21-27 November 2014 #733

The foreign handlers

Federalism is just decentralised feudalism in which warlords will rule states
Bihari K Shrestha

By briefing the diplomatic community in Nepal about the status of constitution drafting on 12 November, the government tried to draw the international community into some sort of partnership in its exercise, and put pressure on the opposition. 

The ambassadors then went into a huddle at the United Nations office in Pulchok in which the participants reportedly sought the position of Nepal’s two closest neighbours, India and China, on the issue. However, the diplomats seem to have been diplomatic about their viewpoints, and nothing tangible seems to have come out of the event, proving the point that a diplomat is a person who thinks twice before saying nothing.

Meanwhile, the opposition composed of the UCPN(M) and other 21 littler parties, have also gone running to the diplomatic community to ask for a meeting to brief them on their stance. The diplomats have therefore effectively been catapulted to the pedestal of being the most effective arbiter in the federalisation debate in Nepal.

On federalisation, the main stumbling block in the constitution, they decided to say nothing. The tragedy in all this, of course, is that federalism was never a demand of the Nepali people. It was imposed first by the Maoists for want of a better people-oriented agenda, and then a section of Madhesi leaders who seem to be striving to drive a wedge between the Madhesi people and the rest of the country. Both have been at a loss of words to explain how federalism would benefit Nepal’s underserved.

It is clear that we need to address historical exclusion, but future federal provinces will be dominated by the same warlords who want autonomy from Kathmandu to continue with the plunder. Federalism is just decentralised feudalism.

To add insult to injury, the entire approach to federalisation is in the hands of  politicians conspicuously devoid of academic and intellectual capacity. Which is why they are always lying, threatening each other, throwing tantrums and sulking

Given the history of their role in getting us to their point, the international community cannot suddenly wash their hands off. Despite decades of foreign aid, the country continues to suffer widespread poverty, caste and ethnic discrimination, inequality, unemployment, poor health and education. A nouveau riche was fattened by creaming aid and wallowing in corruption. 

However, thanks to donor support for human resource development in government, Nepal in 1980s was able to make two major innovations in the forestry and health sectors through devolution of authority to forest user groups and mothers’ groups respectively. Genuine decentralised decision-making helped Nepal achieve its two biggest success stories: community forestry and progress in mother-infant survival.

But the tragedy is that neither of these innovations were attempted for replication in the donors’ own programs. UNDP and DANIDA remain the most notorious for their bid to outdo each other in appropriating the ownership of Nepal’s decentralisation initiative. They inadvertently ended up vitiating the potent role of user groups in the Local Governance Act of 1999 that has gone on to spawn rampant corruption in the local bodies that we see today. 

However, when it comes to Nepal’s politics, some major international players are more directly implicated. Nepal’s political parties need not be accountable to the Nepali people because they know that, given our hopeless mimicry of the Westminster model, Nepali voters have no option but to elect the same politicians to power over and over again by turns. But the leaders are genuinely afraid of foreign interlocutors, most of whom are materially helpful to them, some even able to seat or unseat them. 

Nepal’s rulers were beholden to foreign powers, and they still are. Several recent books have confirmed that the federalism project was chaperoned by foreign handlers through the Maoists and Madhesi parties. Some donors used their inclusion portfolios to actively support NGOs, which have now become political parties pushing for ethnic federalism

Whatever they may say diplomatically about Nepal’s ‘internal affairs’, regional and international powers enjoy enormous influence over the current constitution-making process. 

Since they were so much a part of it, they can’t now say ‘it’s up to the Nepalis themselves’ to clean up the mess. They must back a democratic constitution that devolves authority to the grassroots, and defer federalisation until an objective study confirms that it will ensure a more inclusive and accelerated development. 

Read also:

Reckless federification, Editorial

The ‘f’ word again, Editorial

Frivolous federalism, Bihari K Shrestha

Maoists for multi-identity federalism

The architecture of democracy, Bihari K Shrestha

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