Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Hollow state



In theory, the Nepali state governs over a territory with more than 27 million citizens. Its broad mandate, as laid out in the country's laws, policies and plans, is to provide housing, education, health, jobs, food, security, justice, freedoms and rights for all Nepalis, besides settling disputes and building a cohesive national identity.

Now, go to any CDO office, or sit with VDC secretaries loitering around in the district headquarters. They spend a large portion of their days signing papers and certificates for citizens. The CDO is often in fire-fighting mode vis-ŗ-vis political party leaders in the district, deals with people with grievances, entertains visitors from Kathmandu, and attends events. As the fiscal year ends, his office is busy finalising expenditure, giving out contracts, and allotting funds.

In practice, the state's functions essentially include maintaining a degree of law and order; dispensing patronage and money to politically influential individuals; ensuring coordination between its various agencies to run a few schools and the district hospital; providing citizens with formal documents; and carrying on the pomp and ceremony of officialdom.

This disjunction between what the state is supposed to do, and what it does or can do, is at the root of Nepal's political and governance crisis.

If you judge its performance based on what it aspires to do, the Nepali state comes across as a hollow entity. It barely manages to complete minimal tasks, let alone meet the enhanced aspirations of its citizens. Its abysmal performance explains the widespread political discontent and the existence of numerous small rebel groups. But the state, in its various avatars, is extremely resilient and has found ways to survive. It has learnt the art of crisis management, based on a network of strong politicians, bureaucrats, small businessmen, big to mid-sized landowners, NGOs, and local media. It can maintain systemic stability even in the face of sporadic killings and abductions.

But the fundamental reason it can maintain legitimacy and deal with threats is because millions of citizens have, for all practical purposes, seceded from the Nepali state.

A lot has been written about how the migration of workers to India, Malaysia and the Gulf has kept the Nepali economy afloat. But there is an interrelated point. Migration has helped the Nepali state remain intact. For emigrants, their only interaction with the government is when they have to prepare their citizenship papers and passports; it is the transnational terrain of manpower agencies, airlines, and foreign companies that makes up their world.

Those in government readily admit that this provides a 'safety valve' against the unmanageable political unrest that would have resulted had these hundreds of thousands of unemployed men and women stayed in the villages still. Those who have fought the state, especially the Maoists, confirm the truth of this.

Dr Baburam Bhattarai says that migration made it tougher to destroy the 'semi-feudal' nature of the rural economy. A young man goes abroad; his parents and wife work on the fields as landless labourers. But his income provides them with a cushion, and reduces incentives for them to rebel against local power structures. This realisation was probably a factor in the Maoists mobilising support and funds from Nepali workers abroad during the insurgency.

The discussion over state restructuring is futile as long as the gap between its aspirations and delivery capacity, and the role of what can be termed the new transnational Nepali proletariat, are not taken into account. If there is no alternative but to be an exporter of cheap labour for the rest of the world, let us focus on building mechanisms that address the concerns of this primary lifeline. But if there is recognition that this is not sustainable or desirable, then the Nepali state has to change its focus to create more jobs within. Both tracks could be pursued simultaneously, but policymakers would do well to remember their hopeless track record in multi-tasking. The state needs to figure out what its broader objective is beyond survival, before it decides what it wants to look like.

Editor's note: Effective this week, CK Lal's Fourth Estate column will appear fortnightly.

The wages of sin, Publisher's note
Spectacle, not speculation, Rabi Thapa
Vacancy, Nepal, Artha Beed
FIFA fo fum, Ass

1. trish

well said....nothing but the truth...........but  i..hate to say ..m not proud to be a nepalese at all.........thts the bitter truth.......we need to change our thoughts abt how  we sud think. as an an member of a family...........and as a patriot ...............if we believe in change we can.....but lets all as individuals do our job properly..............


2. Daniel Gajaraj
Politicians including Babu Ram are always in a dilemma with their obsession with communism and Marxism., the doctrine which have out -lived their utility.. The economic energy of the nation is in the urban areas while the electoral strength is in the rural areas.Oppurtunities for growth are basically in urban and semi-urban areas.So cities have to be efficient in every ways to  accelarate economic growth.Babu Rams  like religious proselytizers are obsessed to go by revolutionary ways, not by evolutionary means. They advocate total destrution of existing infrastructure to build from the scratch; as they have done during their people,s wae days.. Why  is  he worried about the remittance money coming to the subsistent  farmering wife and children ?For persons like him the end justifies the means. One cannot achieve the right thing out of the wrong way. Over dependance on agriculture is not going to solve the problem of poverty  reduction., when the holding is so small with low productivity.China is pulling one per cent of its people  out of agriculture every year to construction and manufacturing;  it will go on for years  to  come.We should take lession from that.Solution for poverty reduction, is large scale job creation with disposable income,not poverty distribution.Wealth should be created first to distribute.Our leaders have to straddle muliple worldsof have and have-nots, urban and rural, educated and illiterates,.Without minimal infrastructure in rural areas diverting industry ,job creation ,and attempt to retain population there and stop migration tocities have failed in many countries.   Thetre is a growing realization that capitalistic planning with integrity and social resposibility  have been sucessful to create jobs,and solve the problem of poverty.and not the mis-guided and misunderstood  notion of socialism with central planning.."If a society cannot help the many who are poor,it cannot save the few who are rich."-correctly said John F. Kennedy.:

3. jange
In practice, the state's functions essentially include maintaining a degree of law and order; dispensing patronage and money to politically influential individuals; ensuring coordination between its various agencies to run a few schools and the district hospital; providing citizens with formal documents; and carrying on the pomp and ceremony of officialdom.

Under the circumstances, if it is managing to do this much then the Nepali state is not doing too badly.

Looks like the writer has switched tactics from directly espousing the Maoist cause to attacking the state instead. Presumably to achieve the same objectives.

I wonder if the author was writing similar things when the Maoists were in government. It would certainly be curious if he hadn't.

The reason we are discussing state restructuring is not because that is a political need of Nepal. State restructuring was the sop to the Maoists to stop their killing. It was considered necessary in order to provide a way of saving face for the Maoist leadership so that they would not lose control over their gunmen.

Tacit approval of Maoist violence is not the way forward. The sooner the author realises this the better for all Nepalis.

4. Arthur
"It has learnt the art of crisis management, based on a network of strong politicians, bureaucrats, small businessmen, big to mid-sized landowners, NGOs, and local media."

Another network is growing stronger, based on people's organizations, poor and landless peasants and workers. Already the second network has some "dual power", usually described here as "intimidation".

As the state sustained by the first network becomes an increasingly hollow entity, with most citizens "seceding" from it, eventually the second network will take power and become the new state.

Only then can the complete disjunction between what the state must do, and what the old state can do, be resolved. Only then can the stultifying grip of politicians, bureaucrats, landlords and NGOs that crushes Nepal be removed.

5. Slarti
You are looking at the right note, but as a status quoist of the new Republic of Hollowville, you fail to take the write-up to its logical end.

6. Kamal Kishor

Maoists state's restructuring concept is based on "State and Revolution" by Lenin. It is based on the premise that a revolution, if it is so, has to force (not based on a process of social transformation but violently) restructuring of the social political judicial and military structure of the existing state. It was mainly based on the strategy to overthrow a autocratic a very repressive feudal system of Czars.

Nepal is not at the same developmental stage as Russia then nor is the world. The international political paradigm has changed so much since then that to hang on to that concept and still define restructuring on the same premises is just madness and reveals the dogmatism and blindness of Baburam's intellectual capacity.

The present premises is that state machinery is a part of the bigger mechanism in which private property, social networks, NGOs, Civil Society, VDCs, DDCs, judiciary and semi-judiciary bodies, etc play equal and important roles in providing basic and specific services to the people. Because of that a progressive/democratic system and the govt is supposed to provide a legitimate space and power to these organizations to function and fulfill their responsibilities.

The maoists instead want to restructure based on the coercion after capturing the power and then uplifting party's machinary to that of state which means putting all power into the party and the machinery it dictates.


This should be exposed and fought out at all levels. No democrat or a progressive can and should accept the Maoists theory of restructuring of the society. This is also the niche of the present political impasse and delay in writing the constitution.

7. Krishna Dixit
Very true. Their strategy is to destroy the present strucuture and build new one as Mao did. It is just madness. It is based on the concept that what we have today is all rotten and what they would build is the best. There is never all rotten and no can can build all best. It is just madness.

The funny who is going to build new one? The combatant. Do you still want to support these thugs? Then GO TO HELL!!!

8. Sargam

Nepal's state structures in question

The downfall of state structures occurs whether through defeat by an external power or simply caused by the internal chaos which leads to a vacuum of political power.

The breakdown of state institutions plummets when the mechanisms through which political powers are exercised might become less consistent and citizens might lose trust in the judgment of the state.

Next, one of the most important ways to make states work conveniently is by means of creating apolitical bureaucratic structures such as civil service, judiciary, police and army in order to play the role of legitimate and neutral state authority in maintaining social order through prescribed procedures and the rule of law.

It ain't the simple lack of a state that undermines human security but the incentives that dictate how power is wielded and to what end.

In Nepal the blame as well as responsibility lie with the politicos who once more failed in their mission to provide the country with a new constitution which could have mapped out the main topics to deal with by strengthening societal fabric of the nation.

As every niche of good and favorable laws to be effective, it requires the consent of the majority of the country we must first reveal it to the mass that before 1990s there was blatant absence of the state except in cities like Kathmandu, Janakpur, Biratnagar, Nepalgunj, Birgunj etc. Because in small towns and villages there weren't even a civil service where one could record the birth and death of a citizen lambda. So why even today in foreign lands when we are asked by the local authority to produce a document relevant to our date of birth as well as birthplace we need a certificate from the Embassy mentioning that there is no such a recording civil service in Nepal.

After the Maoists' insurgency, political instability, lawlessness, nepotism and lack of accountability have prevailed in Nepal, and corruption is perceived to be of major concern by the NGOs thereby tagging Nepal as 143rd the most corrupt nation out of 180. Various ministers are going through thorough investigation so as to eradicate this bane or scourge from the governing bodies of this incumbent government.

Nepal needs all the trappings of a legitimate democracy along with a strong Parliament with an effective opposition in a multiparty and alternate governance and polity to reinforce solidity of the sovereignty of the State of Nepal.

Most of the time the populace see the state as a predator because still the corruption and bribery are so much deeply imbibed in Nepalese bureaucracy that every time if you want to obtain some service from the part of the state agents you are entitled to pay him an extra money if not you will hardly get things done quickly. Furthermore, the government provides next to nothing as health care, education, or even security for its citizens.

Not surprisingly, the key insight is that states cannot be made to work from the outside. The viability and legitimacy of a state requires enlightened local leadership, coherent institutional and international assistance.

If there is no checks and balances how the local government can become accountable?

For want of anything better, if you are fond of Humanities and Social Sciences you must be in the know that you have to delve into Old Babylonian socio-economic history forged by a king named as Hamurabi (1894 BC) who is believed to have given the first state structure. Then the timeline of Indian subcontinent makes you focus your attention on the Laws of Manu (roughly 700 BC) which refer to the Bramanical tradition from the Vedic period (roughly 1500 to 600 BC) which gives us the brief overview of earlier cultural and political events. At length, no one escapes from the Code Napoleon of civil service that prevailed in all of Europe after 1804 AD, and later on in South America, in Louisiana, Quebec, Thailand and et al.

At present, if a country decides to reboot the civil service of a state it first consults the Code Napoleon and then drafts the Code of civil service adapting the same according to the mores and culture of the state concerned.

It adds a new level of understanding about the profound changes wrought by Napoleon's armies as they traversed the length and breadth of Europe. This may open up new avenues of studies for those who are fond of deepening their knowledge if they are intrigued by this period of European history.

Code Napoleon's checks and balances begin with the reform of tax structure, which exempts nobody from paying his taxes no matter what is his birthright privilege. One of the main reforms was the establishment of the National Bank of France.

The Napoleonic Code codified all of France's civil, commercial and criminal law. Napoleonic Code reinforced the social reforms which already were promulgated after the French Revolution comprising the abolition of hereditary social distinctions, feudal privileges and social inequalities characterized by the old regime.

Still, Nepal has a chip on its shoulder because the old habits do not die easily. In consequence the injustices of the past feudal time continue lingering thereby giving the Maoists an opportunity to try to impose on the country a yoke of Maoism, a totalitarian regime, where checks and balances are done likewise in Iranian Islamic regime wherein every house your own kith and kin and siblings serve as finks for the sake of the autocratic party. You can be anytime denounced if you do anything that ain't suitable to the ruling single party regime.

All said and done, I would like to end up by quoting a line from one of the greatest statesmen of our modern history, i.e. Winston Churchill, "What is the use of living if it be not to strive for noble causes, and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone."

9. Kamal Kishor

Very true Sargam but what is your opinion about Maoists aim of destroying the current structure and replacing that with the one that Mao defined and rejected by the present Chinese leaders" Cultural Revolution!!!

That is what the Maoists are trying in Nepal. Are you ready for that?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)