Nepal | March 27, 2019

Federalism: An opportunity not to delay

Upendra Raj Bhattarai

Identity just for the tag of it is not worth it, but we can make it productive in many ways. It is a matter of creating contexts in which people explore their identity for cognitive and affective appreciation of their groups for better productivity and harmony

Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

Political parties and the leaders of Nepal during the last seven decades have wrought several successive movements to restore democracy in the country but have miserably failed to consolidate the achievements and deliver the mandate of the people. After overthrowing the Rana oligarchy in 1951, successive prime ministers failed to set up a democratic system in the country, leading to the party-less Panchayat system by King Mahendra. The Panchayat system lasted for three decades and collapsed in 1990, helping to introduce the world’s “best constitution” in Nepal in 1991. But the failure of the leaders to understand and address the people’s need and aspirations resulted in a decade-long insurgency, which uprooted the constitutional monarchy and ushered in federalism in the country.

Federalism, a much-anticipated political system in Nepal, allows a large measure of regional self-governance. It empowers citizens to manage their own community’s affairs, thereby enhancing civic engagement in a democracy. It delivers the practical ability to respect both the will of the majority and the rights of the minorities.

Federalism can be a flexible response to people’s problems and a vehicle for holistic and pragmatic development, focussing primarily on public obligations. It can also reduce conflicts between diverse communities, provide a stable platform to encourage local innovations and talents, mine the assets in a sustainable and responsive way, thereby promising enduring advancement. It not only makes the local government and authorities more effective but also helps the central government to keep its priorities straight and reduce the risk of national dissolution.

But with those opportunities come along some variable risks, and the risk factor largely depends upon the vision and actions of the political and social leaders. The wrongful interpretation of the morals of federalism and gaslighting the loopholes created during the adjustment of the system to the ecology of the country for political gain is very common even among the top political leaders in the country. We often hear many political leaders advocating against federalism for creating racial division in the country, but they should understand and take responsibility that it is not the system but their own racial slurs and behaviour that energise racial apartheid and separatism.

Nepal is very different, diverse and vague in terms of socio-cultural, geophysical, geopolitical standpoint, and the attempt to adopt an exotic governance and development model as it is does not bode well. So, it needs understanding, motivation, determination, good faith and, most importantly, vision for a re-vision among the citizens and their leaders.

The transition to the federal system has been an uphill battle for the country mostly because of the lack of infrastructure, legal channels and a clear roadmap for the mobilisation of the jurisdiction of power, personnel and resources to the newly-formed multi-layered social and political authorities.

The centralist mindset among the leaders in the central government, questions of recognition and identity, inclusive representation at all layers of the political system have surfaced as some major challenges. Federalism, in essence, means devolving powers to the local authorities and should be embraced and implemented by the centre. With authority comes responsibility, which the local government should be accountable for and be responsibly monitored by the centre.

Identity and inclusion of the marginalised groups were the primary mandate during the 2006 people’s movement.

Having an identity is not a bad concept; what can be hurtful is how we envision it. Identity just for the tag of it is not worth it, but we can make it productive in many different ways.

It is a matter of creating contexts in which people explore their identity for cognitive and effective appreciation of their groups for better productivity and harmony.

It is never late to start. We have to change the course of development by promoting innovation and pragmatic implementation. Now there are 761 governments in the country with full authority to govern as per the constitution. The Local Government Operation Act, 2017 allows the local government to develop and implement short as well as long-term projects. What a wonderful opportunity for those elected leaders in the local governments to actually do something for the community. They should start churning constructive debate on localised developmental plans and strategy.

To start with, it would be realistic to have baseline surveys of the available resources, niche specific opportunities and the problems. Priority should be on solving the humanitarian crisis, if any, to ensure each and every citizen with basic human rights and a clear roadmap for their quality improvements.

Improving the quality of education, healthcare and other basic human needs should be addressed in a holistic way through the public-private partnership (PPP) model as per the PPP policy, 2017. This not only makes citizens responsible but also provides an opportunity to serve the society and foster financial growth. An example of such holistic development could be the concept of sixth industrialisation.

Bhattarai holds a Ph.D. in Agricultural Entomology


A version of this article appears in print on January 29, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.


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