Recent Developments in Nepal - The Way Forward
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‘Recent Developments in Nepal - The Way Forward’

Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), New Delhi (India) organized a Seminar on ‘Recent Developments in Nepal - The Way Forward’ on 6-7 January 2011 at the VIF Conference Room, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi. The two-day program was inaugurated by H.E. Sujata Koirala, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Government of Nepal. There were more than 40 participants, including senior political leaders, former bureaucrats, academicians and journalists, from both Nepal and India.

In his welcome address, VIF Director Mr. Ajit Doval, not only highlighted the aims and objectives of the Foundation, but also explained the idea behind organizing the seminar on Nepal. He underlined the need for people-to-people relationship to understand and appreciate the process of political evolution following the monumental changes in Nepal after it became a republic in 2008. It ignited the hopes and aspirations of the people for a new Nepal with great future ahead through peace, dialogue, harmony and through understanding. Acceptance of political pluralism within the paradigms of democracy and constitutionalism were accepted as the basis to mark the journey ahead. Mr. Doval, however, lamented the slow progress and missing of deadlines leading to erosion of faith and trust and stressed that Nepal’s future lies in unlocking the obstacles and accelerating the progress. He expressed the hope that the deliberations at the seminar will help in this process.

H.E. Sujata Koirala, in her Inaugural Address highlighted Nepal’s traditional bonds of cooperation with India in all conceivable areas including political, social, cultural, religious, economic and trade relations that have withstood the test of times to achieve the present level of maturity. “Our mutual ties at people to people level are so enriching, comprehensive and diverse that they override any common agreement or treaty that normally constitutes the fundamental yardstick of relations between any other two countries”, she added. She expressed gratitude to the government and people of India for “continued understanding, support and solidarity, with the government and people of Nepal in our efforts for drafting a new constitution, successful implementation of the peace process for bringing peace, stability and economic development”.

Referring to the constitution writing process, she urged the politicians to rise above the “parochial horizon and vested partisan interest”. The government of Nepal was committed to working with major political parties in finding consensus for management of the post-UNMIN phase in monitoring and supervising the integration and rehabilitation processes under the Special Committee. The current caretaker government cannot continue for long. The Nepali Congress, as the country’s premier Democratic Party believes in pluralist democracy, rule of law and human rights. Concluding her address the Dy. Prime Minister expressed the hope that consensus and unity can be forged and all the leaders would agree to a common ground in the long -term interest of the nation.

The First Session of the seminar was devoted to “Strategy for Political Reconciliation”; this was chaired by. Amb. Shambhu Ram Simkhada. and the participants included Senior Maoist leader Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, NC ideologue Mr. Pradeep Giri, political theorist Mr. Hari Sharma, former Minister and NC leader Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat, senior leader of Nepal Communist Party (UML) Mr. Pradeep Gyawali.

Dr. Bhattarai described the seminar as a very important event because the clock of political development was ticking very fast in Nepal. According to him, Nepal has gone through an epochal change that does not happen in weeks or months or years but takes decades. There was no reason to be too pessimistic. Nepal had three-way contentions between the monarchical/ autocratic/ feudalistic forces; traditional parliamentary democratic forces, and the radical democrat or the communist revolutionary forces. Once the latter two combined and removed the monarchy, one side of the triangle was gone, and the conflict is now between the remaining two sides, which are fighting against each other to negate one side. “But there is still scope for collaboration, to institutionalize the political and democratic gains”, he added. For this, mutual interests of both sides should be taken into consideration, then only one can we find the basis of reconciliation. According to Dr. Bhattarai, a middle course that will neither be a traditional liberal democracy, nor the traditional people’s democracy, could be the only way out for Nepal today.

Referring to international factors, Dr. Bhattarai stressed the need for a common understanding between major players on foreign policy issues. India being the biggest power in the neighborhood will “necessarily stake its claim for its security and other interest in Nepal”. The Maoists are not anti-India but are pro-Nepal, he clarified.

Mr. Pradeep Giri began his presentation by recalling the ideas espoused by Jayprakash Narayan, Eknath Ranadive, and others with reference to Indo-Nepal relations. According to him, there are two ideologies that are competing in Nepal at the moment. He urged all factions to rise above their respective modes of thinking.

Hari Sharma stated that Nepal was passing through one of the most “beautiful phases” in its history, in which many issues have come up for discussion. Questions such as who represents whom, who speaks for whom, etc. are becoming asked. The popularization of identity-politics has led to leadership crisis, crisis of statelessness, etc. There is no readymade solution to sort out the problems.

Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat, at length explained the position of Nepali Congress Party and other parliamentary parties which have made fundamental departure from their earlier position just to meet the spirit of the12-points agreement and the on going peace process. These parties have transformed themselves in the hope that the Maoist would also accept liberal values and peaceful politics. But the Maoists are not ready to renounce violence and accept the principle of pluralism. Rather, the Maoists are terming political parties an enemy after the monarchy has gone. They also, time and again, shift the goal post. According to him, constitution with all liberal values should be promulgated as per past agreements rather than obstructing the process by insisting on inclusion of ideological positions, Once this is done and election takes place, the Maoist can change the constitution as per the people’s mandate in the future.
Mr. Pradeep Gyawali described the Maoists’ rhetoric for “new revolt” as the biggest problem before Nepal’s peace process. Nepal’s political scenario was fast becoming pessimistic and frustrating for the people of Nepal. He argued in favour of democracy with economic, cultural and political rights as the basis for reconciliation.

Session II on ‘ Constitution Writing’, presided over by Amb., K.V. Rajan, had noted constitutional experts Agni Prasad Kharel and Bhimarjun Acharya as the main speakers. Kharel traced the history of the demand for a Constitution Assembly to 1950s, which could only be achieved recently after signing of the agreement between the different political parties. The Interim Constitution, drafted in haste, is only for the transition period as it does not represent the aspirations of the people. Conclusion of the Peace Process and a new constitution are the two expectations of the people. The political parties must show commitment and dedication to these. He said that the Article 73 (3) of the Interim Constitution provides for forming a consensus for high level task force, but the Maoist have back tracked, hence it was not clear whether the issue could be solved through high level task force. Unless there was consensus, writing of constitution may not be completed in the stipulated time-frame, he apprehended. There was need for the political parties with different ideologies, to come together in the spirit of the 12 Point Agreement. Senior leaders are spending their time in forming or reforming the government. Concluding the peace process was important in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Accord, and the other past agreements and focus must shift to constitution writing, by engaging in serious discussion on the basic principles of the constitution. All formal and informal mechanisms must be employed to build consensus. There should be an agreement on the basic principles of democracy and constitutionalism and urged the political parties to rise above their political interests.

Continuing in the same vein, Bhimarjun Acharya said that the CA formed in other countries took no more than two years to write the constitution, but in Nepal the debate was still inconclusive. The Interim Constitution has been amended many times to extend the time frame, the last being the 8th Amendment in May 28, 2010. He mentioned that Article 64 of the Interim Constitution does not allow for extension of time to write constitution. If the political parties want to extend the period, they should seek the mandate of the people. No constitution can be based on ideology and ethnic values, he added while suggesting that the Peace Process and constitution writing should move simultaneously.

During the Q&A session, Dr. Mahat said that the CA was formed to write the constitution, but the constitution writing process has become hostage to power politics. He opposed the demand for the federal structure based on ethnicity on grounds of non-viability in economic and administrative terms. On these considerations Nepal cannot sustain more than five provinces, he argued.

Pradeep Gyawali said that the Constitution will be the final document of the peace process and cannot be written in the ‘shadow of violence’. Hence, it was necessary to conclude the peace process. He said that political pluralism and independent judiciary must be respected.

Barshaman Pun stressed his party’s position that there cannot be a constitution without ideology, adding that even democratic values are based on ideology. Democracy is the voice of the people today; they have a desire for expressing their ethnic, gender and other identities. He cautioned that failure to reach a consensus may lead to continued sufferings of the people. Power sharing and constitution writing are not two separate issues but one.

Hari Sharma intervened in the debate and said that the Nepalis have been hostages to the protracted debate on formation of government. The constitution making process should be internalized. We should only fight for realizable rights rather than fighting for broad and complicated rights. Others who participated in the debate on this point were Pradeep Giri, Prof. Sangeeta Thapliyal, Anil Jha, Ajit Doval, Ms. Kanchan, Phisadu Chari, Lok Raj Baral, Prashant Jha, Babita Basnet, RM Katawal, and Ram Sharan Mahat. On the issue of ‘federalism’ Mr. Baral clarified that this matter has already received people’s mandate in the CA elections and this has got to be addressed.

In Session III, the theme for discussion was ‘Rehabilitation and Integration of PLA Combatants’. The session was chaired by Lt. Gen. (Retd.) R. K. Sawhney and the two main speakers were Gen (Retd) R. M. Katawal, and Barshaman Pun, Dy. Com. PLA. Katawal said that the Nepal Army (NA) never violated the aspirations of the people; it always worked for peace and the rule of law. He said that the army was not against integration. The PLA combatants currently confined in the cantonments have not been given any choice to think about their future. No where in the world, recruitment to the armed forces is based on caste and religion. The NA has to abide by the law. He strongly argued if favour of maintaining the high professional standards of the NA. He also clarified that the demand for ‘democratisation of the NA has already been met under the amended Act which has brought it under civilian control.

Barshaman Pun said that the army as an institution cannot be trusted because it has supported all the ‘unconstitutional’ regimes. He said that the PLA and the erstwhile Royal Nepal Army could not defeat each other, so they went for peaceful compromise. The provision in the 12-Point Agreement concerning the supervision of PLA and NA by UNMIN during CA election had provided equal status to both the ‘armies’. He said that there are experiences of army integration from 38 countries during the last 24 years. He added that the PLA can be brought under the Special Committee soon; those who want to get discharged should be given cash rewards and appreciation letters. Others should be rehabilated. Where as those who are physically handicapped or ineligible for induction in the army should be provided with adequate support, pension, and rehabilitation package.

In the Q&A session, Prof. Sangeeta Thapliyal, Pradeep Giri, and Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat gave their views that ‘right sizing’ the army cannot be done in haste without proper study. The concept of ‘Inclusion’ can be achieved by encouraging the people to join the army without compromising on the of basic standards.

The theme of Session IV was ‘Tarai in Nepal Politics’. The Session was chaired by Mr. Vikram Sood and the key speakers were Jeetendra N. Dev, Prashant Jha, Anil K Jha, and Ms Babita Basnet. Mr. Dev said that Madhesh was an important region of Nepal constituting 23 percent of its land mass; more than 50 percent of the population; 65 percent share in the GDP; 75 percent in agricultural production; 62 percent of industrial production and having 86 percent share in the total revenue of Nepal.

The people of Madhesh are ‘sons of the soil’ but have been discriminated against by the state. The Madhesis are targeted as ‘Indian immigrants’ and denied their due share in the state apparatus including the army and the security forces. ‘We need a separate autonomous Madhesh’ to be established in a democratic manner, he added. Since Nepal has diversity of population, he argued in favour of a ‘federal’ structure to empower the people.

Prashant Jha pointed out that the Interim Constitution was silent on ‘Federalism’. He blamed the Maoists for encouraging militancy in Madhesh. He admitted that a degree of ‘inclusion’ has happened now with about 200 Madhesis in the CA. He accused India of ‘using’ Madheshies to ‘weaken the Maoists’, but unintended, the Nepali Congress also got weakened in the process. It also created rift among the Madhesi parties backing the insurgent groups. If the aspirations of the Madhesi people are not fulfilled, there could be another ‘movement’, he warned.

Anil K. Jha explained the origin of the word ‘Madhesh’ which comes from the term ‘Madhya Desh’. He said that Madhesh differs in many ways from the hilly region. Madhesh remains ‘sandwiched’ between Delhi and Kathamandu. The people of Madhesh have always fought for democracy, republic, equality and federalism since 1950. Now that the CA elections have been held in 2008 one could expect some justice be done to meet the aspirations of the Madhesis. In an emotionally charged presentation Mr. Jha listed out the demands of the people of Madhesh as, recognition of their identity, share in natural resource, federal system; and fair representation in political establishment and elected bodies on the basis of population and recognition of Hindi as a national language of Nepal. He alleged that the demands raised by the Madhesis have always been brushed under the carpet and that would be dangerous for the future of Nepal if it is done even this time around. People are angry and frustrated.

Ms Babita Basnet paid tribute to Prithvi Narayan Shah because of whose vision and efforts Tarai is today in Nepal. She urged the Madhesi leaders to identify themselves as Nepali rather than Madhesi and not behave like only regional leaders. Factionalism in political parties exists just for power that is not good for Madhesis as well as for the entire nation. On the issue of empowerment and ‘inclusion’ she said that the Tarai people haves 40 percent representation in the cabinet and 34 percent in CA. Besides the President and the Vice President, there are also 4 judges out of 21 judges in the Supreme Court.

The question of ‘federalism’ was intensely debated even during the Q&A session. Issues where raised and questions asked by a number of panelists and participants including, Hari Sharma, C D Sahay, Satish Chandra, Pradeep Gyawali, Bhimarjun Acharya, Jeetendra Dev, Sangeeta Thapliyal, Sambhuram Simkhada, Lok Raj Baral, RM Katawal, and Barshaman Pun.. Prof Baral said that ‘one Madhesh’ was not possible and instead there should be integration.

Session V of the seminar examined the state of Nepal’s Economy. It was chaired by Dr. Bibek Debroy. The speakers were Manish Mohan, Biswambher Pyakurel, and Sujeev Shakya.

Manish Mohan made a detailed Power-Point presentation and said that Nepal’s economy has shown good growth in recent years despite political instability. It has survived the global financial crisis owing to remittances by Nepali workers abroad. Accounting for 30 percent of Nepal’s GDP Indo-Nepal trade was less than 0.5 % of the total Indian trade and that was not good signal for Nepal’s economy. He recommended corrective measures through greater exploitation of Nepal’s Hydro power potential, tourism industry and the manufacturing sectors. Industrial security and stable polity were important.

Prof. Bishambher Pyakurel said that after signing the Peace Accord in 2007, the fear psychology and instability in the economic sector have increased. Severe micro-economic difficulties are seen as deposit mobilization of local banks is weak. In this context he mentioned the recent purchase by Nepal of 110 billion worth of Indian currency by selling US dollars. Growth scenario was poor in this fiscal year as Nepal’s budget is delayed by six months; 67 percent of the village development committees in Nepal are yet to receive their budget. He also said that state restructuring does not mean only the political restructuring but also economic restructuring. There are various proposals for the federal system that we have been dreaming about. But if there is no economic restructuring, the rich states may stop hiring labor from poor states. He clarified that non-Madhesh areas contribute more to the GDP than Madhesh, though Madhesh was far ahead in food grain production but not in other sectors.

Sujeev Shakya outlined three aspects of Nepal economy, and talked about migration and remittance, rent-seeking and asset-seeking mindset, and suggests going for entrepreneurship and income generation. He also said that Nepal was not landlocked but land-linked between two Asian giants. It was not a small country because it is the 40th largest country in the world. Nepal has to change its mindset fundamentally in two aspects; Nepali calendar which begins in the middle of the month should be changed. In terms of the official language, Nepali does not integrate the country with the global world. He strongly argued on favour of continuing the open border with India, and converting hydro-power and tourism sectors into a reality. Ms Monica, Gen Ashok Mehta, and Uddhab Pyakurel took active part in the discussions of this session.

Session VI, chaired by Amb. Kanwal Sibal was devoted Indo-Nepal Relations. The speakers were Lok Raj Baral, Amb Shambhu Simkhada, and Vikram Sood.

Mr.Baral said that whether a treaty exists or not, the cordial relations between India and Nepal will continue. But too much time and energy was being wasted on discussing the Indo-Nepal treaties. He referred to ‘state sponsored anti-Indianism’ and gave an example from the Panchayati Raj day when Nepali Congress used to be branded ‘anti-national’, Nepali nationalism was unfortunately guided by anti-Indian-ism. He said that even the Maoists were sometimes misled by their sense of nationalism. He said that co-operative foreign policy with both its neighbours should be feasible and viable for Nepal. Mr. Baral lamented that no serious study on Indo-Nepal relations was being carried out in either country.

Amb. Shambhu Ram Simkhada said that Indo-Nepal relations are deep-rooted and widespread cutting across all aspects of state-to-state and people-to-people interactions. However, Nepalis see India’s hand in all Nepal’s ills owing to the bigger size and power of India. The contexts of history and geography, as well as the recent developments in Nepal, have prompted some Indian policy makers to handle Nepal’s internal affairs from Delhi. Trust and confidence must be the foundation of the relations between the two countries. Nepalis know that India is the only foreign country where they can travel freely, get refuge when persecuted, and jobs when unemployed. Indo-Nepal relations today suffer from mindsets unable to comprehend the complexity and sensitivity or thriving in adversity. To transform this relationship, the political and foreign policy elites on both sides need to be guided by popular good will and tremendous potential in harnessing the unalterable closeness of geography and history for the benefit of Indians and Nepalis.

Vikram Sood, in his presentation, focused on security aspects of Indo-Nepal relations. Reiterating India’s commitment to a strong and stable Nepal, he said that India feels no threat from Nepal but was worried about what China had on its mind. India was concerned about the unresolved border problem with China and its strategic tie up with Pakistan. He suggested a rethinking over the open border in view of its misuse by elements inimical to India.

Biswambher Pyakurel, Sujeev Shakya, Hari Sharma, Barshaman Pun, Pradeep Gyawali, Pradeep Giri, and Babita Basnet took active part in the discussions by raising various queries and concerns. Mr. Kanwal Sibal summed up debate and described the sate of Indo-Nepal relations as a failure of diplomacy. He said that India wants to see stable Nepal but India cannot do it unless Nepalis want it to happen. India has neither the desire nor interest or capacity for Nepal’s micro-management. Beyond a certain limit India cannot do much in Nepal. Sometimes false reporting also misleads us and harms Indo-Nepal relations. India’s concerns about China could not be understood by the Nepali delegates.

The two-day seminar came to close with the concluding remarks of C.D. Sahay, who thanked the delegates for joining the VIF initiative and discussing the issues in a very candid manner. Mr. Sahay said that the participants had during the deliberations clearly identified the issues and even suggested models for resolution in a sprit of accommodation and compromise. He expressed the hope that the leaders would continue their efforts in this direction and try to find an early solution to the present impasse.

Event Date 
January 6, 2011
January 7, 2011
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