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Civic Education for Strengthening Relations between People and Local Self Governance

Seminar organized by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)

29 September 2010, Simara

Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies organized a discussion on civic education in Simara, Bara, in the central plains of Nepal on 29 September, 2010. The function, held in cooperation with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, was attended by a thickly packed audience, in the hall belonging to the village development committee office, consisting mostly of teachers, political workers, journalists and other luminaries of this small town that serves several neighbouring districts with an airport. Ganesh Poudel, a principal of the nearby higher secondary school, chaired the function.

In his inaugural address, NEFAS Executive Director Prof. Ananda Srestha said that his organization has been organizing academic debates on various issues of national concern ever since its establishment in 1990. He said that many such seminars have also been organized outside Kathmandu Valley. Professor Srestha asked the participants to be forthcoming in their comments as the outcome of the discussion would be published in book form.

C.D. Bhatta, representative of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, told the audience that his organization is working in 80 countries promoting ideals like freedom, equality, justice and solidarity. At a time when the nation was drafting a new constitution, people need to voice their concerns so that those concerns can be included by the drafters, he said. He added that only civic education could make people aware about their issues and the need to include them in the national documents.

Shivaraj Dahal's presentation followed the initial remarks by the organizers. He said that civic education is needed to transform the 'people' into 'citizens'. Citizens are aware of the issues that surround them and the leadership they catapult to power serves them well, Dahal said. But this is not happening in Nepal, he said, because of the lack of civic education. All the social deviations, political incompetence and governance anomalies are the result of the lack of civic sense among the political, business and civil societies, he said. Civic education is needed to change their behaviour so that people can enjoy peace and prosperity, according to Dahal.

The second presentation was on "Handbook of Democracy", a FES publication and executed by Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal. The book outlines and acts as a reference for people seeking information on the different dimensions of a democracy. Periodic elections, rule of law, free press, independent judiciary are some of the aspects of a democracy included in the handbook. Issues of local governance like federal rule are also included in the publication. Professor Dahal also explained to the people about different kinds of democracy, particularly the different between liberal democracy and social democracy.

Bedraj Acharya discussed some of the economic issues concerning Nepal. He talked about the need to have policies focusing on poverty alleviation. He said that there was a need for policymakers to shift the policy of selling primary goods to one that focuses on selling finished products. The nation would earn more remittance if the workers were trained before sending them abroad in foreign employment, Acharya said.

In spite of the packed audience in the mid-summer heat in the Nepalese plains, not many participants took part in commenting on the presentations. The few that did were more centered around the anomalies and differences seen among the different political forces that are bent on drafting a new constitution for Nepal. A participant said that the seminar would be more useful for the political leaders than people at the grassroots. The function came to a close with the chairman thanking all the participants and the organizers for making the function a success.

Excerpt of the seminar

Chair: Ganesh Poudel

Ananda Srestha's welcome address: Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies was established 20 years ago. Ever since then it has been organising seminars and workshops on issues of public importance. The outcome of those discussions are published. Those publications are used by universities today.

We believe that organising seminars only in Kathmandu is not too useful for our purpose of generating debates on issues of public importance. So we have been making the roundas in various parts of the country. It is in this context that we are here in Simara today.

The role of the younger generation is getting maginalised today. Recent Nepali Congress elections have shown an encouraging trend in that respect. Let us hope that the trend continues. Shivaraj Dahal and Prof Ram Kumar Dahal will be presenting papers for discussion. The papers are not complete in themselves. Your comments will be included in the final publication.

We are grateful to Friedrich Ebert Foundation for their continuous support to our programmes.

C.D. Bhatta: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung is a German foundation set up by the Social Democratic Party there. Each political party in Germany has its own foundation to promote their ideals.

Friedrich Ebert was a labour leader who became the first president of Germany. The gifts he was given by the people was turned into a fund to set up FES. FES works in over 80 countries today.

There has always been a conflict between justice and freedom. Our aim is to take both together, hand in hand. Only then can a nation progress. Our task is to get the poorer sections of the Nepalese into the society's mainstream by giving them justice. Only then can we make democracy strong and bring political stability.

Rule of law is also important for political stability. The higher echelons of the society do not abide by the law, the middle class does not care much about law and the law appears to be applied only to the lowest rungs of society. For political stability, rule of law should be applicable to all.

We need civic education to prevent the nation from disintegrating. We see the national identity disintegrated into various sub-national identities. There is a need to bring them together for national unity. Only civic education can help that happen.

We have had civic education since the Vedic era and it has continued to this day. What we need to do is to contextualize it to suit our needs of the day.

Other countries too have programmes for civic education. This is a political programme and it keeps the citizens informed. Political parties usually concentrate on developing cadres through political education. They too can contribute in making civic education widespread.

Shivaraj Dahal's presentation

Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal's presentation

Bedraj Acharya's lecture


Shiva Prasad Sharma Wagle: Your paper talked about national identity. Just recently, the election commission began distributing ID cards. The Madhesi people are saying that they will be deprived of Election ID cards as they do not have citizenship papers needed to acquire them. What does civic education say on this? Will the second or third generation settlers be allowed to vote or not?

Bhojraj Aryal: I hope you will take civic education to more parts of the country, particularly in the Madhes.

We have allowed many foreigners to settle in the name of loktantra. We gave them ID cards and Nepal is turning into a Fiji [where the local population was swamped by settlers]. How can we stop that? Can we repeal those citizenship papers? Otherwise, we will all be displaced in the future. What are academics doing in this regard?

Prem Baral: The paper was more on people's relations with the centre and not with the local government. Because of the difficulties we are going through today, I feel that we can only create awareness at the local level.

The focus of your presentation was whether people got the fruits of their political movements and the like.

You also talked about democratic failure because people have had to rise up time and again for democracy. The movements have only been able to raise political issues. The aftermath has never been able to institutionalise the democracy that was ushered in. Where did we miss out?

You talked about economic inequalities undermining democracy. At the moment, we are devising a loktantrik constitution. But the problem is that loktantra has been defined differently by different parties.

Communists point out the economic gaps and say that they are being translated into political instability. Without ending the trend of marginalizing the people's access to national resources, the gaps may never be filled.

Depak Bhatta: You did not give us the recommendations, only the diagnosis of the problems.

Shiva Prasad Wagle: You said that you have started holding functions outside Kathmandu Valley, please go to more such areas.

Have you ever organised similar functions in the capital? I suggest that you teach the political leaders the value of civic education as they are too citizens. May be then we will have politicians who elect a prime minister for us.

Shivaraj Dahal's reply

We first organized seminars on civic education in Kathmandu and then we went to places like Palpa and Ilam. We were suggested that we must take the function to more places. We are doing that. Regarding the function in Kathmandu, as you suggest, FES, not us, held a programme for the 601 Constituent Assembly members some time ago. The result of such efforts is there for all of you to see.

Regarding citizenship, I think that only Nepalese citizens should get the election IDs. Those who have the card, but are not citizens, should have them returned. The Election Commission should not register political parties that are ethnicity or region oriented.

Loktantra will not last long by only paying lip service. If capital and labour get displaced by political problems, then we will have more problems that we have today. Promoting brain drain will not retain loktantra. National sovereignty is being marginalised. There is no security, people are being displaced. If the plainspeople lean on India and the mountain folks depend on China, then the country will be in a terrible situation. If loktantra is lost, like it did in the past, we have brought it back, but the same will not happen if the country is gone. It will have gone forever.

Regarding failure state, a state fails if there is corruption and attempts are geared towards weakening the leadership and rule of law. Society is divided into caste, religion and language. A failing leadership, if allowed to continue for a long time, leads to failed states.

Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal: Your were right when you say that the local level can only indulge in awareness campaigns.

Regarding access to natural resources and its exploitation, and the drafting of the constitution, we should be able to address all our issues before the constitution is drafted. Otherwise, the constitution will be burnt by one or the other discontented group as soon as it is drafted. The political parties should at least arrive at a consensus on vital national issues.

There is a huge debate about citizenship papers going to the wrong people. But there was a national consensus while giving those papers. An all-party committee was consulted before handing them out. I think all the parties that were there to distribute the papers should be held responsible. Election ID cards without citizenship papers may bring complexities. Only Nepalese nationals should be allowed to vote. Maybe, we need to provide the papers only to actual Nepalese nationals.

Chairperson Ganesh Ghimire's remarks: I thank all the participants for their patience and NEFAS' efforts in organising the function in this part of the country.

Obviously, we as humans should be able to use our brains for ourselves before doing so for others. We should make improvements at the local level on our own. We know the problem at the national level. At the national level, we face a situation where politicians have not even been able to elect a prime minister. The different sectors of society, politics and economy are all polarized by remaining aligned to one or the other political party.

We saw 104 years of Rana rule when people had no education. Then came multiparty democracy, but it was only chaos, after that the Panchayat system, we still had no development. People revolted again in 1990 and we have not been able to get anything since then. We are even debating about whether we have a citizenship at all. This is a pathetic situation even for the average Nepalese.

Civic education is more important at the grassroots as it helps collect information at the local level so that it can be taken to the policy level.

I thank NEFAS for holding the seminar on such an important topic. We, the people at then local, level must unite so that we can do something.

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