State and People: The Issues of State Restructuring

Published in: Kantipur TV | Kantipur (Nepali) | Himalayan Times | Solidarity Monthly

The following is the synopsis of the interaction program titled “The Issues of State Restructuring” organized by Solidarity Monthly with an objective of facilitating the political parties that are committed to the restructuring of the state as part of the roadmap of New Nepal.

Presenters:

  • Dr. Pramod Dhakal, Canada Forum for Nepal (Feature Presentation)
  • Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat, Nepali Congress (Democratic)
  • Mr. Chakra Bastola, Nepali Congress
  • Mr. CP Gajurel, Nepal Communist Party (Maoist)
  • Mr. Shankar Pokharel, Communist Party of Nepal (UML)
  • Dr. Krishnahari Nepal, Former Ambassador to Japan, Intellectual
  • Dr. Durga Dutta Poudel, Professor, Louisiana State University, USA

Because of travel commitments, we from CFFN could not independently produce news report or fully record the proceedings. However, the program was well covered by the Nepali news media. The only written copy of the presentation distributed in the program is presented below.

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The Issues of Inclusion and Federalism in Nepal

Dr Pramod Dhakal, Executive Director, Canada Forum for Nepal

Inclusion and federalism have emerged as the most important issues in Nepal, along with the perennial issue of prosperity. The main cause of this has been the fact that Nepal’s society has traditionally been organized on the basis a caste system and unequal social treatment of people. Consequently, political and economic power is enjoyed largely by the social elites. In addition, prosperity has not reached most villages and towns because the elites divert the bulk of the resources in their coffers and live their lives in urban centers where most infrastructure and amenities are located.

However, previously marginalized groups have become increasingly aware of such unfair practices and are justifiably rebelling against social, economic, and political exclusions and also against regional disparities. Nepal can neither become prosperous nor remain one united country if these issues are not addressed satisfactorily. It has, therefore, become important to decentralize the power, management, and access to resources such that inclusion, democracy, and incorruptible governance can be built from grounds up.

Inclusion

The issues of social inclusion have been brought forward by various rights groups, indigenous groups, and Dalits with persistence and vigor. However, the irony of Nepal’s situation is that even the movements for change are dominated by socially and/or economically privileged men. Because of this, these movements are unable to fight against the root causes of discrimination but are focused onto some lesser issues that are not going to lead to the rise of an egalitarian society even though the issues brought at the fore are good at their face value.

Scholars of social sciences have long identified that the thoughts of all individuals are shaped by the timing of their life-events, roles, relationships, goals, values, and memories. It is, therefore, not hard to comprehend the negative influence of discrimination practiced for time immemorial on the poor and the marginalized. While those in privileged positions are opposed to any profound change, those who faced in injustices in the past want nothing less than massive correction in the system. But the difficulty is that the problems of Nepal are unique and there is no “importable magic” to for healing the wounds and minimizing the scars.

Amidst all difficulties, there exist some universally acceptable and tried and true steps that Nepal can take. Nepal can immediately abolish the system of discrimination in the health and education of children. It is perfectly feasible to raise all children in an environment where they are included and are expected to provide it to others; and in turn they should raise their children to do the same. If a child is raised to not expect inclusion, he or she will not demand it. Therefore, as long as the wealth of parents is going to decide which child gets what kind of education, the exclusion will be entrenched even further and no amount of other fixes will bring inclusion in Nepal.

In the quest for inclusion, what should not be forgotten is the prosperity. Concrete actions must be urgently taken in educating and in organizing the people to create a foundation for progress and to build an internal momentum. Educated people inspired to attain higher goals and driven to persist in the times of adversity are key to future innovation and prosperity. And, for that Nepal must solve the problems of convergence (unity and organization), destiny, and discipline (ability to adhere with the plan and persist). Therefore, primary ingredients that give birth to all prosperities – namely education, organization, and discipline – must be uncompromisingly sought after. The prosperity growth will take traction once those essential ingredients are firmly implanted in the society.

The underlying attachment to the centralist structure stems from the resistance of people towards change in power, belief, and economy – as instinct to resist any change that disturbs their comfort zone is ingrained in human nature, even if the change is a positive one. It is, therefore, the 15% of Nepalese that enjoy 85% of the country’s resources who think that the centralist structure is in their best interest. Ironically, the long drought of social, economic and political power among the rural poor has not greatly impacted the lot of those who traditionally benefited from the social and economic divide. No wonder, those who obtained the windfall from the old power structure are apprehensive of changing the status quo unless it is limited to changing ministers while keeping rest of the system intact.

Traditionalists with ulterior motives are busy laying blame on Nepal’s “unfortunate geography”, “absence of valuable natural resources like gold and oil”, and “ignorance of people” as the main cause of rural poverty, which is a major source of grievance and rebellion. These people raise the tried and true scapegoats, but this deceptive logic could not be further from the truth. In fact, depriving people from education and from participation in social, economic and political decision-making processes are the primary drivers of poverty, not the geography, capital resources, or “dumb people”.

Many think that an elixir named “capital” is sorely required to be brought from foreign powers and be distributed as per the five-year plan prepared in Singha Durbar by the ruling elites. As a result, privileged players are competing on asserting who is more liked by the foreign donors and are against building any welfare state using Nepal’s own money. They are against reforms within Nepal, but are advocate for foreign loans. However, giving monetary handouts to communities and people from unreachable centers without social, economic and political empowerment at the grassroots is simply counter-productive. Otherwise, the native people of North America would be as prosperous and equal to the whites, and Indian Dalits would have been as powerful as the upper cast wealthy. But they live in as appalling conditions as ever, despite those handouts and reservations.

Federalism

In Nepal, the source of power rested on the king for a long time. This ensured control of the population through a system of hierarchy where each person or institution derived their authority from the authority above and applied that authority to people or institutions below them. Although waves of democratic and social movements swept Nepal time to time, the mechanism of deriving power from the top remained unchanged. This left the ordinary people at the bottom of the power structure, which seems perfectly normal if people could be treated as the subjects of the state. But the people subjugated by the old system are in no mood to adhere to the old hierarchy and are demanding that this power-structure be turned upside down so people reign supreme and, therefore, be sovereign.

Nepal’s disparity is not limited among those in power and not, but also between the big cities and rural regions, and among different social groups. Today, the sense of regional disparities and ethnic disparities have been so deeply felt in Nepal that this country will not be a land of peace, justice, prosperity and democracy unless these issues are properly addressed. If we continue to adhere to the current thoughts emanating from the Kathmandu-centric mindset, Nepal, from Terai to its mountains, could boil and fade away from the scene, leaving only the Kathmandu valley as Nepal, just as it was 300 years ago. Therefore, we are in dire need for critical discourse as we consider the positive transformation of Nepal. Without finding a systemic solution to Nepal’s recently discovered or recognized disparities, Nepal will not be able to maintain its integrity.

Federalism is one such aspect of state restructuring that bears potential to improve the management of the state through decentralization and uphold principle of inclusion and fairness. In its essence, the total sovereignty of the state is to be divided into constituent elements of the state. Similarly, the country should be a federation of geographic regions divided through some fair formulas (whatever those formulas may be). Then, the constituent elements of the sovereignty are to be divided constitutionally such that each political entity has a designated sovereignty that cannot be trampled by the other entity. The core purpose of this is to ensure that people have more power than the local government; the local government is more powerful than the regional government, which is more powerful than the central government. Therefore, the society would be founded on the principles of freedom, processes, equality of humans, and rights of individuals.

The concept of federalism, however, was never debated strongly in Nepal until a demand of a federal system was put forward by Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in 1996 in the pretext of their armed uprising in their “40 point demands” presented to the Government of Sher Bahadur Deuba. It took many more years for it to be accepted by other political parties and some, like the Nepali Congress, accepted it grudgingly in 2007 after the people of Tarai staged a revolt on the core issue of federalism and the uprising could not be stopped without including the provision of federalism and proportional representation in the interim constitution.

Ten years of war and 13000 lives later, now, at least one issue has been settled. Every major political force of Nepal has come to accept the concept of federalism, whether willingly or unwillingly. Today, much debate has yet to occur in Nepal in this issue but possibly a seed of debate has definitely been planted. Today, Nepal does not have a way to opt out of federalism; it is only a matter of what kind of federalism is to be brought in.

The issues of freedom, federalism and inclusion, however, are interrelated and intertwined. Therefore, without properly embracing all three, durable democracy is not going to be materialized.

The Beginning of a New Debate

Thus far in Nepal, the discussion has just begun to solve the problem of finding an optimal path in a network of possibilities to shorten the journey to peace and prosperity for Nepal. And, federalism has become the new kid in the block among inclusion, prosperity, freedom, democracy, and so on.

The value of federalism is in the empowerment of people. But if a model of federalism is founded on the traditional power structure, it will only add new layers of hierarchy on top of those already existing. In turn, the system is even more difficult to change from a structural level in case it does not function well. Federalism is a solution only if it empowers people by reducing the levels of hierarchies existing today.

Unfortunately, schools of sciences, engineering, and management have conditioned us to accept hierarchy as the mother of all organizations. They say that only a small level of progress was achieved by people living in loosely connected communities for time immemorial. The hierarchical system mastered by human civilizations in more recent times gave rise to large kingdoms that would otherwise be too complex to manage.

Hierarchy appeared to be compatible with everything until the day that the human mind discovered the notion of democracy, which is supposed to be founded on the basis of human freedom, equality, justice, and prosperity of all. But, hierarchical systems are not about fairness and equality; instead they are about supremacy and control. Similarly, they are extremely vulnerable to minor defects and it is only a matter of time before they invariably fail. Most empires built in human history have lasted only a short period of time. When we look at the history of human survival, we see that it has remained continuous and it has been possible due to massively parallel and interconnected systems organized by nature. Parallelism gives rise to systems whose reliability and resilience far exceeds that of the reliability of individual components that make up the system. History shows that all societies seem to have relied on parallelism in their rising phases and have employed hierarchical control in their dying phases. Hierarchy will have its place among us, but its usefulness will be desirable in the systems whose size and complexities are small and where it cannot take away the transparency of the system.

It is only natural that we will be successful by emulating the methodologies employed by empires during their rising phases. However, our instinct naturally leads us to emulate an empire in a dying phase because empires seem to be the most prosperous and invincible – thus emulation-worthy – just before their demise. Yet, the most successful empires of all time became so by providing education and employment for all, having relative democracy, focusing on innovation, relying on massive parallelism, and displaying fairness to and compassion for the people within their domain. In human history, builders of empires have always freed the masses of people from old tyrants and promoted democracy at first. In return, they receive praise, loyalty, discipline, and hard work from those people. After achieving that initial success, the empires seem to enter a mode to conquer and control the far reaches of the world as a means to collect more power and to achieve more prosperity. They started instilling new hierarchies, curtailing freedoms, and de-humanizing those people. These acts led to apathy, discontent, rebellion, and the ultimate demise of the empire either from within or due to outside invasion. A massively federal system is more conducive for promoting inclusion and empowerment. Combined with a massive push for all-inclusive education and organization, federal system will build the slope that will stimulate the movement of the “prosperity boulder”. This is because an unsophisticated person can make much more useful decisions in smaller social, political and economic units than in large and complex units. They, therefore, would be considered worthy of being empowered in smaller units. Similarly, people of inclusive systems feel empowered, work relentlessly, feel freer to be innovative, and dare to break old stereotypes. Therefore, a massively federal system and inclusion are compatible and complimentary.

Therefore, the question should not be whether federalism can be adopted and inclusion be practiced in Nepal, or whether federalism can help enhance inclusion. Instead, the central question should be how could we not only build this massively parallel, free and inspired society, but also configure and regulate it such that it does not give rise to hierarchical, restrictive, and tyrannical systems? We have to find ways to prevent the demise of the progress that is to be initially achieved by using a parallel, distributed and inclusive system. Even in more sophisticated human endeavors of today, non-hierarchical systems have been successfully developed by people and practiced in large technology projects and so on. If we wake up and think through the progress made in recent times and how societies remained massively parallel in human history, we will be able to navigate our way through towards building an equitable and prosperous society. Moreover, we are fortunate to live in the age of information, which carry potential to multiply our capabilities to seek new knowledge by many fold.

Conclusion

When debates over competing thoughts rage in the society, we, as individuals, tend to take the side of one or the other. Our actions often give rise to contradictions instead of finding novel ways of blending those competing ideas and developing new ideas that can bring people towards unison. Such unison is not going to magically appear unless we honor the principle of social, political, and economic freedom for all and not just for “me”. Freedom in that case has to originate from the communities where people deprived of the tools of empowerment are living. Therefore, inclusive policies starting from the nutrition and education of children, meeting specific local needs of the people, and mobilizing locally available human and natural resources, are necessary to dismantle the exclusion that has left millions of Nepalese in illiterate, poor, and subjugated states. This implies that a form of federalism has to replace the current centralized model, which prescribes a single generic solution from Singha Durbar based on the instructions passed on by the advisors of other empires.

It appears that most of today’s conscious people desire to have human-freedom, justice, equality, innovation, and prosperity as part of our human virtue. However, when it comes to thinking about building institutions and systems to accomplish them, we tend to wish to be showered by those virtues without ourselves toiling to build them. In addition, we spend time in manufacturing complaints towards those political actors that generally disagree with our psychic alliance and in singing hymns of praises towards those aligned to us. Therefore, the most potent container of visions and thoughts – the so-called intelligentsia – has largely been living the life of a wastrel. Instead of inspiring hope in the masses of people through ideas of convergence and construction, we have become subservient to borrowed thoughts. And it is time that we wake up and create our own ideas instead of creating “cheat-sheets” for the “test of intellectualism”! Rather than being gratified that our tiny “thought-pots” are over-full and spilling, we must begin to create new containers of thoughts that are never to be filled. Then only we will find unity in diversity and we will see the tree of hope growing among us. We will have a united and prosperous Nepal!

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