The broken drum of meritocracyLoyalists of the old order seem to be trying to sabotage the agenda of the 2008 pronouncement.
The generation born after the gruesome Narayanhiti Massacre had already come of age when the ethno-national chieftain of the Khas-Arya began to dismantle the democratic edifice created through several uprisings between 2005 and 2008. Many of these young adults that considered their supremo to be a saviour for quite a while may not have memories of political struggles that led to the greatest historic event since the conquest of Kathmandu Valley in 1769 by the last king of Gorkha.
In May 2008, the first Constituent Assembly declared in the name of the sovereign people that the country shall henceforth be called the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. A dream of the 1950s, a wish of the 1960s, an intention of the 1970s, a distant goal of the 1980s, a determination of the 1990s and an agenda after the noughties was finally realised without much opposition. The pledge of the Constituent Assembly in 2008 had at least four major components—federalism, inclusion, secularity and participation. These are the legs that support the democratic order of the nascent republic.
The country was to be federalised to create a sense of belongingness among the historically externalised people of the country, particularly the Madhesis. The essence of federalism is neither devolution nor decentralisation, but to empower various nationalities within a country with provincial autonomy. The combination of "self-rule" and "shared-rule" is meant to manage diversities and reduce discontentment in unitary states with a dominant majority. Local self-governance provides essential services at the doorsteps of the people. The promise of inclusion was an acceptance that the dominant majority had kept the state under its clutches. The transformation of the permanent establishment required that the marginalised section of the population be mainstreamed through positive discrimination. Issuance of citizenship certificate—the fundamental basis of state-citizen—be fast-tracked to end the state of statelessness.
The third leg of the stool on which the structure of democratic republic stands is secularity, which is based on the belief that governance and religious faith are separate realms. Being irreligious doesn't imply hostility to religion, more often it merely means indifference. The fourth prop on which the budding republic sits is the concept of participation. Despite tremendous pressure from the Maoists, the Stalinists of the UML, the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum and a section of the Nepali Congress, the plebiscitary proposal of directly electing the chief executive was ruled out. A portion of the people's representatives were to be elected on the basis of proportional representation to ensure the presence of the diversities of the country in Parliament. Remnants of the Shah and Rana regimes and loyalists of the old order appear to be making concerted attempts to sabotage the primary agenda of the May 2008 pronouncement in the name of defending liberalism and promoting meritocracy.
Values and beliefs rammed into the psyche of the people for over two centuries don't disappear overnight. The form of a republican government has been largely accepted, but it's essence is yet to seep into the consciousness of a significant section of the population. That's the reason every premier, irrespective of the party, begins to behave like an elected autocrat. Even nominal federalism of the "wineglass model", where provincial governments lack the authority commensurate with their responsibility, creates a check on the waywardness of federal agencies. Officers controlling the administration, taxation, security agencies and service organisations think that the merit they had gained through the certification of the Public Service Commission makes them answerable to none but themselves.
Federalism is decried as expensive while the federal government happily splurges huge amounts of money on maintaining paraphernalia that does little more than merely exist. It has been a long time since anyone advocating a small government questioned the bloated army that has increased its strength and widened the scope of its activities over the last two decades.
It is diversity rather than size or population that necessitates a federal structure. Belgium, almost one-fifth the size of Nepal, is an experiment in federal governance. The confederation of Switzerland has a population that is about one-third of Nepal. Meanwhile, it was a unitary form of government with a very strong centre that has kept Nepal mired in poverty, backwardness and underdevelopment. Inclusion through straightforward reservation ensures not just parity in opportunity, but a semblance of equality in the outcome. Economic status should not be a consideration in an arrangement that is meant to correct gross inequalities created by what French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu calls "habitus" referring to "symbols, ideas, tastes, and preferences that can be strategically used as resources" in socio-political transactions.
The "creamy layer" argument to deny opportunities created to address accumulated injustice of the past is vacuous: The positive discrimination strategy of the state isn't a poverty alleviation programme of the government. In any case, it's the supposed merit-based system that has created the mess that the country finds itself in.
The purpose of the "res publica" was to ensure freedom within a legal system that secured the rights and set the responsibilities of the citizen. The Latin verb religare, from which the English term religion is derived, means to bind the faithful. Democracy thrives in the brightness of irreverent questions while religion survives in the darkness of reverential belief. The two can only be put together under a secular regime.
The indispensability of secularity is so stark for the vibrancy of a republic that it hardly needs any justification. The hubristic argument that the religion of the majority should automatically be the religion of the country by virtue of its prevalence in society is a transparent strategy of demagoguery. Freedom of religion, including the freedom to discard, adopt or keep the faith, constitutes one of the fundamental rights of every rational human being. The rightwing slogan of "Hindu Rashtra" is meant to inflame populist passions.
Ease of getting the certificate of citizenship is the primary requirement that ensures voting rights. The media and civil society have to be constantly engaged to create awareness. Political parties have to function as platforms of organised action against social injustice. The much-decried "democratic decay" in South Asia owes as much to the dysfunctional participation mechanism as the hubristic layer that rules without accountability in the name of meritocracy. The almost-20 generation born in the early-noughties needs to ponder over ways to mend rather than keep beating the same old drum of conformism.