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Reinventing federalism in Nepal

image0013By Shambhu Deo
Nepal’s politics is in a crux while implementing federalism through amendment of the constitution.Nepal’s constitution 2015 has prominently changed Nepal into a secular federal republic state. There are seven provinces based on identity and capability and is being criticized by various sectors since promulgation.Tarai-based parties demand only two provinces in the plain region. They are opposing formation of local bodies before solving the issue of provincial structure. Tharu community wants a province Tharuhatfor them. A significant society KhasArya, almost one third of total population, is demanding a province Khasan for them. There are demands of many more identity based provinces.Senior party leaders are showing strong attachment to some of the districts like Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Makwanpur, Chitwan, Kailali and Kanchanpur and keen to exclude these districts from the provinces of plain regions in search of a way to join their province directly to Indian. Leaders of hilly districts of mid-western Nepal are demanding exclusion of their districts from the provinces of plain region.There are many more unaddressed aspirations of people while promulgating the constitution.
The new constitution delineated power to three levels: Central, Province and Local. District, an administrative unit established by King Mahendra in 1961 AD remainsas a core to determine federal structure. Some of the eminent political leaders,genuinely in most cases, continue to tighten the grip with particular districts due to a sense of belongingness and toprolong the districtsas their political hub irrespective of unavoidable demands of fresh demarcationof provinces. This probably implies the importance of ‘district’.
Tarai Congress at first in 1950s has demanded federalism in Nepal with aTaraiAutonomous Region ended without success. Sadbhawna Party later followed the demandand could not materialize it. During “people’s war” erathe Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) raised the issues of identity, power sharing, decentralization and ethnicity based autonomous region for self-governance. Nepal’s Madheshi parties, other political parties and deprived groups demanded inclusive democracy and federalism. It was to end the perceived root cause of Nepal’s problem the centralized and unitary structure and to resolve the disparities in caste, class, region and gender. There was a need of restructuring the state to address these issues and culminated in a federal state. Widespread movement in the Madheshimmediately after the Interim Constitution was promulgated in 2007 forced the first amendment to it and ‘Federalism’ was introduced. The demand was ‘a single province for whole plain area (EkMadheshEk Pradesh)’.
National unity and integration is the most important criteria for establishing a province. Ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic, fiscal and administrative ease, and comfort in execution of development and public works can be other bases for creating a province. Principally, a province addresses the identity, autonomy and self-rule of inhabitants. It facilitates internal conflict management. Federalism is based on the principle and values of democracy. Federalism has less to do with centralization or decentralization. A unitary system can be more decentralized. Restructuring of state is an objective oriented multi-faceted process covering all dimensions of state. It should cover at least political, judiciary, social, security and fiscal restructuring and restructuring in sharing benefits of natural resources. Restructuring of state is much broader than federalism.
The principles,structureand timing for federalism in Nepal are not appropriatelyadopted. Present demarcation of province number two enhances a possible threat to national integration and should be reconsidered. Ethnic, linguistic, cultural and identity based provinces cannot satisfactorily address the diversity of Nepal and can lead to a series of unending conflicts. The continued division of states in India shows the example. Prolonged water disputes between southern states of India depict the example of conflict management in federalism. The principles of autonomy and self-rule for a province can be a serious threat for Nepal’s integration while implementing it immediately due to poverty, squabbling behavior of stakeholders and for other reasons. A province created in the same geographical region can result better for development work.
Democratic exercise sometimes lack in a country like Nepal, such as there is democratic deficit after dissolving local level elected bodies in July 2002. Existence of provinces including national survival will have a serious threat in the absence of democracy. The world has helplessly observed the collapsing of USSR and Yugoslavia in afederal experimentation without institutionalized democracy. Federalism can address the issue of regional discrimination.Federalism has almost nothing to do for resolving the issue of class and gender discrimination. Federalism can be a means for the rise of ethno-based power centres and for suffering of minorities.
Currently out of 193 UN member nations 24 are federal states. In reality, two levels of governments of equal statuscontrol same territory in a federal system. Federalism disrupts the horizontal and vertical communication of a political system. Federalism restricts equal access, equal weightage and equal representation of all population to central government or apex ruling unit of the country.The elected representatives of various provinces or states have different level of expertise and acceptance at the central level due their different politicalparties, socio-cultural bases. Eagerness of central government to allocate more budgets to the state ruled by one party is a common example. Recent US election has uncomforted the democracy and peoples’ aspiration where the more vote receiver candidate lost the election due to electoral votes assigned to states in a federal system.Majority of population from a particular province always remain lagged due to their less access and representation to central government. People of the same country have the burden to pay unequal taxes and follow the different rules of two governments that increases inequalities.
Nepal’s beauty and uniqueness attract the whole world including the neighbors. Nepal’s neighbors showing continuous affection and commonness for the world’s highest peak Mount Everest, sacrosanct Janakpur and Lumbini. It can be their intention to make these heritages safe. Media claimed creating an artificial Lumbini in neighboring country, continuous rumors of Buddha’s birthplace is in India are far from reality making Nepal worried. Nepal has great concern over these heritages and territory. Various provinces in poverty may cause difficulty to manage these heritages, territory and for the neighbors. Implementation of federalism immediately as such is not in favor of Nepal, India and China.
The provinces while implementing should be structured to ascertain maximum interaction among people of different civilizations to enhance tolerance. It takes more than a decade to develop tolerance in a heterogeneous society came out of a totalitarian rule. There is a need of transitional period of almost fifteen years before full operation of federalism. There should be justifiable distribution of natural resources for all provinces. By then, the provinces should get gradual increasing in their rights. The local bodies should be fully decentralized, incapacitated with downward accountability. They should have authority of allocating resources, planning, execution, building local governance structures, managing diversity and increased interface of local representatives and the people.
The writer is the senior agriculture extension officer in the Ministry of Agriculture Development. He can be reached

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