Federalism a Necessity, Not a Choice

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Federalism as universally understood is to initiate, own and explore the development of the said region by the locals.


The fact that Federalism is not fully understood by the masses has been taken advantage of by a section of opinion makers who oppose it, citing the lack of financial resources to sustain many provinces. This could be true in the short run but the fact that without federalism developmental efforts also suffer is equally true.

Federalism as universally understood is to initiate, own and explore the development of the said region by the locals. It is not decentralization. It is self-development which means disowning the culture of holding everybody else responsible for their undergrowth. It is not dictation but a choice, a vision of its own. It is not a monopoly of ideas and programmes of the centre but a competition of its own creative ideas, innovation and managerial skills.

Ultimately, provinces will have to be ready to function with the least financial support from the centre. Provinces have to be able to garner their own resources. The state politicians will have to show their ingenuity, maturity and astuteness of leadership by accelerating the growth of the region comparatively much faster. The financial muscles will become stronger as the growth takes place.

However, in Nepal there are people who argue that federalism in Nepal will be divisive and the formation of provinces on the basis of ethnicity is tantamount to disintegration. Also, federalism in Nepal is financially unviable, they add.

Initially, to the common people, the above argument may sound alright. The people of Nepal for ages have been ruled by a few under a unitary system of governance under kingship which always thought that the kingdom belonged to the King who knows the best what is good for the masses. Any decentralization was an administrative convenience.

Federalism is sharing power. It is not delegation of power. It is deliberately creating more centres of responsibility and accountability within an umbrella of central authority. The purpose is giving more voice, more participation and more initiative to the people of the region. It is also a check-and-balance measure to the absoluteness of power which may accrue at the centre. Democracy properly functions only if power is shared by many and there exists a simple mechanism by which that power can be taken away if it becomes absolute. Federalism is not a division of the country on administrative lines nor is it a division of resources. It is people-centric. It is recognizing that if left to themselves, the poorest of the poor can rise and lead their own destiny.

It is not up to the political parties to decide the geographical boundaries of each state. The political parties can advocate the terms and condition for delineating a state under the provision of the constitution. It is up to an independent statutory body to recommend the no of states and their geographical boundaries based upon the primary criterion of concentration of an ethnic group in a particular region deserving a separate state-hood. Parliament has to take the final decision upon it. Subsequently, any change and / or bifurcation will have to be okayed by the legislative assembly. The political parties can advocate, demand and influence the voice of the people for the demand of statehood but they cannot negotiate the number of states and their boundaries as they have their own political vested interests.

Initially, no state will be capable of bearing even its administrative expenses, let alone investing in developmental efforts. At a time when all our developmental efforts are financed by external aid and/or borrowing, the task becomes easier that such external funds can be diverted to the states where the projects are located. The state governments will have to be innovative as to not only mobilize internal resources including that of the private sector but also external funding of all hues and colours. The productivity of capital invested will also go a long way in augmenting financial resources. The centre has to respect such provincial initiative and not view them with suspicion. A check and balance mechanism can be agreed upon between the centre and the states so that the states can be more autonomous on raising desired levels of financial resources on their own internally and externally.

Unicameral legislative body, sharing apex courts, a common planning commission, and some other such facilities need not be created exclusively for each state. It is an opportunity for each state to rethink and restructure its governance model based more on technology, digitization, skill and new set of rules and regulations which are compatible and comparable to the best in the world. It is not necessary that the states have to carry forward the governance system inherited from the centre. Federalism gives a viable opportunity to the states to adopt the latest modern technology of governance in their domain, thereby not only reducing cost but also bringing about efficiencies in delivering services to their citizens and controlling corruption. Of course states will take time, say at least five years, to be equipped fully to govern themselves. The centre should fill in the transition period and gradually go on handing over the powers of administration to the province over the designated period of time. A competent team comprising experts of internal and external repute should suggest a model under federal provincial system which will be efficient as well as least costly based upon today's technological achievements.

The intellectuals of the country have the duty to facilitate federalism. They should guide in sorting out the thorny issues. They should explain to the masses the true content of federalism. If federalism does not spur growth, if it does not better governance, if it does not control corruption then the whole purpose of federalism will collapse and distortions will double.

American federalism was voluntarily giving up of some of the powers by states to a central authority as they felt the necessity of a central body which not only co-ordinates the activities of the states but more importantly binds them together into an organic United States of America. In Nepal, we are doing the opposite wherein the central authority is giving up some of its powers deliberately to create provinces so that decision making can take place at different levels according to the needs. In this devolution of power, there is always a suspicion that the central authority may weaken and the state may try to overpower to an extent that it may decide to secede from the union. Our constitution has made enough provisions to avoid such mad dire situations. However, the bonding between the states and the centre cannot all be left to the so-called voice of the people expressed through their representatives. It has to be unalterable provision in the constitution which has rightly been enshrined.

However it is not to say that the financial viability is not an important issue and can be left to itself. It is also not necessary that the administrative set ups need to be copied from the neighboring countries. We can adopt the best and the least expensive models of federal administration for us. 

In a country like ours which is diverse not only geographically and biologically but also ethnically with so many diverse ethnic groups living here from time immemorial, it is absolutely appropriate that federalism which gives equal opportunity to each and every minority group to flourish through the devolution of power to them has been chosen as our country’s prime structure. For hundreds of years, a chosen few have governed the country and the rest of the people have lived a subsistence life with no regard for their own dignity, culture and life-styles. With the change in the political set-up, we had to choose a system which gives maximum equal opportunity of growth to each ethnic group wherever they live in Nepal. Individuals from these ethnic groups may have done well but taken collectively they have been denied proportionate opportunities to participate in governance. These anomalies can be rectified through federalism. Once given power, the recipients become responsible and are denied the excuse of blaming others for their plight.

Federalism, therefore, is not fragmenting the country but actually it is promoting unity in diversity. The interests of the local people differ from place to place. Even in a democracy, there is the likelihood that the specific interests of the local people may get ignored, or the power at the centre may become so absolute that it may tyrannize individuals and institutions alike. The federal system provides the necessary check and balance to an otherwise undesired tyranny of absolute power. In this sense, federalism is a revolutionary reform of the political governance. Democracy has been said to tame the tyrannies of absolute power and federalism tames the evils of democracy by preventing the accrual of it at the centre. Competitive governance at different levels and between the states creates an environment of innovation and “make it happen” culture. However, to make it a success, it is necessary to constantly debate what are the pitfalls which we need to safeguard against. It is not an experiment, it is now part of us and our choice is judicious. Therefore, it is up to all of us to accept federalism whole heartedly and execute this provision of our constitution with full integrity, honesty and pro-federal approach.

The miseries of the masses and alleviation thereof are the rationale behind the existence of any political system of governance. The world has experimented with all sorts of political isms starting from communism to socialism to liberalism to conservatism to globalization now and though all have contributed to an extent in ameliorating the miseries of the masses, it is found that each system has more short comings than strengths. These have led to a rat race at the top for grabbing power, encouraged conspicuous consumption, created an elite group, resulted in disconnect with the masses, promoted western style extravagance, and derided eastern spiritualism and asceticism. 

In the name of promoting individual personality of a person, his innate desire to be gregarious is suppressed. Federalism is the middle path which has assimilated the good traits of each political system and stressed the need for connecting with the masses at different levels and involving their representatives in the decision making, execution and monitoring processes. It is an inclusive concept. The people themselves take the initiative in deciding their priorities and their growth. If democracy of all the political system of governance is more suited to address the miseries of the people, federalism is an improvement upon it. It is a necessity and not choice. The grievances of those who are left out, disenfranchised and ignored are likely to be addressed once the federal system is properly instituted which will mark the long-term victory of democracy in Nepal. If the ethnic minorities and the vulnerable do not get their voice even now, when will they?

The writer is the chairman of Nimbus Group.

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