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Constitutional Approach to Nation Building

One-day national seminar organised by Martyr Memorial Foundation (MMF)

26 November 2016, Kathmandu

Prepared by Ritu Raj Subedi

Nepal is in the phase of nation building following the promulgation of new statute in 2015. The nation is bracing for the three-tier of elections. On May 14, it will see local elections that are going to be held almost in two decades. The local polls are expected to lay the foundation of federal democratic that has promised to provide a level playing field when it comes to the people's access to resources and opportunities. At the same time, it has provisions to give special focus for the upliftment of marginalized groups.

Post statute promulgation phase requires that the people are well informed about the rights and duties enshrined in it. They should be active to implement it. Until and unless the citizens are not informed about the core contents of the statute, the nation building task does not gain momentum. This was the leitmotif of a national seminar entitled 'Constitutional approach to nation building in Nepal' jointly organized by the Martyrs Memorial Foundation (MMF) and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) in Kathmandu in November last year. The key speakers concurred that Nepali state had dangerously become weak as power superseded knowledge and the leaders lost touch with the people. The trade union activists, workers from different political parties, students and media people attended the seminar that saw three working papers by experts and the participants commenting on them.

Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport Ramesh Lekhak
The constitution links the people with the state. It is not a dogmatic document but a living one that must ensure the ownership of majority of populace. The national agenda ahead of them is to make the national charter acceptable to the majority of the people and implement it through the three-tier elections. It is imperative for all to find middle path to sort out the current impasse in the statute amendment. In the past, the people threw down the statute as it failed to address their needs and demands. The statute links the various identities of the people. There are two extremes with regard to the interpretation of statute. One group describes it as the best charter while another one calls it the best one in the world.

MMA chairman Dhundiraj Shashtri noted that realizing goals of socialism was the need of the hour as the people had been yearning and struggling for equality and prosperity for decades. The people should keep watch on the activities of parties and government, and play their active role in ensuring the rule of law.

Dev Raj Dahal, FES, Nepal Office Head

Nepal, one of the 17 oldest nations, was built on the basis of knowledge. Nation and people are sovereign and permanent and they should not renew for their legitimacy unlike the political parties, government and other public and private organizations. The state should have its monopoly in the use of force and collection of tax. It should have sovereign rights in formulating development policies and enforcing laws. The people's loyalty to the state is the key to the nation building.

A constitution is the self-organization of society for collective action. It seeks normative standards for governance which is essential for social cohesion and nation building. The nation-building is an internally-driven process by which people of diverse social origins develop a common nationality and identify with the nation state. After all, a nation is a community of people nested in a state to avoid tribal and sectarian conflicts which also provides safety, food and shelter to its members. It comprises the elements of historical consciousness, cultural and religious syncretism, communication and self-determination in politics, laws and public policies. The nation building tasks entails constitutional enlightenment, bridging gaps between constitutional forces, ownership of constitution, overcoming the nation-state weaknesses, popular sovereignty and inclusive citizenship and strengthening democracy.

The national political parties must have to make a 'common cause' with each other and politically significant groups of society to implement the constitution and carve a viable path of democracy, nation building, reconciliation and social peace. Election of local self-governance bodies ensures stability and inclusion, restores the right of citizens to decide themselves and a return to the effective governance. Reconstruction of economy, health, education, communication infrastructures, the supply of some of welfare benefits for the needy and expansion of social opportunities for the participation of youths and marginalized in the political process help the citizens understand the merits of good governance.

Nepal Student Union president Nain Singh Mahar said that it was the duty of the political parties to make the people understand the inner contents of the statute in order to increase their access to the constitutional rights. "Patriotism and nationalism differ from each other. A hollow nationalism does not take the nation to the right direction."

MMA general secretary Khilanath Dahal said that the martyrs laid down their lives for the socio-economic prosperity and dignified life. "It is duty of all to follow the path shown by the martyrs." Dahal said that education and health services are beyond the reach of the poor, and the quake victims are still living in the tents. "The martyrs had envisioned social dignity, cultural preservation and economic prosperity but their dreams have not yet been met," he said.

The gist of Yuvaraj Gautam's working paper 'Nationality, Democracy and Thoughts of BP Koirala'

Nepal passed through various historic ups and downs before coming to the present stage. The 1814 Anglo-Nepal War was a big political disaster that forced Nepal to lose around 40 per cent of territory. This is a terrible example of Nepali nationality being emasculated owing to the conspiracy in the then palace and political instability. Although NC had envisioned democratic socialism, it failed to make the people understand it. In his speech given to the Asia-Pacific Conference held in Sidney in 1981, BP had warned that Nepal could not survive as a nation if the pro-monarchy and democratic forces did not forge a tactical alliance. Following the political change in 2006, the NC went too far, deviating itself from its principles, philosophy, ideals and values. Many of its leaders are demanding that the party rethink federalism, secularism and republicanism. It is the essence of BP's thoughts to listen to the inner voice of its hundreds of thousands of cadres.

Democracy in Nepal has got enfeebled each passing year despite the big political upheavals.
The foreign spies that were active to smash the constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy had infiltrated into the Singha Durbar and bureaucracy of palace. This was a reason why Surya Bahadur Thapa brought a proposal that BP should be slapped capital punishment through Dhankuta District Panchayat. These elements always worked to create distance between Birendra and BP. Now Nepal's politics is rife with international conspiracies. If they are allowed to go unchecked, Nepal's independence and nationality will be further weakened. This requires that major parties should embrace the formula of national unity by abandoning the petty interests. If the NC moves following BP thoughts, this will not only save the party but also national independence, unity and integrity.

Comments on Gautam's paper

DP Aryal said that the poll is the base of democracy but the paper has missed it out. The politicians have often failed to suit their word to action. The NC should be responsible for the current chaos. Peshal Dahal said that federalism and secularism have been imported from abroad. The NC could not succeed to protect nationalism. Ram Narayan Dev said that democracy and nationalism became weak since 2017 BS. It is the foreign elements that created divisions among the ethnicities and religions. There is not real federal model. It is necessary to bring the Madhesi people to the mainstream. Dharma Raj Paudel said that today's leadership has failed to realize the essence of PN Shah's wise statement- Nepal is a yam located between two boulders. Politicians and civil society members are working at the instruction of foreigners. The nation adopted secularism at the behest of European Union. Hari Krishna Shah said that by constructing the Kodari highway, late king Mahendra had done a very commendable job. No matter wherever the Nepalese live, they show a sense of nationalism. Madhav Adhikari said that the people's views were not properly incorporated in the new statute. Jagadish Jha said that why there is silence about the encroachment on Lipulekh.

The gist of Santosh Pariyar's paper 'New Constitution and Nation Building'

Keeping some of major issues of post 1990's social and political movements such as proportionate representation, equality, inclusiveness and social justice in its preamble, the new constitution has become historical document of achievements for minorities. The statement of abolishment of caste-based untouchability both from public and private sphere in the first time in its preamble is nevertheless another beauty of the national charter. Unfortunately, the constitution promotes identity-based (exclusionary) nation-building approach rather than to promote democratic nation-building based on civic identity (inclusionary). One of the major ingredients to have nation building for a modern state based on equality, justice and freedom is the social contract that needs to be incorporated in the statute. It highlights the rights and responsibilities of citizens.

Nation building is not just about physical reconstruction, service provision or material wealth. It is also about using the country's shared customs to prevent future escalation of conflict as well as upholding values, customs and national practices that form the national identity. In Nepal's recent process of nation building, creating a national value, identity, culture and customs are so urgent to provide the republic dividends to its people. The nation building cannot underestimate the ideas that men have formulated after having long struggling history in the human civilization. It is a project to make a country common place for all for peace, prosperity, happiness and self-enlightenment.

Comments on his paper

Hari Krishna Shah said that nationalism is the expression of inner soul. Culture and history gives identity to the nation. The nation saw anarchy as the systems from around the world were experimented in Nepal. We need original system that fits for the native soil. It is wrong to use term 'dalit' to refer to certain community. Those economically deprived community needs reservation for their upliftment. During the World War II, Nepal was in the capacity of lending loans to different nations.

Ram Narayan Dev Nepal has not yet become a state. Padma Karki said that history is interpreted as per the ideological lenses of the people and parties. Shantosi Shah said that the Mahdes is reeling from poverty, ignorance, backwardness and casteism. The Madhesi dalits have been deprived of basic rights and it is a challenge to boost their morale and spirit. Shova Khanal said that the provision to ensure the representation of 33 per cent of has not been implemented. There are hardly 20 per cent of women represented in the state organs. Kantika Sauju said that using the term 'dalit' is wrong. This should be replaced by word 'Nepali.' The representation of people from Karnali in the decision-making is almost nil. It seems Karnali is not the part of Nepal and it has been completely ignored by the state.

The gist of lawyer Shanta Sedhai's paper 'the key characteristics of statute, gender perspective, and challenges in their implementation.'

Under the fundamental rights, the new charter has made special preservation for dalits and women. It has spelt out altogether 31 fundamental rights to the people. In its preamble, the statute has declared that any form of gender discrimination is punishable by laws. It has guaranteed the women's equal rights of property, proportionate inclusive participation and participation in politics. The women will not suffer from physical, mental, sexual and psychological violence and exploitation. The victims of women violence will get compensation as per the laws. President and vice-president should come from different gender and community. There should be one woman either in the post of Speaker or Deputy Speaker and chair or vice-chair of National Assembly.

The women have not seen fundamental changes in their life despite the provisions of reservation and affirmative discrimination. There have not been initiatives from all sides to enhance women's social, economic and political status, and make them competent and capable citizens. The state has been unable to guarantee the gender friendly education, health, employment, reproductive health and security. Women should rise above the partisan interest to make women's liberation issues as the national agenda. The changes seen in the life of women is an indicator of social development as a whole. As reforms driven by the laws are not sufficient, every individual should be self-conscious to create equal society.

Comments from the floor

Commenting on her paper, the participants stressed on the strong political will on the part of government and political parties to implement the provisions related to the women empowerment. They rued that women still bore the brunt of various forms of inequalities although they have been constitutionally empowered and strong.

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