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Democratic Socialism in Nepalese Perspective

Organised by Martyrs' Memorial Foundation (MMF)

26-27 May 2011, Kathmandu

Ritu Raj Subedi
Associate Editor
The Rising Nepal
riturajsubedi@yahoo.com


Nepal's first democratically elected Prime Minister and noted thinker BP Koirala developed 'Democratic Socialism' in 50s with the Nepalese characteristics. He took inspiration from many western thinkers such as Herald J Laski and others in propounding and defining this political-cum economic philosophy in the local context. But, with the collapse of socialist blocks in early 90s, socialism lost much of its fire in Europe and elsewhere. Market and liberal values have been dominant in politics and economy for many decades. However, the recent crisis in the capitalistic economy that swept through across the globe justified the relevance of socialism and its continued existence.

Today the term democratic socialism is popular in certain section of political spectrum. Nepali Congress that follows liberal and democratic values, still defends democratic socialism as one of the tenets of the party though it failed to pursue it vigorously while in power. Nonetheless, socialism is well accepted phraseology in Nepal because of overwhelming presence of communist forces. The idea continues to catch the fancy of the people from different hues - Leftists, centrists and liberalists. They only differ on the adoption of programmes and policies to implement the idea. This has been a recurrent theme in the academic and political debates. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a Nepal-based German political foundation, has been promoting the idea of democratic socialism. As a part of its policy, the FES sponsored Sahid Smriti Pratisthan (Martyr Memorial Academy) to host a two-day seminar on 'Democratic Socialism in Nepalese Perspective' in Lalitpur from May 26 to 27. The leaders from three major political parties, which are also the key players in the ongoing peace and constitution writing processes, were invited in the event. They held a unanimous view that the new constitution should embrace the spirit of socialism. They concurred that there should be Nepali-version of social democracy that should incorporate the rich tradition of local knowledge, cultures and civilizations being practiced since the ancient time.

Opening Session

Sahid Smriti Pratisthan general secretary Khila Nath Dahal chaired the opening session that saw the attending leaders putting forth their views in candid manner. The interesting point is that they shunned the rancorous and cacophonous jibes they often resort to in the public forums. To the satisfaction of audiences, the leaders demonstrated their high level of tolerance and listened to each other. There was sober, cordial and friendly atmosphere that is rarely found in the other occasions when they defend for their conflicting claims. The attending leaders, who represented the second-generation leadership, agreed to adopt democratic socialism with the elements of inclusiveness and social justice in their party policies, programmes and new constitution to build Nepal a new.

'Democratic Socialism, common ideological base'

Nepali Congress leader Bimaledra Nidhi said that democratic socialism, which blends the virtues of both capitalism and communism, had become an acceptable form of political system locally and globally.

He said that many parties have made democratic socialism as their guideline.

Stating that no one will halt the wind of change, Nidhi called for linking federalism, secularism and electoral system with democratic socialism.

Nidhi prefers terminology 'democratic socialism' to 'social democracy', citing that all rational beings yearn for democracy, which reflects common spirit of socio-political movements.

"Democratic socialism needs to be defined and interpreted as per the contexts and requirements of the nation. It differs from country to country. For example, China defines its system as free market socialism," he added.

The NC leader there was the need to engage the whole society in the statute making process. He asked the Maoists giving up their bellicose mood and desire for the possession of arms and armies. "The Maoist obsession with violence and confrontational politics continues to be there despite their entry into peaceful and democratic system.

UML politburo member Pradeep Gyawali said that there was barely ideological debate among the parties, which are swayed by the immediate political interests and least concerned with values and ideals having long term impacts on the society.

There should be meaningful discussion as to which philosophy the state should adopt and how the federal units be carved out as the nation is passing through turbulent transition, he noted.

Gyawali emphasized that the relevance of redistributive social justice continued even today.

Referring to global political upheaval of 1990, he said that the collapse of socialist system in Russia and Eastern Europe propelled some to declare that the conflict of ideologies came to an end and the market economy emerged as the ultimate truth.

"However, the 2008 economic crisis which led billionaires to bankrupt reasserted the role of state and importance of socialism," said Gyawali.

He said that the 1990 democratic change failed to bring about socio-economic transformations. "Rather it grew disparity among the people. Now the number of haves and haves-not are 10 per cent and 55 per cent respectively, which in turn gave rise to conflict."

He called for serious dialogue to churn out a new model of socialism for Nepal so that the fruits of democracy could be taken to the grassroots. "Socialism we will embrace in the future must be of democratic face and Nepali character. We must give farewell to the tendency of carrying neo-liberal agenda in the name of democracy. Social justice should be keystone of new political set-up."

Maoist leader Barsa Man Pun said that the historic 12-point agreement that brought the parliamentary and the Maoist forces together was the fusion of reformist and radical agenda.

"The key debate of the present time is: which political system we adopt in the new constitution. Contemporary politics presents unique scenario in which the communist forces recognize pluralism and the democrats the social justice," he Pun.

He noted that the Maoists have adopted multi-party democracy and the non-Maoist forces need to be ready to give proper place to dalits, women and marginalised communities.
Stating that the new constitution should emerge as the meeting point of two divergent ideologies, he underlined that the future political system should imbue the local and global dimensions of democracy that reflects essence of social justice and diversity.

Pun said that the ideological differences among the parties obstructed the peace and statute writing processes. The Maoist leader called for finding common ground for power sharing, the peace and statute writing processes.

Socialist thinker Dhundi Raj Sastri pointed out the need of focusing on the poor and rural economy for the creation of just society.

Sastri appreciated the political opinions of three leaders from three different parties and said, referring to them, "If you were the top leaders of the respective parties, the country would not have been entangled in the petty issues and bickering."

Sastri, who is also a veteran socialist thinker, said that change should happen on the basis of ideological power, not at the gun-point.

The economic inequality continues to grow even after 1990 change as the successive governments failed to adopt the socialistic economy, he said and added that he had been continuously pushing for the socialistic agenda but his pleas were lost in the wilderness.

Social Democracy to overcome deficits of liberalism: Dahal

FES-Nepal head Dev Raj Dahal said that social democracy emerged to overcome the flaws of libertarian democracy and centralized forms of governance. According to him, social justice was the cornerstone of social democracy, which aimed at transforming the lives of millions of Nepalese by bringing the power of capital, state and workers in mutual adjustment. "Justice at social, ecological and inter-generational level is an essential component of social democracy."

Dahal offers some insights on the policy premises of social democracy:

  • Institutional implementation of freedom and social justice in relations to the equality of social, economic and political life.
  • Establishment of a right-based welfare state
  • Regulated social market of economy wherein capital and labour have equal stake
  • Delivery of public goods through market mechanism, redistributive state power and voluntary organizations
  • Democratic socialization of citizens through political parties, media and civil society.
  • Reduction of negative effects of globalization that erodes ecology and productive potentials of the poor.

"However, the ideals of social democracy cannot be achieved for all citizens under the conditions of social and economic inequality and abject poverty," he added.

He noted, "To enable democratic conditions, the Nepalese people of various positions require suitable contextual policies for equitable and just distributions of resources through a thriving public sector, gainful employment and a support to welfare state."

On the debate, whether the term 'democratic socialism' or 'social democracy' provides better meaning to the essence of the terminology, Dahal, also a political scientist, suggests using 'social democracy.' He argued that society, which came into existence prior to democracy, is the permanent phenomenon compared to democracy. "So, the terminology 'social democracy' sounds better that 'democratic socialism'."

To resolve global food, energy, finance and ecological crises, Dahal calls for democratic accountability in international institutions and a sound partnership of the state, market, civil society groups and global economic and political regimes.

Sahid Smriti Pratisthan general secretary Khilanath Dahal said that the parties ignored martyrs and the injured of democratic movements.

Dahal said that the new constitution should able to realise the dream of martyrs.

He informed that the Pratisthan was effortful to set up a martyr park and keep the account of all martyrs across the country.

Day One

First Session

National Planning Commission member Professor Amuda Shrestha presented her working paper entitled 'Women's Participation and Accountability in Social Movement' in the first session chaired by NC treasurer and woman leader Chitra Lekha Yadav. NC lawmaker Pushpa Bhusal commented her paper.

Women, political movements interlinked

Professor Shrestha said that the women movement had not moved on separate line but grew as an integral part of part of political upheavals.

"The women activists who are at the frontline of the movements since the last more than six decades consider that the situation of the women will not improve until the overall political system is transformed," she said.

Shrestha said that the social movements, which aligned with the political one, provided women with voting and education rights.

She threw a historical glance at the evolutions of the Nepalese women movements that took institutional shape in 1947 with the formation of Nepal Women Association, an offshoot of civil rights campaign.

Shrestha said that the Nepalese women were facing indiscrimination in health and employment and had little access to the key political decisions making platforms.

She presented important data showing gender disparity as well as progress in the social, economic, judicial, parliamentary and administrative sectors.

"The historic Constituent Assembly which has around 32.77 per cent women representation is the big achievement for the women compared to other areas that show little or no representation of women," she added.

She said that the political parties were the key instrument in the multiparty democracy as they had a say in the executive, legislative and policy formulation, law enforcement and decision making fields. "So, they should be naturally accountable to the women participation and empowerment."

According to her, the Nepalese women movement, in the beginning, was united and no ideological differences came to crack it. But, with the passage of time there emerged reformist and radical lines - some argued that the women could get their rights through reformist programmes while others insisted on the drastic measures to alleviate the conditions of women.

"With the advent of multiparty democracy in 1990, myriad of women organizations came into existence for the women emancipation and equality. Currently, there are four streams of women movement - liberal, socialist, ultra and ethnic-based. Each of them sees other as rivals. Such a tendency might weaken the struggle for equal gender rights," she added.

Urging for continued fights to restore the women rights, she suggested that new struggle should be carried out under the theme of the social movement for gender equality instead of calling it the movement for the women participation.

"The women's rights have not been fully established as the women folks have little access to resources and means while there are massive discriminations in the division of labour," she noted.

She said that all the individuals as well as organizations, which are directly or indirectly involved in social transformation, had to bear responsibility and accountability to the women movements.

Comments

Commenting her paper, Bhusal said that it had linked the Nepalese women movement with socio-economic transformations.

She said that patriarchal mindset had dominated the society. Stating that the definition of loktantra had changed with the passage of time, she noted that it has become inclusive and participatory, and mainstreamed the dalits and marginalized communities.

"The paper seeks building violence free and corruption free society," she added.

Bhusal said that there had been long debate whether they had to give priority to producing women leaders or focusing on women policy. "It is an illusion that exploitations and discriminations of women end once the female folks attain leadership status and reach decision making places. Now, we need women friendly policy with clear commitment and solidarity from all sides." She, however, said that it was imperative for women to be at decision-making levels to implement pro-women programmes and policies. She also called for modifying the strategy to ensure women rights.

Lal Babu Yadav said that women's mere representation in the politics could not ensure the women's rights. "What they need is their access to resources and means. This is because only a few numbers of them have access to the resources.'

Sushila Mishra said that the women history was the history of silence. "So, they should brace to break silence." Mishra said that male members were not alone responsible for the plight of women. 'The women have also played their role to ingrain patriarchal cultures."

Peshal Niraula said that the paper undermined the positive sides of history and raised its negative aspects only.

"There have been many gains the women movements achieved in the past," he said and added that the Nepali society was highly spiritualistic but the paper only mentioned the materialistic data to prove her logic.

"For example, when pundit Din Bandhu Aryal delivers sermons in Yagya, a fire sacrifice religious ceremony, hundreds of devotees gathers and donates million of rupees for building schools and hospitals. But, this will not be the case when Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai, a noted intellectual-cum-politician, holds a function for similar purpose."

He suggested that the women activists should pay attention to education for daughters instead of staking claim to the parental property to ensure women's rights in the real sense.

In her response, paper presenter Shretha said that they needed to frame proper policies and implement them effectively so that the women would enjoy rights at par with their male counterpart.

From the chair, Chitra Lekha Yadav said that the nation's resources and power had not been properly mobilized for the cause of women that constitutes the half of the total population.

She called for evaluating the achievements of the past and analyzing the objectives of the coming women movements.

Dwelling on the Beijing summit on women, she said that it was a landmark meet of women that reversed the topic from the world conference on women to the women conference on the world.

She noted that the women joined the political movements because of their responsibility to the society.

Yadav, who rose to prominence from the rank, said that democracy was a journey for forward-looking changes.

"The social and political institutions must be transparent, accountable and pluralistic," she said.

Defining the term 'leadership', Yadav said that it contains three elements - protection, direction and order but nowadays the essence of this leadership was in crisis.

Second Session

Former president of Nepal Teachers Union Keshav Prasad Bhattarai presented his working paper 'Contemporary Nepalese Politics and Some Contexts of Democratic Socialism.' Bhattarai said that democratic socialism evolved to ensure justice, equality, freedom, esteem, and prosperity to all. It promises to resolving conflict of different sorts for the permanent peace, development and contentment for all members of the society. It is a philosophy as well as programme, he added. "It follows appropriate policy to balance and check between individual and social rights."

'Democratic Socialism manages human greed'

Bhattarai said the human's unending greed has led to the continuous destruction of natural and man-made creations, and the world is being transformed into self-destructive form.

"If we fail to manage human's unbridled avarice, the world is likely to see its doom by the end of this century, and democratic socialism attempts to check and manage this evil of mankind," he added.

Bhattarai offers following suggestions to establish democratic socialism:

  • By improving and changing policy and leadership,
  • By creating and promoting a strong, independent, socially and ecologically accountable and just market system,
  • By chalking out policy and programmes to ensure minimum economic and social security; and making basic material development infrastructure and facilities avail for all,
  • By creating mutual cooperation and balance between environment and development,
  • By maintaining political, economic and social stability,
  • By maintaining governance and enhancing state's capacity,
  • By modernizing political parties and key governance structures, army, police, civil service, and by putting mechanisms in place to make these institutions accountable to the people,
  • By increasing the effectiveness of press, supreme court and civil society,
  • By creating mechanisms to make international development partner nations and organizations responsible to the both nations, the countries of their origin and working fields as well.

Bhattarai noted that all citizens must have their active participation in the governance system, units of political parties and decision-making forums.

"It is necessary for all stakeholders to have their ownership of as well as contribute to the economic, human and political capitals for democratic socialism," he said.

On the economic side of democratic socialism, he said that the government should be involved in the production of basic goods and services, and the management of such mechanisms needs to be selected on the basis of collective decision of the people.

'Weak state can't be a welfare state'

Bhattarai said that it was nothing more than a mirage to expect from the country, which is on the wane and losing its capacity to collect tax, to act as a welfare state, a major characteristic democratic socialism. "To press the state to fulfill the role of welfare state is to further weaken and push it towards dissolution. It is more important to make the state capable and effective than to expect from it. It is a foolishness and hypocrisy to demand strong social security from the weak state."

Bhattarai suggested that the government should create opportunity for the private sector for the sufficient production and profit so that the government can raise tax and strengthen national coffer, thereby, meeting the provisions of welfare state.

Comments

Commenting on Bhattarai's paper, NC leader Dr. Prakash Saran Mahat said that there was still the relevance of democratic socialism that stresses economic equality and political freedom side by side. He said that Bhattarai' paper amply highlighted the thrust of democratic socialism, which he said, attempted to save democracy from extreme rightist and leftist elements.

Taking part in the floor discussion, the participants said that it was difficult to implement the ideals of democratic socialism when neo-liberal agenda had taken prominence place in the programmes and policies of the parties and the government. Some of them doubted that the NC was really carrying the principles of democratic socialism.

Day Two

First Session

In the first session of the second day of seminar, CPN-UML leader Shankar Pokharel was expected to deliver his views on 'Peace Process and Constitution Building: Opportunities and Challenges' but he could not turn up because of Nepal banda (nationwide strike). The organizer invited Dev Raj Dahal, head of Nepal FES Office, to take the mike. Dahal spoke on wide range of contemporary topics ranging from peace-building, conflict resolution to the role of civil society and media during transition phase.

Dahal called for peaceful resolution of conflicts to protect hard-won democratic gains of the past, stating that the peaceful methods foster political dialogue and compromise among the different interest groups.

He identified three types of conflict in Nepal:

Interest-based Conflict: The persons or groups fighting for the fulfillment of their interests primarily seek distributional justice to end discriminations. This type of conflict is resolved through compromise, mutually advantageous bargain and sharing of scarce resources. Dahal said that women and men, landless and landowners, young and old, Dalit and upper castes, workers and employers are involved in the interest-based conflict, which will get a way out when the 'rules of the game' are changed for the common interest of all.

Ideology-based Conflict: The conflict over the certain social, economic and political philosophy and policy is known as ideology-based one. An inclusive and negotiated constitution will provide solution to the diversity of ideological identities of the different political groups and organizations.

Identity-based Conflict: The ethnic, indigenous, Madhesi and other minority people's conflict is termed as identity-based one. They want that the state would recognize their dignity, values and ideas, which they said, the rulers undermined in the past. In addition to this, they have staked claim to the resources and more say in the policy and decision making levels at the centre. This type of conflict is highly intractable as actors in the conflict deny the legitimate interests and position of others and maximize their own.

Dahal was of the views that post-republican Nepal needed to enhance the people's access to resources, and check extra-constitutional claims to power, erosion of legitimate monopoly on the state, and ensure good governance.

Second Session

Min Bishwokarma, NC central committee member, presented his working paper entitled 'Social Democracy and Issues of Inclusiveness' in which he underlined that democracy and development are complementary with each other.

"The feelings of every segment of society can't sprout in the absence of democracy. Equality has no meaning if there were not freedom of individual or community. In similar manner, justice has no relevance in the dearth of freedom and equality. Therefore, for democracy to be sustainable, the politicization of democracy alone is not enough; there must be socialization of democracy," he said.

He said that democracy is a method that needs to be intensively discussed among the concerned stakeholders; important decisions should be made among from them and conducive atmosphere should be created to implement the decisions. "This process involving debate on method, decision making and implementation is known as socialization of democracy."

He said that reservation system that is an important means of achieving inclusiveness calls for formulating 'unequal policy among the inequalities' to uplift weak castes, classes, communities and regions by enhancing their participation, empowerment and ensuring equality respect and co-existence. 'The reservation is a right, not a mercy bestowed upon the marginalized people. It is a means, not an end. Neither does it of permanent nature."

He said that the welfare state should adopt affirmative action or positive discrimination in the favor of backward community.

To implement the reservation, there should be two approaches - for the participation and inclusiveness in the decision-making process of the excluded or discriminated community, top to bottom approach should be applied because conscious persons should be sent to the decision-making platform, he said.

However, to ensure the access of such people to the fields of education, health, employment and administration, bottom to top approach is necessary because these people lagged behind in the above fields as they were deprived of opportunities in the abovementioned areas, he said.

Bishwokarma further noted that inclusiveness adds perfection to democracy. "This is for those who were excluded in the past."

Comments

Commenting on his paper, many of the participants raised question whether the aggressive policy of inclusiveness adopted by the state would give a birth to new kind of exclusion and discriminations in the society. Some suggested that the paper presenter should implement his ideas in his own party so that it would have positive impact on other areas. Some other stressed the need to eradicate the 'untouchability' and indiscrimination prevalent among the dalit people themselves.

Bhimsen Ghimire stressed on the behavioral change and false traditions to bring the excluded community into the mainstream.

Some women participants asked to specify the women who are more exploited than other women folks are. The women, especially from dalit and ethnic community, face the social, cultural and economic exclusion than those hailing from upper castes, she said. Kedar Dahal said that Bishwokarma needed to take up the issue within his own party. Ganga Giri drew the attention of the meeting to the rights of daily wage earners in the new statute. Uttam Parajuli, however, stood against the idea of reservation, citing that it would trigger conflict among the people because it is based on the principle of sharing the state opportunities among the certain groups.

Replying to the queries, Bishwokarma said that the reservation is based on the theory of necessity. "It is like a crutch to the disabled. It is for certain time, not forever."
From the chair, Om Kala Gautam underscored the need to generate awareness for the promotion of democratic socialism.

"The persons must be competent enough to get opportunity. While exercising one's own rights, others' rights should not be infringed upon," she said.

Third session

Former Finance secretary Rameshor Khanal presented his working paper 'Options for Nepal's Economic Policies in the context of Global Economy.' Khanal, a stanch promoter liberal economy, took a stock of global and national economy, and called for pursuing correct policies to reap the benefits from the two rising neighbours.

'Focus on agriculture, livestock'

He said that the country should identify the goods exportable items in the international market in order to substitute imports.

He said that the country should focus on core agricultural and livestock products that can, in a year or so, reduce imports. We can increase meat and milk products, fruits and vegetables by increasing small farmers' access to credit and technology.

Nepal imported food and live animals worth Rs. about 30 billion in FY 2008/9. This does not include informal import of live animals and meat from India and China.

"Based on the meat consumption and domestic production data analysis, it is estimated that Nepal has deficit of about 15 billion worth of meat products alone," Khanal said.

He suggested that China where the business of meat had gone down could be a potential market for the supply of meat, especially of pork.

Khanal suggested for promoting One Village One Product to produce quality goods.

The former secretary advised waiving tax or expenditure subsidy on imported products; investing in domestic energy generation; promoting processing of non-timber forestry products and cash crops such as tea, cardamom, ginger and coffee and lobbing hard to get away with unnecessary non-tariff barriers.

'Reduce dependency on remittance'

Khanal said that the country's economy was excessively dependent upon remittance, which was eroding productivities of the economy as young people in their highly productive age were working outside the country.

Trade imbalance is increasing in an alarming rate, which is mostly financed through remittance. "This is taking Nepal to a consumption economy that must be changed," added Khanal.

He compares excessive dependence on remittance with Dutch disease that is difficult to be cured. He offers following suggestions:

A. Improve skill level of people wanting to go for foreign jobs so that remittance receipts can be improved in the short-run
B. Create better investment climate, so that young people take to entrepreneurship within the country. (However, political stability and right to property is necessary for this.)
C. Formulate flexible labor regime for expanding domestic industries.

Khanal, however, said that the trend of remittance would decline in future owing to several factors.

'Promote Foreign Companies'

Khanal is the strong advocate of opening foreign companies in Nepal to grow national economy. He opined that if the Nepalese workers worked foreign industries at home, they had secured jobs and other facilities here than abroad because of domestic laws are favourable to them. Plus the government receives extra revenues form it for development spending. "So, there is no rational to oppose the foreign companies in the name of defending 'swadhin arthatantra' (independent economy).'

"Moreover, if a foreign company operates in Nepal, there will be technology transfer and Nepali people can get middle to top level managerial jobs. The same Nepali work force will help open domestic industries based on local capital and other resources. This is what exactly the Chinese did," he argued.

To attract the foreign companies, he offers following advices:

A. Set up Investment Board to provide one-stop services to all foreign companies.
B. Guarantee full security and insure that any losses they incur due to political risk will be compensated
C. Policy support to capital market development
D. Stop political propaganda against foreign companies.

On the foreign aid and grants, Khanal said that all the foreign aids must come and be spent through government agencies. He said that some aids had been used to fuel social discontent and unnecessary human rights. "Foreign aid must focus on national priorities, and building human and physical infrastructures."

Comments

Taking part in the discussion of Khanal's paper, many speakers underlined the need to promote exports, give incentives to domestic companies, and check the flow of young workforce from going abroad and rampant corruption that has plagues economy, politics and other sectors. Bijay KC expressed his curiosity as to how to preserve 'independent economy' in the era of globalization. Kedar Dahal said that Nepal was incurring heavy trade deficit as the country failed to promote exporting companies. Dipak Regmi pointed out that foreign aid had not been properly utilized and there were irregularities in the disbursement of the grants and aids. Bhimsen Ghimire said that the government sold the public enterprises at the throwaway prices in 1990s. "If it had formulated correct policy to run them, they would not have borne losses." Some other participants resented the idea of letting neo-rich people to declare their huge property and making it legal. "This is a trick to make black money into white." One speaker insisted that country's economic policy should be stable and must not be affected by the political change.

In his response, Khanal noted that foreign companies were interested to invest in hydropower but locals created obstruction to them. Nepal has comparative advantage in hydropower, tourism and forestry. He said that there would not be nationality in the foreign capital that comes for profit making. If we allow the domestic companies to do monopoly, they will not be sustainable. On corruption, Khanal said that it was pervasive in the upper echelon of leadership. "If the top leadership becomes clean, it will be easily controlled."

In his concluding remarks, programme coordinator Khila Nath Dahal said that the political corruption was the biggest threat to the nation. "There is need to have positive attitude and conducts to root out corruption."

 
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