basis of economic viability of the would be federal state. .

Bishnu Subedi was of the view that referendum should decide the fate of federalism. The need of the hour is to establish democratic political culture in our society. If we could do that we can have any system that we deem necessary for our development said Subedi. Govinda Raj Shrestha of Nepal National Teachers Association (NTA) has said that we have promoted loot system over the years rather than having right person in the right place. For the cheap popularity, we have floated some anti-state agenda such as federalism, secularism and republicanism without consulting it with the real stake-holders (the citizens).

Dr. Surya Sangraula , Associate Professor, opined that we need politics based on compromise that can be instrumental in establishing political stability. He argued that 601 CA members have lost their legitimacy therefore civil society and intellectuals should be active and take the lead role in political process. Dr Devi Bahadur Thapa, Associate Professor, 1990s constitution failed to deliver despite having democratic contents on it. The state itself will be in crisis if the upcoming constitution fails to deliver as per the people's aspirations. Political parties lack honesty and desire to come into action. We have to promote agriculture, water resources and foreign assistance to move forward. Indira Prasai, Lecturer Political Science, said that the time has come for civil society to pressure political parties and bring them into the common platform like in the 2062/063 movement. There is an urgent need for the establishment of Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The model of federalism and model of governance should be decided by the civil society. The integration process should not be influenced by the political parties.

Damodar Koirala, Secretary, Nepal Taruan Dal, argued that we have to be very clear as which political philosophy will guide the constitution writing process - Marxist, liberal nationalist or socialist and what type of political philosophy would be suitable for Nepal. Prof. Devi Panthi also emphasised of having politics based on consensus. He blamed that American hegemony after 1960 is engaged in dismantling in social harmony by promoting NGOs and INGOs as a result there has been heavy external influence on civil society and this civil society is engaged in promoting citizenship without rights.

Surya Naryan Yadav suggested that we have to reflect on as why federalism as a system has been promoted in Nepal. We have to have one education system for all. He said that we moved towards prajatantrra due to inconvenience caused by Ranarchy, in the same vein, we moved towards loktantra due to the inconvenience caused by prajatantra and now the question arises where are we going to head when this loktantra also fail to deliver. It appears that state itself is on the verge of collapse thanks to loktantra.

Hari Krishna Shrestha, Historian, was of the view that state should provide education, employment and health facilities to its people and we have to empower state to address rising expectations of the people.

Kumar Acharya, Associate Professor, said that we have to very specific about the fact that for whom are we writing this constitution, that is, for 601 CA members or for the common rural folks. Those 601 CA members who have responsibility to write constitution will never, and had never in the past, upheld constitutional values, those who are living in the villages (poor farmers) and lower middle class have been always abided by the law/constitution (whether it was democratic or undemocratic) and the class in between (upper middle class) is ready take anything (opportunist class) that comes on the way. This class is not worried about constitution as it does not need it because it can survive without it. Elites have been floating their own agendas. This is an important question that needs to be looked into. He further argued that we have been ignoring the contribution made by those who played crucial role in building the modern Nepal. The constitution writing process has been heavily loaded by the vested interest. We have to stop blaming political leaders; we are also equally responsible for this political mess.

Shravan Kumar of UCPN (Maoist) argued that we have bring Nepal Army under civilian control because it not been under civilian control since 1950. We have to bring army closer to the people. Merely integrating combatants into army will not solve our problem. UCPN (Maoist) is the major agent of change we should take its assistance in writing the constitution and the need of the hour is to accept agendas of change floated by UCPN (Maoist) or provide alternatives that can bring change in a society.

Prof. Bhesh Prasad Dhamala, Ex Registrar of Purbanchal University, said that we need to have the common voice and agenda that is, agenda of writing constitution in time. Politics is voluntary not a profession. We have to strengthen social cohesion as it united society

Purusottam Nepal, Lawyer, asked do we really need civil society. If the political system based on freedom, equally and security is rooted, for sure, we can have political stability. Shanti (advocate) said that NGOs and INGOs have advocated too many rights but never advocated to boost the capacity of the state. Narayan Prasad Dhital asked how we can have modern state. Could we completely eliminate "class"? Civil society should carry people's agenda. There is a great deal of crisis in sovereignty.

Conclusion

Only informed citizens can have effective participation in the polity. The conclusion of these two seminars generates some important question, that is, merely floating radical agendas will not serve our problems. They have to be matched with our context otherwise people express their anti political sentiment. The political radicalism has sustained our conflict and resulted in the weak state and citizen but strong political leaders. If we wanted change than it has to be realised by the people at large and mere adopting procedural democracy will not work. In fact both procedural and substantive democracy should go hand in hand. Likewise, the spirit of movement, which is to empower people, of 2062/2063 should not be deserted left at the mercy of political leaders. By and large, almost 25 percent participants actively participated in the seminars and they wanted to have responsive state that attempt to address all sorts of rights. But the challenge is how we do that.

 
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