Interface between Civil Society & Political
National seminar organized by Tanka Prasad
Acharya Memorial Foundation (TPAMF)
Kathmandu, 02 December 2013
Ritu Raj Subedi
The Rising Nepal
Of late, the role of civil society (CS)
has come under close scrutiny. The CS had awakened the masses
ahead of the April Movement in 2006 when the parties had lost
their traction. But, it failed to keep the momentum following
the first historic Constituent Assembly election. The first CA
met its ignominious death without delivering the statute and the
CS could not do anything to save it. Its prominent members kept
mum as the ethnicity-guided federal agenda clobbered Nepal's age-old
communal harmony and good will. It was a trying time and the CS
was expected to come up to douse the fire of ethnic chauvinism
but in vain. It again came a gutser when the CPN-M attempted to
foil the second CA polls with bombs and banda. There was a room
for the CS to mediate between the state and the poll-opposing
parties but it could convince neither side to chart out a political
course acceptable to all sides.
True, the CS does not hold a magic wand to
solve the crisis of sweeping scale at one go. Still the people
expect that it would come to the scene at the time of crisis
of confidence at the national level. Today there is also a demand
for drawing a demarcation line between the CS and the parties.
The nexus between the CS and the parties has been started to
be seen in a negative light. It should not lose its integrity
and independent spirit. The CS 'as an embodiment of reason,
faith and feeling' should alert the parties from going adrift.
It must be able to check the tendency of politics to confine
to personal, family, private and privileged interests. A synergic
relation between the parties and the CS bring positive changes
in the society. Against this background, the Tanka Prasad Acharya
Memorial Academy and FES, Nepal organised a seminar to highlight
the interface between civil society and parties. The key speakers
and participants of the gathering attempted to define the role
of CS and its relations with the political parties. They concurred
that the CS needs to be dynamic and vibrant to deal with the
new emerging challenges. The seminar saw three working papers
with participants offering their candid suggestions and comments
CS should reflect diversity: Acharya
Former chairman of Constitutional Committee
in the erstwhile Constituent Assembly Nilambar Acharya said
that it was a challenge to make CS active and effective in the
"The CS normally takes to the streets
to voice for the cause of the people when they are deprived
of basic freedom and other democratic rights. Our history testifies
to this fact. Late Tanka Prasad Acharya led civic and political
campaign when the Nepali society was virtually in dark period,"
He said that the CS asserted its role as the
time demands to do so. "There is no reason to be pessimistic
about the role of CS. It is going strong with each passing year."
Acharya said that civil society should reflect
diversity and see the things with a broader perspective. "It
often stands for open society and strives to break down the
Human rights activist Sushil Pyakurel was
a bit critical about the role of CS. He said that it failed
to intervene as the first CA was dissolved on their watch without
writing the new constitution.
Since the April Movement the CS members were
virtually silent. The CS members did not speak out against the
slogan of the ethnicity-based federalism for fear of being labelled
pratigami (regressive). Intellectuals and universities did not
launch substantial debates on the issue with the CS members
getting trapped into rhetoric.
"The political parties are obsessed with
power game but the CS works for people's empowerment and creates
a social base for the parties," he said.
He reminded that late Tanka Prasad Acharya
played a role to provide a space for the parties to come together
in the run-up to the people's movement in 1990. The leaders
from Nepali Congress and Communist Parties assembled in the
yard of his house. "The public space he literally provided
was expanded to Chaksibari, a toponym of the residence of late
Ganesh Man Singh. The meeting at Chaksibari, attended by Nepalese
and Indian leaders, inaugurated the people's movement to topple
the Panchayat system."
'CS must transcend partisan boundaries'
FES, Nepal head Dev Raj Dahal offered conceptual
framework to the CS and urged for a synergy between them to
effect positive changes in the society. He minutely differentiates
between the CS and the political party. "Party is a part,
not a whole. It fractionalizes the society to expand constituencies
while the genuine CS's function is to serve as a bridge and
transcend partisan boundaries."
He said that the CS espouses the satta guna
(goodness) and is based on enlightenment values of freedom,
equality, solidarity, ecological justice and peace while the
tendency of political parties is rajo guna (passion for power).
The civil society is a domain of virtue and, therefore, works
with the spirit of niskam karm (selfless action) while the political
party is the domain of power, rights and partisan selfishness.
"As an agent of social change, the common dharma of civil
society and the political parties is to de-traditionalise the
general society and the work for its continuous reforms, renewal
and rationalisation. "This helps to liberate the tendency
of political parties of Nepal to indulge into pre-modern politics
of divide and rule, and command and control, and move to modern
politics of cooperative action to achieve the goals of national
government, a new constitution and comprehensive reconciliation
for public goods, justice and peace."
Dahal said that the CS as an embodiment of
reason, faith and feeling must instil historical awareness among
the parties' leaders to respond to the changing aspirations
of Nepali citizens and reform the tendency of politics to confine
to personal, family, private and privileged interests. "This
helps political parties to strengthen the social base of the
politics and avert the inclination of extra-constitutional participation
of non-state armed actors and extra-parliamentary formation
of caucus politics."
Dahal emphasized that the CS should broaden
the binary code of politics steered by friend and foe and aim
for a new social contract, a workable constitution owned by
all citizens. "This helps remove the single unit determinism
of politics such as class, ethnic, gender, territorial and ideological
divisions, which destabilises democracy's optimal values of
inclusion of the Other and weaken inner- party democracy."
The historical crisis in Nepal's reformist
politics reflects the weakness of political parties to uphold
the middle path of politics and the capacity of mediating agencies
of society to open up reforms in each generation of citizens
and the rational articulation of political life. "The CS
groups have to play a role to democratise the party's relations
with their sister organisation and strengthen inter and intra-party
dialogues for consensus building on major issues."
Tanka Prasad Acharya Memorial Academy chairman professor Som
Prasad Gauchan said that the CS in Nepal failed to contribute
to the socio-economic changes. "We did not witness its
effective role in the recent second CA poll when the CPN-M enforced
banda and caused disruptions to foil the polls. Rather, it is
the people, who assumed the role of civil society with their
higher turnout on the polling day and wiser decision of choosing
the moderate forces through the ballot."
Call for adopting trans-disciplinary approach
Naresh Rimal, a freelancer associated with
Transformation Society International, presented his working
paper 'Civil society paradox and political parties,' in which
he offers conceptual framework and historical perspective to
the civil society and analysed its relationship with the political
Quoting Thomas Carothers, Rimal said that
it is a broader concept, encompassing all the organisations
and associations that exist outside the state, including political
parties and the market.'
"The distinction between the CS and the
parties is that where parties seek to control state power, the
CS groups do not," he said.
In Nepal, civil society and political parties' nexus is quite
blurred. The established and growing tendency of the third sector,
especially the NGOs is to participate in the public sphere and
the political activities through active participation and seek
control over the government. Most often there are parties that
seek funding from those NGOs which either receive funding from
international agencies with political and social allegiance,
Rimal further said that the relationship between
civil society and political parties has been rationalised having
the important need in ensuring democracy. "But, given the
proliferations of organisations, especially the NGOs, there
is no guarantee of such wishful thinking. We can always glean
such outcome from our neighbouring country of Bangladesh. With
the highest per capita NGOs in the world, Bangladesh does not
guarantee free and fair associational life and reduce sectarian
violence. Similarly, groups calling themselves civil society
groups played important role through funding and literally voicing
their allegiance to the political parties to thwart pre 2006
regime did not lead Nepal towards peaceful and more amicable
"Therefore, only non-partisan non-political
CS groups can give life to the political parties. It is not
only the question of civil society but also of the parties to
make themselves democratic through transparency, accountability
and virtue of ethics. The key aspects of civil society and political
parties' relationship are thus determined through the level
of influence and not the direction of influence."
What the civil society should do:
1. It should not only carry singular issues
and approaches but also the trans-disciplinary approach,
2. It should take advantage of its social
and cultural domain to educate the political parties,
3. It should hold discussion on endogenous
factors and influences that have grounding on something that
is reflective of the people at large specific to the state.
'Women CS, parties must forge partnership'
The gist of Laxmi Karki's paper 'the relationships
between the woman civil society and political parties':
Civil society and the NGOs
Conventionally, the civil society encompasses
those organisations and groups formed spontaneously and voluntary
to put pressure on the government for the public welfare works
by cooperating with and facilitating it. However, confusion
has been created after the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)
started to assume the role of CS. Their role has been recognised
as they worked to ensure the rights of and generate awareness
among the marginalised groups, castes, regions or professions,
which either lack access to the market and the state or exploited
by the both agencies. The government has recognised the NGOs'
participation in the programmes implemented at the community
However, most of the NGOs have ingratiated
themselves with the donors in search of livelihood and job opportunities
instead of working for community with a sense of voluntary spirit.
Or they are groups active to run the community programmes for
which the donors supply money directly by bypassing the government.
Besides, there are consumers' groups that have risen above the
community level and put pressure on the government for the common
welfare activities. These factors have made it difficult to
distinguish between the CS and the NGOs.
The Women Civil Society
The women constitute a dominant portion of
civil society. They have been active in attaining human and
democratic rights along with their own rights. There are several
dimensions within the women rights movement. On one hand, they
are engaged in the common civic campaign to get political, social,
economic and cultural rights. On the other, even within the
broader canvass of women movement lie sub-groups in addition
to the divergent problems and the interests. For example, dalit
women, ethnic women, Muslim women, Madhesi women and those victimised
by the trafficking. The NGOs have been representing a larger
portion of women civil society. The activities of both - the
political parties and the women NGOs- have helped each other
to gain mutual benefits.
The women movement has been moving on two parallel lines - political
and NGO-led. In the first category comes a large segment of
women involved in the fight for political freedom by becoming
the sister wings of the different political parties. In the
second category has the women associated with the NGOs and involved
in development and gender empowerment.
The political parties have their conflicting
views in regard with the role of woman NGOs. Many parties have
acknowledged the role of the women NGOs but some others have
derided them as being involved in 'dollar harvesting.' According
to Bimal Phuyal, an INGO activist, the parties have adopted
double standards and opportunistic outlook towards the NGOs.
"Some intellectuals and leaders accuse the NGOs of being
engaged in earning dollars if the latter fail to work in accordance
with their interests or if they do not get economic benefits
in form of consultancy and other monetary incentives and facilities.
Researcher and women rights activist Dr Meena
Acharya said that the role and contribution of the NGOs has
not been duly recognised. On one hand, NGOs' contribution in
building the capacity of women, establishing agendas and creating
pressure is appreciated. On the other, they are criticised for
making a fast buck, said Dr Acharya.
CPN-UML and Nepali Congress women leader Binda
Pandey and Uma Regmi appreciated the role of women NGOs but
UCPN-M central member Sashi Shrestha is not ready to accept
women NGOs as civil society. She said women NGOs talk only about
the gender equality while the women groups affiliated with the
parties stand for total women liberation, which is broader than
the concept of woman equality. According to Shrestha and UML
woman leader Shanta Manabi, the women NGOs have hijacked the
credit for raising the issue of equal parental property. They
said that the communist parties had been raising this issue
for a long time. Manabi said, "While giving political training
to them in 2028 BS, CPN general secretary Pushpa Lal had emphasised
on guaranteeing daughter's equal right on the parental property.
Thus, it is wrong that the women NGOs solely pushed the agenda."
Some concluding points:
" The women civil society has played
positive role to change the traditional attitude of parties
and the state towards women,
" Women leaders as well as male leaders,
who are sensitive to the gender issues, could play vital role
to enhance women capacity in and outside party,
" Political parties and the women civil
society need to forge collaboration to fully ensure women identity
and abolish all discriminatory practices against women.
'Parties must be accountable to people'
Roshan Pokharel's paper 'the legal provisions
relating to the political parties in Nepal' argues that the
parties have miserably failed to abide by the constitutional
and legal provisions. For example, Article 142 of Part 18 of
the Interim Constitution mentions that the parties should make
public the details of funds and income source and resources
for bringing about such funds in order to qualify for registration
at the Election Commission but they have not bothered to do
He said that one could not be fully sure whether
the parties met the criteria to register at the Election Commission.
The interim statute clearly spelt out that
there must be an inclusive provision that the executive committees
at various levels the executive committee at various levels
include the members from women, Dalit and the excluded and oppressed
sectors. The constitution of the party must have an effective
provision to maintain discipline of its members.
"The EC shall not register any political
party or organization which discriminates against any citizen
of Nepal in becoming its member on the basis merely of religion,
caste, tribe, language or sex or the name, objective, insignia
or flag of which is of such a nature as to jeopardize the religious
and communal unity of the country or to fragment the country
or the Constitution or Rules of such party or organization have
the objective of protecting and promoting party-less or single
Pokharel said that the statute had clearly
mentioned that the parties should not be formed based on the
caste or religion but this provision had not been fully observed.
"If a common person fails to pay tax,
s/he will be blacklisted but there is no state authority to
punish the parties if the latter submit their audits to the
EC. The most irony is that they will escape the fine by just
paying Rs 100," he said.
He said that the existing legal provisions
had given the parties upper hand and let them off the hook in
case of serious violation of laws. "It seems that they
do not want to be accountable to the laws."
The parties' registration provisions also
lack clarity, he said and added that more stringent laws should
be formulated to make the parties accountable to the people.
"Democracy can only become strong and vibrant if the parties
run on the basis of democratic values and norms."
Comments from the floor
Shyam Prasad Adhikari- The seminar
needs to draw a conceptual framework as to what kind of the
civil society should be there. It should come up with the findings.
While the political parties should run independently, the civil
society must not work on the basis of hierarchy.
Amuda Shrestha - From where did come
the concept of woman civil society? It looks bizarre to classify
the civil society into men and women categories. This fogs the
issues of civil society. Anyone - be it man or woman- could
raise the genuine social, political and economic issues. The
CS should play its role to make the parties aware of the country's
situation, not act merely as their agent.
Dr Prem Sharma- With some parties demanding
a probe into the alleged vote rigging, they have apparently
distrusted the voters' decisions. Karki's paper is practical
but it missed out the name of Moti Devi, who acted as messenger
between Calcutta and Kathmandu to supply information and messages
during the rule of Rana Oligarchy in Nepal.
Santosh Pariyar- It is a matter of
investigation whether the role of civil society shrank or was
forced to shrink. The three papers lack direction in identifying
the role of civil society.
Bishnu Hari Nepal - There is the need
of taking confidence building measures among the parties and
intellectuals. The ideological confrontation must be minimised.
The NGOs are important actors but the foreign aid should come
through the government's channel. The civil society's role had
not been effective in devising the foreign policy. So far as
the participation of women is concerned, Nepal is the first
country in South Asia to ensure their 33 per cent representation
in every organ of the state. In recent poll, five to six millions
Nepalese living abroad could not exercise their franchise.
Meena Acharya- The role of civil society
must be clearly defined. The relation between the political
parties and the civil society is both cooperative and dialectical
at the same time. It is a matter of happiness that the parties
are gradually making their position clear about the role of
the civil society.
Ram Prasad Upadhyaya Pokharel - Late
Tanka Prasad Acharya spearheaded the political, economic, social,
administrative and legal reforms during his 18-month long tenure
as the prime minister of the country. The higher turnout of
the voter in the recent CA poll is a testimony to the fact that
the people have become more aware and mature. The accusation
that the women get their rights here only after the donor and
foreigners put pressure on the government to do so is serious
one. The idea of inclusiveness sans the quality is unacceptable.
The statements of Dev Raj Dahal stressed on emulating the native
culture. It is praiseworthy view.
Rajendra Chhetri- It carries no sense
when the media have to always nourish the political parties
that have been often found flouting the laws. The civil society
failed to do something notable to ensure good governance and
curb the widespread corruption. For example, when Rs 3 million
is disbursed to execute development projects in the village,
hardly one million rupee is spent. Likewise, the Rs 5- million
parliamentarian funds have been grossly misused. But, to the
dismay of the public, the civil society is keeping shtum.
Achut Bahadur Karki - We are like the
spectators of the political drama. Where was the civil society
when the CA was dissolved on its watch? What was the civil society
doing when the CPN-M went on rampage to curtail the people's
franchise? The civil society should be free of all greed and
attachments. It is an independent entity that should speak out
on the matters of public concern. The state should classify
the civil society organisations and the statute should clearly
specify its role. This is a high time the civil society played
its role in the policy-making.
Binod Prasad Acharya- The civil society
movement began in 1993 BS under the stewardship of late Tanka
Prasad Acharya. The women movement also commenced from that
period. The political parties remember the people only at the
time of election. The civil society should act as a referee.
Of 26 lawmakers nominated by the new government, the representatives
from the civil society should be also nominated as CA members.
The intellectuals should work to bring the CPN-M to the constitution-making
Hem Raj Subedee - The CS should learn
to remain within its limit. But, it should be bold. The working
papers lack citations. Please, don't let the civil society divide
into different categories. It is wrong to put the NGOs into
the civil society category.
Dr Shova Gajurel- There is division
of society into different castes and classes. This must be stopped.
All the parties must rise above the petty interests and unit
for national common agendas.
Narayan Regmi- We are rich in our indigenous
experiences. Based on our own knowledge and experiences, we
should develop our own model of system. Like wild elephants,
the parties violate the laws and the constitution. Our generation
have grown up without seeing the political transition end. Is
that the new generation have to also suffer for the same thing?
Chiranjibi Bhandari - What is the boundary
line between the civil society and the political parties? Is
their relation cooperative or competitive or compromising?
Jhalak Subedi - The approach of our
civil society is traditional. The CS actors are waiting for
to be leaders, lawmakers and ministers. Is that the political
parties want to minimise the role of civil society after the
April Movement in 2006? It has become obvious that the CS has
failed to intervene at the time of crisis.
Khem Raj Regmi - There is interdependent
relationship between the civil society and the political parties.
The goal of the parties is to run the government and the civil
society is to make them aware about the issues of public concerns.
The CS should not show its greed for power. The election is
getting costly and it is beyond the capacity of common people.
The CS should work to make the election a less-expensive affairs
and transparent. The leaders should also submit the details
of their income after stepping down from the government. The
local polls need to be held within six months. The CS should
voice for this.