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The Politics Of State Restructuring

By C. D. Bhatta

The issue of state restructuring has dominated the Nepali political discourse since the last couple of months. Nevertheless it has not been defined scientifically to set some parameters. This has left ample space for maneuvering the issue by the political parties and their leaders. When I asked a well-known political scientist at Fredrich Ebert Stiftung, Dev Raj Dahal, he said this is moving towards 'substantive democracy'.

Territorial restructuring

Literature rather stresses that one cannot change fundamental features of the state vis-?-vis the concrete territory; independent foreign and economic policy; existing distribution (location) of population and its organic identity merely to balance the imbalances. It generates some fundamental questions though as what 'state restructuring' is all about and how it can be done so that state does not falter away in the future. That for a layman is perplexing enough, as one may welter whether it is linked with territorial restructuring of the state or internal democratisation of the state machinery.

Clearly, state restructuring is something that is directly associated with political re-imagination of the state as per the spirit of the time and is a continuous process in democracy. It primarily hinges on three organs of the state - the judiciary, legislature and the executive body. It deals with how best all the three organs of the state can be made more representative and pro-public so that more and more citizens are collectively taken into the institutional life of the state and no group/caste/ethnicity/religion is left behind. Rather some sort of ownership of the state is regenerated.

It is true that the corollary of state restructuring is far sighted and demands rigorous discussions on issues which have metaphorically impinged heavily on making the state more participatory, representative and pro-public before jumping into any conclusion. The state can be restructured in many ways - it can be transformed from a capitalist to a welfare one; from unitary to federalism; and from single party to multiparty democracy. There can be internal readjustments of the electoral constituencies, devolution of power to the local government(s), the state can be more democratised (inclusive democracy) and it can develop special arrangements for those who are historically left behind in the development paradigm. But the state cannot be restructured principally on the basis of fault lines (such as ethnicity, religion, population and even geography to some extent) which pose substantial threat to national unity in the event of mismanagement. These are some but key elements that need to be taken into account while restructuring the existing nature of the state.

Restructuring of the state is a continuous process in a democracy as the internal shape of the state need to be attuned to the spirit of the time and popular wish engendered both by the internal forces (movements per se) and external forces (globalisation per se). What has to be borne in mind basically is that the Westminster political edict of 'winner takes all (majoritarian politics)' should cease to exist, at least in countries like Nepal, in an endeavour to bring all the societal forces into the institutional life of the state. However, for this to happen, not only is internal political restructuring of the state necessary, but an inclusive political culture must also be instilled in the ruling classes. This will help to reconstruct a 'commonwealth' of the people (the mythical Ram Rajya) as against the Hobbesian state.

Paradoxically, the way the debate on state restructuring is taking place in Nepal is somewhat worrying as it posits more questions and challenges than it answers. Issues beyond the capacity of any state, let alone Nepal, are surfacing and their semanticity is attached less with the democratisation process and more with identity politics. The simultaneous emergence of 'nationalities' and vague political agenda of state restructuring have become major tactics to sustain the conflict rather than accommodating all the societal forces. In one way or the other, the country is moving towards communal politics.

The restructuring agendas have more ethnic flavour and less democratic values. This bias in understanding is further augmented by demands generated by the janjaties, ethnicities, dalits, nationalities; linguisticity, religiosity that have emerged at the transitional threshold; and haphazard proposition of geographical division of the state by the professional political elite (parties). It has been taken for granted that 'federalism' is the panacea for all problems as against the unitary state of the yesteryear which failed to establish a connection between the Kathmandu city state and the peripheral sub-states.

But is it really so that federalism deciphers all problems? What happens if the federal states are taken as private enterprises by the political elite? This is likely to happen unless there is a substantial change in the behaviour of politicians. Does the debate on state restructuring really hold water to keep the Nepali state moving ahead without any further cycles of violence? These are some but pertinent questions that remain unanswered. In fact, the state restructuring agenda should include sustainable and cohesive intermingling of the people of different regions, religions, castes and ethnicities. That said we just cannot restructure the state for a particular class, ethnic group, religion, region or language, which will prove suicidal in the long run.

Perception change

A scientific mechanism should be developed so as to represent those who are not well represented, particularly the janjatis, dalits and madhesi community in politics, bureaucracy and alike. Moreover, the people's perception must change that things are wrong just because of a particular class, caste or religion (e.g. Brahmins, Chhetris and Hinduism). One must analyse his/her own weaknesses. The 'nationalities' including the donors accuse the Nepali bureaucracy of being usurped by Brahmins and Chhetris, but mind you, Gurungs, Rais, Magars and others are little interested in taking up government jobs.

In conclusion, every society has its own weaknesses, but they have to be rectified collectively with due sincerity by respecting each other. What we need at the end of the day is: a cohesive, tolerant and harmonious state and society. Overall, conflicts are resolved for perpetual peace (Kantian peace) not for perpetual war.

Note: This article was published in The Rising Nepal dated 1 September 2006.

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