Federalism Is a political issue should be decided by political means - Interviews

Federalism Is a political issue should be decided by political means

Professor Lok Raj Baral
Political Analyst and former professor of political sciences of Tribhuwan University Mr Lok Raj Baral highlights his opinion on current political situation of Nepal

26 JANUARY 2015 – Political parties in Nepal are divided into various ideology as the issue of federalism, electoral system and its justice system, some analyst says it is a political matter and others say it is a matter of communal rights and should decided by the public referendum.
As Nepalese leaders has failed to draft new constitution by their own deadline Last week, we have seen both activity and inaction in the Constituent Assembly (CA).The ruling coalition of the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML pushed for a questionnaire on contentious issues while the opposition of the Maoists and Madhesis continued to obstruct the CA, emphasizing consensus. On Sunday, CA Chairman Subhas Nembang has announced the formation of a Questionnaire Committee to take constitution-drafting forward, even as the opposition has vowed to boycott the process. As events continue to unfold, Akhilesh Upadhyay and Pranaya SJB Rana of Kantipur Publication caught up with the prolific Lok Raj Baral , author of a number of books on Nepal and former Tribhuwan University’s political science professor, to seek commentary on the constitution process.

The January 22 deadline has come and gone and we do not even have the draft of a constitution. How do you see politics unfolding?

That was a self-imposed deadline so it did not carry any constitutional or legal weight. But that was not wrong in itself. The parties wanted to expedite the constitution-drafting process. Three-four extra months will not be a big deal as Nepal is at a critical juncture. Republicanism, inclusion, and federalism have all become national agendas, so it would be unwise to try to ignore these crucial changes and move ahead. Whatever process the CA chairman has adopted, there must be consensus on some fundamental issues. I am not talking about Mohan Baidya or Netra Bikram Chand, but at least those forces inside the CA must be on board. Before entering into any process, there must be some kind of understanding, no matter if the opposition chooses to boycott the process or negotiate.

On what issues would you say consensus is absolutely necessary?

There are four major points of disagreement, but among them, the primary is federalism. The basis for federalism has already been fixed by the former CA. There were five bases for identity—ethnicity, language, culture, territorial contiguity, and history—along with capability. But if you want to go for federalism, you cannot say that a few regions will go untouched, for example, the Far-West or the East. If you say this, you are not accepting the very principle of federalism. Our major concern as Nepalis should be safeguarding our national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Internal territorial management should not be a problem. When the 14 zones and 75 districts were created, there was no dispute. So why is there a dispute on Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari now? This is the fundamental issue that needs to be settled first before entering into any debate on form of government, electoral system, or judiciary. The CA was supposed to provide for restructuring of the state, which means federalism. Kathmandu-centric politics will not work anymore. It is not just about decentralization; it is about taking power directly to the provinces and the local level. Also, I do not think that creating provinces on the bases identified by the previous CA will lead to disintegration of the nation. Rather, if you try to accommodate all sections of the population, that will be the basis of national integration. But if you alienate some sections of the population, it can lead to a rise in extremism tomorrow.

Before the dissolution of the first CA, the parties had come to agreement on a model of federalism based on identity and capability. Couldn’t this model have been taken up in the current CA?

Yes, it could. But what happened was that the parties changed their positions. Along with a change in leadership, their whole attitude and orientation changed. Bijay Gachhadar recently said that federalism can be set aside for now and other issues can be agreed on. An expert commission can decide on federalism later. But federalism is a political issue, as Surya Bahadur Thapa recently said on Fireside. It is not a matter for experts. But to take a political decision, we all have to change our mindsets. We should try to understand the emerging dynamics of Nepali politics—social, cultural, territorial, external. We cannot solve this federalism problem unless we start looking at politics in an inclusive manner.

You spoke of a change in attitude and orientation with a change in leadership. Some quarters believe that the ruling coalition is over reading the mandate in attempting to push for a majority vote in the CA.

First, if you talk according to procedural speaking, two-thirds is not incorrect. But we must give emphasis to our context, the time and environment. If we try to stick to procedure, perhaps we will not resolve this problem. We are not like America or India, where they had a cohesive leadership that was more or less together except for differences on some issues. Eighty-five percent of India’s Constituent Assembly members were from the Congress, so it was much easier there. Look at our parties, who have all come from different backgrounds. The UML came from a Naxalite background, the Maoists came after 10 years of war, and the NC has its own thinking of a liberal democracy. There are other extremist forces that are emerging and attempting to consolidate themselves. So we must look at the CA process as a form of social engineering and take everyone on board while moving ahead. No forces have spoken of national disintegration. The Limbuwan movement has been among the most extreme of ethnic movement and even it has not advocated disintegration; it talks of autonomy and identity. That said, the opposition should also try to compromise and not adopt extreme positions. We don’t need a procedural democracy; we need a performing democracy.

The NC-UML seems to have interpreted the November 2013 results as a vote against identity as one of the bases for federalism.

I do not think basic agendas and issues should be linked up with electoral politics. The electoral balance will change in six months or one year but the issues will remain. Look back at king Birendra’s referendum where 55 percent of votes were in favour of a reformed Panchayat. BP Koirala then said that the opposition must be built on this 45 percent. But what happened to the Panchayat in the end, despite having the mandate? So November 2013 was not a vote against constitutional issues. Look at Kamal Thapa’s 25 seats. They were not political votes; they were emotional ones. Electoral politics cannot be linked up with constitutional issues that have already greatly influenced the nation. Individual Madhesi leaders might be discredited but there will always be another leader waiting to take their place. The issue and ideology will never be discredited. We must look at far-reaching consequences and not just go by immediate electoral mandates.

An intolerant form of nationalism seems to be emerging in sections of the NC and UML. Where is this coming from and where will this lead us?

Such streams of thought in the parties, along with actors like CK Raut, will only push Nepal further into polarization. This kind of mindset will not benefit Nepal. Of course, there have been plus points in recent times when it comes to national integration. People are seeking equal ownership of the nation. But we all might be branded extremists tomorrow. Small issues like a lack of basic goods and lack of cooking gas contribute to resentment. The process of going to extremes does not happen overnight; it is a gradual process. This comes about as a result of a failure of good governance, lack of leadership, lack of service delivery and lack of organisational solidarity. Take the case of the rise of Hindu right. BP Koirala himself had said that it was a fraud to declare Nepal a Hindu state. I have quoted this many times. If just inserting the word secularism will satisfy people and help them feel ownership of the nation, why not just do it? This is what national integration means. If there is forced conversion, draft strict laws and get rid of poverty.

You touched on many aspects of governance. It will soon be a year since the formation of the government under Sushil Koirala. How would you assess its performance?

This government has not done anything; it has been a non-functioning government. It was barely able to even appoint ambassadors. It failed to expedite the constitution and it has not been actively inclusive. It has been a failure. But I would not just blame Sushil Koirala. It was the same during the tenure of Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai. This is a fault of the system. There is no single-party majority so any government needs to take other parties along with it. So either you need to satisfy your coalition partner or you need a prime minister with the personality to do what needs to be done. But I also don’t know what the alternative is. Furthermore, we are forced to deal with multiple crises at the same time—governance crisis, leadership crisis, constitutional crisis, corruption crisis, etc. And none of the parties abide by their ideologies. The NC is not socialist, the UML is not Leninist-Marxist, and the Maoists are not Maoist. That is why we need a minimum understanding between the major parties.

Do you see a role for civil society in such polarized times?

I am also part of this civil society, we all are. We have been writing articles, providing opinions and commentary, and giving interviews like this. We are opinion-makers, not decision-makers. Certainly, there comes a time for civil society to play a more direct role but civil society cannot always play the role of a political party. As I said before, federalism calls for a political decision to be made.

Source: KOL

Editor’s Note: This Interview was first Published on Kantipur Online portal and assumed that to be shared to the public for better understanding about the current situation of Nepal and Its political future. We do not hold any rights of the article and the views express here are not particularly our stand of current situation as well.