Nepal | November 24, 2020

New democratic alternative: Facing crisis

Babu Ram Bhattarai
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A balanced and successful democratic polity in Nepal’s context would be one that has an inclusive federal structure with a strong executive at the centre. And, we need to build a system that can supersede the flaws of both capitalism and socialism


Some unsettling events have occurred lately in the so-called enlightened and developed Western world which has historically prescribed models of polity and economy to the rest of the world.

Racial, cultural and ethnic intolerance are on the rise in the two “most successful democracies” of the world. For example, the vote for BREXIT and victory of Donald Trump and rise of the Conservatives in the US.

The case is no different in South Asia and the rest of the world. Representative democracies throughout the world are facing crises.

Dissent against capitalist tendencies these days rarely get translated into a socialist alternative, rather it has mostly taken a more conservative turn.

A general observation shows us that people almost everywhere, even in the US, want change. Wanting to “change” our political and economic system has become quite a popular statement, yet also a very ambiguous and footloose one.

Because “change” can mean from anything and everything to nothing at all.

The search for alternative visions has already begun in Nepal. First, there is a need to re-conceptualize our idea of democracy.

I feel that the success of our new constitution and its ability to pave the way for a stable and peaceful Nepal in the upcoming days will depend on our ability to fulfill the objectives of inclusive democracy.

Although the new constitution comes with some promising provisions, it is rather unfortunate that the outcomes of the second Constituent Assembly did not reflect the achievements of the first.

Consequently, in spite of getting a new constitution which codifies the concept of inclusive democracy, there are serious dissatisfactions among those who feel left out, particularly the Madhesi-Tharus and Adivasi-Janajatis.

Inclusive democracy on its own would not yield fair and equal representation. This is because the groups “included” in state institutions could still be underrepresented.

Therefore, it is significant to hyphenate the principle of inclusion with the provision for proportional allocation of political space. Furthermore, even a system of proportional representation would be insufficient to address the task of doing away with the unitary centralized structure of the state.

Unless the histories and cultures of ethno-lingual-regional communities are justly recognized, devolution of power alone would not fulfill the aspirations of a large section of the people.

Hence, in the Nepalese context, the agenda of federalism is intrinsically associated with the call for inclusive and proportional representative democracy. The current demands for constitutional amendments need to be viewed in this light.

The proposition of proportional, inclusive and participatory democracy in due consideration of the three clusters proposed by Naya Shakti party may be useful in this context.

If we look into the composition of Nepalese society, the population distribution of three broad clustered communities can be broadly identified as those of Khas-Aryas being 1/3rd, Madhesi-Tharus as being 1/3rd and the Adibasi-Janajatis as being the other 1/3rd of our total population.

Although the new constitution has resolved many issues, the basic contradictions between the distribution of rights among these three clusters have remained unsolved.

The continuation of agitations and dissatisfaction among the Madhesi-Tharus and Adivasi-Janajatis is a response to this discrepancy.

It makes no sense to speak of national integrity and social cohesion by superficially assimilating two-third of the population under the homogenizing and monopolizing impulses of one particular cluster.

Notions of inclusive democracy are also closely related to ideas of our national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Apart from formulating a mature foreign policy and implementing it with dignity, honesty and consistency, it must be realized that the protection of our country’s sovereignty is ultimately linked with strengthening our internal nationality.

A nation is its people and unless the people are sovereign, it is useless to talk about national sovereignty.

It has become easy to conduct politics by evoking a distorted notion of nationalism where all those asserting their rights against the homogenizing and monopolizing impulses of a particular class of people are being asked to prove their loyalty to the nation.

There is no doubt that our internal political contestations and unstable polity have always attracted all kinds of unwanted foreign interferences.

Yet, we have to understand that these interferences are not the reason behind the dissatisfaction of our own people, but a consequence of that.

Another impediment to a better functioning of our democracy is the continued parliamentary system of government. Frequent changes and formation of weak governments has been a major cause of disenchantment for Nepali people, especially the youth.

Therefore, I firmly believe that we need a system of directly elected executive head in order to ensure a strong and stable polity that can effectively steer fast track developmental pursuits and bring prosperity to the Nepali people.

A balanced and successful democratic polity in Nepal’s context would be one that has an inclusive federal structure with a strong executive at the centre.

And, we need to build a system that can supersede the flaws of both capitalism and socialism.

Bhattarai is coordinator of Naya Shakti Party, Nepal.

A version of this article appears in print on November 21, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.

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