Getting Federalism Right In Nepal

For effectively channelizing the federal system in Nepal, the role of institutions is going to be crucial

April 12, 2019, 3:26 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL 12 No.17, April 19-May 2 2019 (Baisakh.06, 2076) Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

In a multi-party democracy like Nepal, it was anything but unusual to plan of an action to think of ‘provinces’ as the clusters of good governance and equitable growth. With having the past of a unitary state, the transition was not easy and it became obvious as the new Constitution made the provisions that gave the signal of major political shift with ‘decentralization’ coming-in to force.

While the hiccups placated and the states entered into living existence, the void remains on the accountability side where just having the Constitutional provisions for a decentralized polity under the federal system are not enough. It is worth reckoning that the Constitutional provisions per se’ don’t bring to the fore, a clarity about the center-states relations and allocation of responsibilities.

What rather the Constitution offers constitute a legitimacy for the formation of the provinces in Republic of Nepal. However, the long-term vision for strengthening the governance framework is completely missing in the grand text, equally it goes indifferent on giving the provinces a mandate to be financially self-sustainable and aligning further with the national developmental framework.

For effectively channelizing the federal system in Nepal, the role of institutions is going to be crucial. To cope with the emerging challenges, among others, the traction would be required from Election Commission, Supreme Court, Planning Commission and President’s Office. Essentially, these institutions have to function in non-partisan manners and above the narrow political considerations.

Though the provision for provinces was primarily made through the consideration on ethnic and community driven demands, in later course, it also relied on lingual and political-economic factors. Essentially, such fundamentals keep in limit the possibilities of organic growth among the provinces.

Still, it would be a misnomer to think of the provinces merely as ‘decentralised power-centres’, having no other vital aims than challenging the traditional ruling elite classes of Kathmandu. Indeed, the provinces should be counted for offering promissing scopes and possibilities that could assist in fulfilling the rising aspirations of masses.

Strikingly, in recent years, Nepal’s polity and economy have been mostly driven through the ‘activism’ rather the aspirations of masses. The close observers of contemporary history would agree on the point that the country has been in grip of a void caused by the aggression of activism and suppression of mass aspirations, sadly the pattern is now firmed-up and mainstreamed.

Ironically, Nepal had opted for an under-defined Presidential System after hurried abolition of Monarchy – and made it a belief that the new institution has little to do with the core statecraft. This was a sort of big loss, since the institution of Monarchy it had replaced was a living organ of state and with great outreach capacity at home and in the world. The lawmakers must give heed on this.

Undeniably, the other pressing concerns remain the growing adulteration in political culture and supremacy of ‘identity’ that weigh more on reaction and less on substance. Alas, the unresolved issues of Madhesh are fated to be deal with the new vicious pattern that rarely cares for historical and existing realities.

In search of solutions, often it is cited that Madhesh should be given autonomy in some ways. It wouldn’t help the system to make Madhesh region autonomous within the Unitary Republic of Nepal, this will be simply like giving away without addressing the genuine issues.

The solution has to be in tandem with realistic proposition and the demands for devolution in greater way can be addressed through ensuring functionally sound governance provisions.

Also, the realization has to be there that only by making the system much more inclusive, a United Nepal will prosper as wishful. Appeasement in any manner will maximize the gain of reactionary and opportunist elements, the masses just look for an inclusive set of order under the existing national framework.

Moreover, for getting the federalism right, the provinces have to create their productive bases inside the allocated territories. Some of them, which are geographically placed near the Indian borders facing the parts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal should be made the points of sub-regional economic co-operation.

The advantage with the open borders should reflect on in economic terms, so far, the outcomes have been below the potential. An infrastructural haul in both sides of the borders is a long-pending work to be finished at priority basis, further bringing-in the policies to thrive on the truly friendly border regime shall create a new basis of healthier economies and people-to-people ties between the two countries.

Making and unmaking of provinces would heavily depend on their propensity to walk with the time and not allowing the bad politics win over good economics. As the heart of matter, the provinces have to emerge as the ‘zones of hope’ rather the ‘dark clusters’.

At the cusp of big change, there should be a careful consideration on leveraging the productive side in peripheries. In process of adopting as new as a system like ‘federalism’, the centre that is in Kathmandu must show flexibility in approach and let the provinces play formidable roles in nation-making. The time is for initiating and sustaining the pure work, nothing else!

Atul K Thakur (1).jpg

Atul K. Thakur

Atul K Thakur is a New Delhi-based columnist with keen interest in South Asian affairs, he also works on public policy. The views expressed in the piece are personal. He can be reached on:

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