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Seminar Report on Promoting Active Citizenship for Building Modern State

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

21-22 June 2011, Mahendranagar, Dhanusa


Introduction

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Nepal Office organised a two day seminar on Promoting Active Citizenship for Building Modern State in Mahendranagar of Dhanusa District. There were around 150 participants though representation of women in this seminar was meager. This normally happens in the central Terai. The programme was attended, among others, by the government officials, leaders of the political parties, academicians, teachers, media personnel, lawyers, civil society members, students and other stake-holders of the society. The inaugural session of the seminar was chaired by Umesh Chandra Jha - Principle of Shiv Shakti Higher Secondary School. Dev Raj Dahal - Head of FES Nepal Office, highlighted about objectives of the seminar. Dahal was of the view that strong and responsible opposition is required for democracy to function. In the absence of democratic opposition there is no way that we can expect to consolidate democracy in a real sense of the term. This is what exactly happened in Nepal for the last sixty plus years. Nepali people always desire for democracy and fought for that but we never had significance presence of democratic parties in the house let alone in opposition. Hence the need of the hour is to expand democratic base with democratic values and principles across different layers of society. Equally important is to revitalise people's effective participation in the institutional life of the state and inculcate the culture of active citizenship. There is an urgent need to take them together if we really wanted to build a modern state.

Proceedings

There were altogether three papers presented by Dev Raj Dahal, Lal Babu Yadav - Associate Professor of Political Science at the Tribhuvan University and C D Bhatta.

Dahal presented his paper on state, Yadav on federalism, election and other contemporary issues and Bhatta on democracy, civic education, and citizenship building. Dahal argued that political leaders of Nepal have brought Nepal into this situation. There was very active participation from the participants and asked number of questions on different themes.

Ram Kumar Paswan was of the view that everything including administration system of the country works for the benefit of rich - capitalist class for that reason, but not for the poor and powerless. Under such a state of affairs, how can we think of building a modern state in Nepal or introduce social justice in our society. How can people feel the change and presence of the state existential? He also enquired whether discussion would make any contribution to address these issues in a real sense of the term or not.

Mubarak Kabari said that in India civil society groups, citing the example of Anna Hazare and Baba Ram Dev, are advocating for corruption free society and have initiated this campaign by putting tremendous pressure on the government. The silence in civil society for its part in Nepal, when it comes to the point of raising issues of public importance such as corruption, evokes questions behind their ill motives. Perhaps the engagement of so called civil society's in siphoning off donors money could be the reason behind this slumber.

Kabari also asked how many states could be viable in Nepal given its current economic situation and geographic location.

Jagdish Prasad Singh enquired, despite its importance in citizenship building - why civic education is sidelined by the states? How can we revive civic education in our education system ? Singh also asked whether politically driven civil society and its leaders can contribute to build peaceful society or they care only the agent of instability.

Suresh Thakur opined that political leaders who have been in the power are working for the foreign interest, they are speaking for them, advocating their agendas in Nepal - these are the reasons, among others, which carries the colonial mindset thereby disabling to establish an egalitarian society in Nepal.

Anand Kumar Mahato of Shri Shiv Shakti Higher-Secondary School was particularly concerned about the fact that P.N. Shah made single-state by uniting 22-24 states. Today, we are discussing about building modern Nepali state once gain. Is this the right process, what exactly we want to do here? Are we going to return those states who they belonged to while P. N. Shah took an initiative for unification? Is it possible? Do we really have to do this?

Can we incorporate in our upcoming constitution about the abrogation of Sugauli Treaty which most of the Nepali look as an attack on Nepali sovereignty asked one participant who wished not to disclose his name? This participant further asked whether the unabated direct and indirect Indian interference on Nepali state of affairs - be it the case of water resources, development or domestic politics could be minimised where we can truly feel members of a sovereign state.

Dhanik Lal Mahato of Shiv Shakti HS School asked about the major contentious issues in the constitution writing process and how can we address them?

Dilip Lama asked what type of foreign policy would best suit Nepal and how does globalisation starts ? Birendra Singh of Bateshwor asked about the measures to minimise corruption as it can really contribute towards state-building.

Suresh Kr Sah asked could these lots of political leaders can draft constitution within the extended time of three months? Ram Avatar Mahato asked if the state really goes into federalism - how we can distribute rights between centre and federal states. He also asked what could be the reason that State-Owned Enterprises are going down whereas private institutions are becoming more prosperous day-by-day.

Murari Dhalak of Sitapur, Bhagawa asked how can we believe our CA members can write constitution who are involved in various scandals, scams such as red-passport and more interesting who just attended 50 days of the total CA meetings but look for the allowances for 1100 days ? What are the bases to believe them?

Ram Kumar Paswan further asked the role and function of the CA members? Whether they have gone there to write the constitution as to do gunda-gardi ? Within the framework of federalism whether one Madesh one Pradesh can be accommodated or not asked one participant who decided not to disclose identity?

Laxmi Mahato asked how can we eradicate corruption from our society that exists can and every level - be it bureaucracy, political parties, business houses or police force.
Rajeshwor Prasad Mahjato asked what is the objective of this seminar on state-building and citizenship-building? How can we provide quality education to our student though we have promised a lot?

Prem Kishore Sah was particularly concerned about the corruption that takes place at the local level where all political parties are involved and make a mockery of fund allotted for developmental work. Everybody including CDOs, LDOs and other take their share of pie from this.

We normally preach that people should not forget their history, roots, and originality but in practice its not happening? We have decided to go for a secular state by undermining as Hindu identity ? How will it benefit us asked Sajjan Singh of Sitapur.

How citizens are connected with local-self governance and what is their role in it asked Raj Kr Sah. If 601 CA members could not draw constitution - should they be penalised for that asked Jitendra Kr Singh.

How can we eradicate corruption from our society which is prevalent everywhere asked Tanka Prasad Baral. Muna Nepal a teacher by profession. Another point he made was that teachers who have been working for forty years have not got permanent position in Nepal? This is not the type of justice we are looking for.

Murari Dahak wondered how can we have a federal state (sustain) when they poverty is rampant. Could we sustain it? What would be the result if conflict broke between in federal state one the federalism is failed?

Ram Chandra Shah asked what type of federalism would best suit to Nepal state? How can we empower poor in a democracy and what type of economic policy would be best for Nepal ?

Different types of NGOs and INGOs are operation in Nepal with different types of activities. Some of them are involved in dubious work. How can we stop them coming to Nepal enquired Laxmi Narayan Mahato of Shiv Shakti Higher Secondary School.

Mukunda Dahal asked poverty is increasing in Nepal day-by-day and it has gone up after the establishment of so called loktantra in the country. This generates some fundamental question whether democracy is a system that promotes poverty in the country .

How can we think of having a modern state when there is no mechanism to provide opportunities to the youth in the country? They are forced to flee from the nation asked Yougendra Prasad Chaudhari.

Why foreigners are using Nepal as a laboratory of everything. Why we have failed to contain it rather than blaming them of their interference in our state affairs asked Dhanaik Lal Mahato.

Conclusion

The seminars emphasised one the need of promoting civil society that is non-partisan, transparent, and work for the broader welfare of the society rather than merely working on the agendas of donors or political parties. There was a strong voice that civil society should fight against corruption that is rampant in our society - that alone can contribute towards building people's confidence on state and political system. With regard to federalism, it appears there seems to have been great deal of confusion at the grass-root level and people there feel that given the economic situation, Nepali state will not be able to sustain it. The need to introduce civic education in our society at different levels to instil the sense of accountability in societal actors was also demanded in this district. Another point that was raised is that the good people have not gone into Nepali politics and there is an urgent need to develop such a mechanism. We need to find out democracy within our own tradition and culture which will be more sustainable.

 
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