Promoting Active Citizenship for Building Modern
Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)
25-26 August 2012 (Lele, Lalitpur)
by Dev Raj Dahal
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (Nepal) office
organized a two-day regional seminar at Lele, Lalitpur district
on "Promoting Active Citizenship for Building Modern State"
on August 25-26, 2012. Altogether 160 participants including 60
women took part. Participants included politicians, Nepal Army
Officials, Nepal Police, government officials, school and college
teachers, social workers and students. The seminar intensively
debated on the principles and practice of civic education, such
as democracy, human rights, rule of law, power separation, local
government, independent courts, political parties, civil society,
political culture, elections, economy and peace process. Civic
education is thought as an education about enlightenment of leaders
and citizens, their rights and duties and enabling both to make
right choices in the voting, deliberation and peaceful resolution
of issues and conflicts. Inner vigilance and knowledge about the
general environment is crucial elements to encourage active citizenship
and build rational society, constitutional state and durable peace
to heal the wounds of Nepalese people torn by decade-long violent
conflicts. Only awakened, active and informed citizenship committed
to civic culture can deepen democracy in the private and public
life of Nepalese people, improve Nepali nation's image as peace-loving
independent, democratic and respectable member in the comity of
nations and rebuild collective vision of the nation's peaceful
Three resource persons have made their
presentations on various aspects of civic education and each
succeeded by interactive form of discussion from the floor.
Constitutional expert Kashi Raj Dahal interestingly brought
each concept of democracy into the praxis of public life of
citizens through the presentation of several social, legal and
political cases and initiated debate among the participants.
Explaining the current state of political and constitutional
deadlocks, he narrated various reasons for the failure of Constituent
Assembly to draft a new constitution in the stipulated time
of May 28, 2012. First, there were neither principled consensus
on the contents nor modality of constitution not even settlement
of key political questions. Despite the declaration of country
secular, federal democratic republic, Nepalese leaders did not
create a comprehensive framework to collectively determine political
goals and define corresponding means. Second, no political party
scored requisite majority in the 2008 CA election either to
form its own government or draft a constitution as the latter
process required either consensus or two-third majority's approval.
As a result, political leaders stressed more on occupying government
power than on drafting constitution by 601-member elected CA.
There was a lack of both political will and general understanding
that constitution is a written document of political philosophy.
Third, due to absence of internal cohesion among the leaders,
external meddling on constitutional process pulled Nepalese
politics into multiple directions lacking the anchorage of shared
national vision. As a result, 117 constitutional issues remained
unresolved. He added that the bone of contention was on defining
the number, name and boundaries of federal states. Fourth, historical
distrust among political leaders of mainstream parties was deep
and, therefore, they did not find "common ground"
among partisan approaches for conflict resolution. The CA thus
suffered its natural demise on the date fixed by the Supreme
Court. The options floated now in the offing are: revival of
CA for some time to settle the remaining issues, fresh election
for CA, fresh election for the parliament with the mandate to
draft constitution, formation of an expert committee to draft
a new constitution and its endorsement by an elected parliament,
roundtable dialogue of all stakeholders of society and even
a referendum to settle contentious questions. Since Interim
Constitution 2007 expects a new election, there is no alternative
to it to garner new source of legitimacy to rule and governance.
In this context, building informed and active citizenry is important
to elect active and enlightened leaders capable of undertaking
public duties and enforcing rule of law.
Former Secretary of Commerce Bharat
Thapa said that fault lies partly with us as we elected wrong
leaders and partly with them who did not take public responsibility
even to draft a new constitution. Now Nepali politics is fragmented,
each group is jockeying for primordial interest than national
interest. This is precisely the time to foster "civic education,"
preparing citizens for a free, fair and fearless elections for
the selection of new leadership capable of mustering the power
of public to implement all the national goals defined by them
and realize rights of citizens. Only a strong state with "legitimate
monopoly on power" can implement the rights of citizens
and implement laws and public policies. He added that now Nepal's
national identity is in crisis as there is a tendency among
leaders to create divisive tendency among caste, class, race,
ethnicity, rather than searching the connectors of society.
To make Nepal peaceful, stable and prosperous we need to strengthen
the bond of citizenship with the state, kill the virus of corruption,
impunity and crime that have weakened the Nepali state at its
core and its organizing capacity of society. Reforming the structural
condition of Nepali society is essential for building this one
of the oldest nations of the world. These are the ways to prevent
Nepal from turning into a failed state.
Head of FES Nepal Dev Raj Dahal welcoming
the participants highlighted the basic values of FES, namely
freedom, social justice, solidarity and peace, its activities
worldwide and in Nepal since its founding in 1995. He added
that civic education is an education about enlightenment of
citizens and leaders, broaden their responsibility beyond self
to others, duties beyond the borders, humanization of the working
of political power through an awareness about democratic principles
and practice and democratization of the infrastructures of socializing
agencies. He said that through civic education pre-political
identities of people can be transformed into sovereign citizens
capable of enjoying not only rights but also performing public
duties as well as upholding human dignity. It introduces necessary
and timely changes in the political life to establish social,
gender and inter-generational reciprocity and inducts citizens
into the nation's civic political culture which is more rationalistic,
cosmopolitan and tolerant of diversity. He compared German tradition
of enlightenment with Nepal's intellectual heritage founded
on Veda (pre-religious), Janak (spiritual) and Buddha (rationalistic),
its system of open-ended discourse in public places for knowledge
and experience sharing and laid out the need to overcome democratic
deficit in Nepali politics. He said political distance of leaders
from citizens and cultural distance of intellectuals from the
life-world have eroded civic virtues which need to be renewed
to make democracy responsive. Besides, Dahal also explained
the condition of Nepali state coexisting with widespread revolt,
social movement, caucus politics and multiple grievances, impact
of universal ideologies, the zeitgeist, leadership type, state
and governance goals and ways to modernize Nepal's economy,
education, technology, organization and leadership to make the
country internally responsive and externally competitive and
relevant. The opening of diverse Nepali society to democratic
discourse does not incubate radical and fundamentalist forces
bent on smashing democratic potential of modernity.
The critical masses of civil society
should work to reduce the personalization of intellectual context
and work towards making social knowledge and experience sharing
Associate Professor of Political Science of Tribhuvan University
of Kathmandu Lalbabu Yadav explained the key concepts of democracy
underlined in FES-prepared "Handouts on Democracy"
particularly focusing comparative experiences of political system,
political culture, federalism, electoral types, civil society
and political parties and their roles in building active citizenship.
He said that human rights values are changing the nature of
Nepalese society, gender relations, regional formation and caste
and orienting them to equality of citizenship loyal to the state.
But, he added, the culture of impunity and violence must be
reduced in politics to create equal field for both the rich
and the poor. It is also changing the concept of public and
private sphere as welfare state espoused by Nepali citizens
are trying to remove the irrationality of personal lives. Similarly,
strong social movements at Nepal's multi-level governance are
stoking social transformation which is altering its hidden,
undemocratic components of political culture. He also added
that constitutional rights can be enjoyed only under the condition
of rule of law. Regular deliberation on civic education not
only enlightens citizens and leaders about their rights and
duties but also bear democratizing effects on all aspects of
society and their behavioral change along the road to stable
There were many persons who interacted
with the resource persons. Below are the only some of the representative
Suresh K. Tamang (student): wanted
to know the meaning of self-determination in Nepali context
and ways to abolish unhealthy political competition in Nepal
devoid of democratic contents. To the first, Kashi Raj Dahal
said that it is the right of minorities and local people to
protect their culture and determine leadership and development.
The second concern can be addressed through the praxis of civic
education and active citizenship.
Kishor Ram Karki (youth leader):
asked as to how federalism with single identity can be retained
in the constitution? Should not there be gender equality in
citizenship while marrying foreigners? Kashi Raj Dahal responded
that given the plurality of Nepali society and overlapping values
we should opt for secular form of federalism which is also viable
for the nation. The debate about citizenship has not settled
yet regarding those marrying foreign boys or girls. Democracy
favors gender equality.
Bajra Kumar KC (teacher): made
an observation about the split mentality in the state restructuring
commission and the expert committee as the latter produced two
reports rather than scientifically determine what is good for
Nepalese people. He favored territorial federalism and defended
an electoral system giving more weight to direct election than
proportional ones. To him, the latter category is disconnected
from the voters.
Rupesh Silwal (Student): suggested
the need for vertically demarcated 5-7 federal states with one
central government, one economy and citizenship but right to
preserve local cultures.
Ms. Asmita Khadka: asked how
can we produce good citizens and a strong state without making
our leaders wise, rational and accountable to voters? Dahal
responded that democratization is the solution of the problem
of authoritarian political culture as it gives power to people
to determine the legitimacy for leadership change and social,
economic and political reforms.
Ram Sunder Khadka (Teacher):
stated that we should reduce proportional representation to
45 and direct election to 55 percent of representatives. Building
the connection of leaders to citizens is a must to make political
power accountable to electorate and serve citizens.
Shayam B Sijapati ( World Hindu
Federation): said that to avoid conflict, ethnic federalism
should be discouraged. Federalism should be territorial for
development purpose whereby local government should be given
more power because sovereignty lies with them. The proportional
election should be abolished by making political parties internally
more democratic and representative of social diversity. Similarly,
the number of legislators should be reduced to about 200 and
a sense of national identity be fostered. Nepali nationalism
should be strengthened so that unwanted foreign intervention
could be avoided.
D. B. Shrestha (Police sub-inspector):
suggested that this type of program should be organized regularly
as it increased trust between police and citizens and improves
public security in the community. He also demanded that evil
doers of society can be discouraged if people do not exert pressure
on police to release criminals, protect them and develop negative
attitude towards police. The participants immediately said that
they will co-operate him in many matters of public security.
Bachhu Ram Sijapati (Officer
of Nepal Army): said that one of the impacts of this program
on civic education is that we came to know the interrelationship
between rule-rights-duties. They are closely connected and each
should be exercised in prudent manner without undermining social
discipline. He added that the form of current politics where
leaders invest their money in election and reap return thereafter
has undermined the concept of public or national interests.
This is precisely the reason Nepali state has become weak. Civic
education at multi-level of society can renew Nepali people's
spirit for freedom and national independence.
Mohan Bahadur Mahat (senior citizen,
86 years): evaluating the seminar added that we need to multiply
this knowledge to the villages and expected that FES should
provide literature and also experts.
Rajendra K. Silwal (former Chairman
of Sharashowti Higher Secondary School and chairman of this
two-day seminar) appreciating FES's efforts argued that we have
come in such all-inclusive seminar for the first time. It is
for the first time we talk about civic education, national politics,
laws and ways to improve our social conditions which are so
essential for our healthy lives. He added that quality of education
is very important to emancipate citizens from the condition
of ignorance, illiteracy and backwardness. Without creating
strong foundation of our education, economy and democratic political
culture we cannot prosper in the future. He added that those
who know more should educate those who know less and help improve
their condition. This is the essence of civilizing ourselves
and serving the end of civic education.
Commitments of the Participants
Inspired by the civic spirit of the
people of Panchkhal who publicly destroyed pesticides the next
day of FES civic program there, citizens of Lele also publicly
committed to implement four promises. First, organize regular
meeting between youth and police for improving public security
and build an interface between the community and the state.
Second, teachers and students will clean the surrounding of
temples in the last week of Friday every month between 2-3 O
Clock. Social workers, politicians and women workers will play
role in the cleaning of dirt from the roads regularly. And finally,
teachers and local officials promised to organize civic education
training to students to nearby schools and FES agreed to provide
civic education materials.