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Promoting Active Citizenship for Building Modern State

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 future.


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 and caring.
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 peace.

Floor Discussion

There were many persons who interacted with the resource persons. Below are the only some of the representative ones.

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.

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