For Nepal to thrive, federalism must workHistory should have taught us by now that a top-down, Kathmandu-centric approach to development will not work.
Niranjan Mani Dixit
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s candid message during his recent state visit to Nepal, based on his critical observations, was thought-provoking and insightful. He had said that, for a communist party to successfully run the country, it should first promote integrity and good governance, and essentially win the hearts of the people by delivering services and developing Nepal. He also observed that the Nepal Communist Party was doing poorly in implementing development activities, unlike in China where the government works committedly and industriously. Xi’s valuable message reflects the feelings of the Nepali people.
Why hasn’t development really kicked off in Nepal? Here, politics and political behaviour are peculiar, idiosyncratic, and erratic, and not consistent with the universal ideals of either the federal democratic republic or socialism or communism. Anthropologists, sociologists and historians believe that, genetically and patrimonially, the Khas and Aryan population in Nepal has come from India. Traditionally thought to be smart and scheming, and well known for their administrative legerdemain and oratory power, they tend to override and sway state affairs and the underprivileged castes, ethnic groups and Dalits. Brahmins and Chhetris constitute 16.59 percent and 12.18 percent respectively of the total population as per the 2011 census.
In view of the growing chaos in Nepal, anthropologists and analysts believe that a critical study of the feudal character of the elites in state affairs in relation to the disadvantaged castes and indigenous people is imperative. The elites are dominant in the major political parties. They have been leading the government for decades. Over three dozen prime ministers from the Brahmin and Chhetri caste group have been in power since the 1951 revolution. The key positions in the bureaucracy and constitutional bodies are also occupied by these elites.
Despite the political transition and stability, a new constitution, plentiful economic resources, abundant human capital, and good wishes and cooperation from China and India, the government has not been able to enhance evidence-based progress, prosperity and development.
Based on observations, the political sector is being treated as a lucrative industry for personal advantage. Freedom of the press and speech is at risk. Trial and punishment for corruption and collusion seem to be nonexistent. It seems that those who abuse authority do so with impunity. Consequently, hatred among the people towards the government’s inefficient and ineffective performance is rising—a recipe for the next political revolution. Excessive time and energy seem to have been spent on engineering political activities and creating a politico-bureaucratic nexus, which is a departure from scoring evidence-based service delivery and national development.
Analysts and watchdogs describe Kathmandu as a fertile ground for using unfair or illegal means for personal advantage. Bribes, commissions and kickbacks have been prevalent. Even until the late 1940s, the elites from the hilly districts would speak of going to Nepal (Nepal janey) when they were planning to visit the Kathmandu Valley. This might explain the obsession Nepalis from all districts have of wanting to move to the Valley.
A move to decentralisation
Apparently, this also explains the leaders’ want of a top-down, Kathmandu-centric system of governance. But history should have taught us that it is difficult to administer and develop the entire country from Kathmandu itself. It is apt to quote Abhi Subedi: ‘The monstrosities that fill the capital are therefore not made with a sense of belonging, but with a sense of fulfilment. That is why they do not have any character or any plans. That is the reason why their governments “give a damn” to build the city nicely and construct well-planned streets. That is the reason why millions of them return to their spaces all over the country symbolically during Dashain.’
The acid test of the federal and provincial governments lies in their planning and implementing the repatriation of the migrants to their districts of origin, making available equitable employment, production and business opportunities, as well as delivering efficient services.
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