Imagining a 'New Nepal'
By Indra Adhikari
Simultaneously with debates of the political parties for their share in the interim government and interim parliament, disarmaments of the rebellion forces and keeping them in cantonment, the independent experts and general Nepalese people have begun their debate to imagine a newer Nepal.
Peace and prosperity were the priority of all Nepalese for years. Their yen for peace was colossally expressed during the April uprising that forced royalty's surrender before the power of the people, losing most of the privileges and prerogatives.
Peace, prosperity and equality with justifiable share of representation of all sections of the people in the state mechanism are some of the vital ingredients necessary for a newer Nepal.
Social and cultural inequalities prevalent in Nepalese society are the greatest challenges lying before the top leaders at this critical phase. Empowerment of women, indigenous communities, backward class and oppressed groups is the must. These communities have repeatedly raised their concerns of being ruled by minorities. While indigenous communities occupy over 45 percent of the Nepal's total population, the Brahim community, regarded as the upper caste in Hindu social hierarchy, who are less than 20 percent of the total population, have overshadowed in the political and economic spheres for centuries.
The indigenous communities have less than 15 percent representation in the present legislature and less than 25 percent in the bureaucracy. While Dalits, who are regarded as untouchables and lie at the bottom of the Hindu hierarchy, composite over 16 percent of the total population but have less then 2 percent access to national politics and governance. In the present cabinet, one person represents Dalits.
Increasing women's participation is another challenge. The reinstated House of Representatives declared 33 percent reservation for women in every aspect of state machinery, but political parties have yet to adhere to their commitment to give that share to the women. While still this extent of inclusion has already become headache for the parties, campaigns have already begun for 50 percent share of women in all aspects. Government while amending the Public Service Act said there would be compulsory 33 percent women involvement in public service. Satirically, only some 2.5 percent women have access at the policymaking level and there is only one female member in the present cabinet.
In the multi-ethnic Nepalese society, social, political and cultural inclusion are the major demands of the lower class people. As a result of that, people from hills and terai, who remained excluded from mainstream social and political life, incessantly supported the populist agenda of the Maoist rebels of giving ethnic autonomy once they capture state power.
In newer Nepal, the citizens imagine to exploit the immense potential of the natural resources. Potentials of hydropower, forest, petroleum and mineral resources have never been caught here. Political interferences and interests of the donor communities, moreover, influence taking decisions in these issues.
Devolution of power to local government and limiting power of the central government is another populist agenda that Maoists carry, since local governments were never empowered in the political history of Nepal despite the commitments of the rulers to handover their power to the people. This is undermining the sovereign power of the people.
In general, massive transformation in social, cultural, economic, political and psychological thoughts and correctly translating these thoughts into action is needed to bring the imagination of a peaceful and prosperous Nepal into reality.
Veteran law expert, who had acted as the law minister during the interim period in 1990, Nilamber Acharya traces out his imagination of newer Nepal as a republic, freed from any kind of feudalism, end of prevailing inequalities, pluralism and sovereign and powerful Nepalese people in a real sense.
Obviously, there is need of transformation by thought and action in family, society, parties and every social institution existing. In totality there is need of transformation of the whole of state, to ensure that people have the ultimate power to determine the type of political system they prefer to see here. More than a decade long practice of democracy has rightly proved that people want neither a family rule nor one party rule that curtails all their rights and liberties of citizens.
In the words of Finance Minister Dr Ram Sharan Mahat, new Nepal will be liberal democratic, pluralistic with a competitive political system, respect for the rule of law and recognition of the fundamental liberties of every person and citizen in the country as guaranteed by the international legal instruments.
In political parties, internal democratisation is another issue. Parties like Nepali Congress, the oldest of Nepal's democratic history, is still run through a family monopoly, the Koiralas, comparatively like Gandhis in Indian Congress. In the newer force like Maoists, securing position for kin and kith have already begun: chairman Prachanda's wife is the party's advisor and the wife of Dr Babu Ram Bhattarai, the second in command of the party, has been promoted to taking charge of foreign affairs. Recent reports have revealed that most of the leaders in this party, at varying length, prefer their near and dear to occupy responsible position in the party.
The other important aspect that is lagging behind while talking about newer Nepal is 'economic agenda'. For centuries, political upheaval has overshadowed the economic agendas in Nepal. In other words, political issues are sidelining economic agendas. Indeed, economic prosperity must get priority in the list of national agenda Nepalese would imagine for a better and prosperous Nepal. As Nepal is already a member of the World Trade Organisation, it needs reconstruction of the industrial sector so as to bring out products that can compete in the international market, at the same time making it cheaper.
Rigorous discussions on issues like restructuring of the state, accountability, transparent justice, interim constitution, development and rebuilding of the state, reconstruction and rehabilitation, economic revitalisation, peaceful landing of the decade long armed conflict and effective management of the arms and armed forces are required before Nepal enters into a newer phase, to make a new history.
(The article is based on the two-day discussion of experts on 'Naya Nepalko Kalpana' (imagination of New Nepal) organised by Actionaid and Social Science Baha in Kathmandu on September 26 and 27).
Indra Adhikari writes on politics, economy and Bhutanese refugees. Associated with Nepalnews and South Asian Media Solidarity Network. A life Member of the International Nepali Literary Society in Washington DC, he can be reached at email@example.com