Beyond Federalism To Double Digit Growth

Nepal topography. The green/yellow zones hold ...
Nepal topography. The green/yellow zones hold the Inner Terai valleys. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(Article sent to Kantipur on August 6, 2014)

A few months after the king’s coup in 2005 I moved to New York City from the Midwest. I had no such plans, but I ended up putting full time work into Nepal’s democracy movement, and subsequently the Madhesi movement. I went on to become Barack Obama’s first full time volunteer in all of New York City. I also watched Modi’s campaign for hours each day. To this day I follow Nepali politics pretty closely.

It is a shame that Nepal’s constitution was not written during the first two years of the first constituent assembly. Nepal’s leaders failed its people. But here we are with six months to go. Not completing the task is not an option, because massive economic opportunities are knocking at the door.

During the Shivaratri mayhem around Pashupati, all you have to do is go stand in the middle and the crowd will take you forward. China has been growing at massive rates with no signs of slowing down. India is about to take off in a similar way. All Nepal has to do is provide basic political stability, basic law and order, and the economy would take off for being sandwiched between the two awake giants. This is precisely the point I made when I got to meet Prime Minister Sushil Koirala in NYC a few weeks back.

I think the recent electoral mandate was broadly for geographic federalism. We should move towards six states: East Terai (Chitwan and Udaypur included), West Terai (Surkhet included), Koshi, Bagmati, Gandaki, Karnali. The primary achievement of the Madhesh Movement was making sure the number of MPs from the Terai is in direct proportion to its population. That has to continue. Beyond that an electoral system fair to the DaMaJaMa (Dalit, Madhesi, Janajati, Mahila) has to be put in place.

205 seats in a lower house and 100 seats in an upper house might suffice. 7% of the 205 seats, or 15 seats should be reserved for Dalits. These would be constituencies where only Dalit candidates may contest. One third of all seats should similarly be set aside for women, or about 67 seats. Of those seats for women, 20% should be for Dalit women, 30% for Madhesi women, and 30% for Janajati women.

For the 100 upper house seats, it would be fully proportional. How many votes a party collects would determine how many seats that party gets. There would be provisions for the DaMaJaMa. One third for women again, as in every third name on a party’s list should be a woman. 7% for Dalits again. 10% for Madhesis, and 10% for Janajatis. The parties must submit lists before the election and make them public. The lists may not be amended after the election. So if a party gets 10 seats, the first 10 names on its submitted list get in.

A Prime Minister elected by both Chambers of the House would be the Executive Chief, free to form his cabinet with people from inside and outside the parliament, and a president elected by all elected leaders in the country at all levels, local, state and national, would serve as the constitutional head, and the Commander In Chief of the Nepal Army.

The six states would have unicameral legislatures. Every parliamentary constituency might be split into two state legislature constituencies. The 75 districts stay intact. There is the central government, there are the six state governments, the 75 district governments, and the city, town and village governments. It is important to come up with formulas such that the state, district and local governments end up with substantial budgets.

Nepal that is a federal country should have many fewer bureaucrats, soldiers and police officers than it currently has, because federalism is a more efficient form of government. A lot of stuff gets taken care of locally. Downsizing the Nepal Army from 100,000 soldiers to about 10,000 soldiers would free up resources for tens of thousands of teachers and health care workers. Policing is a state function and so Nepal Police will have to give way. Several ministries will have to be eliminated, all will have to be significantly downsized.

Modi during his recent visit said, “Nepal can become a developed nation by selling power to India.” That is true. Once the country has a new constitution and there are regular elections to all levels of government I am sure the country will see plenty of good leaders emerge who might do for Nepal what Nitish Kumar has done for Bihar.

An economic revolution would be Nepal growing at double digit rates year in year out for 30 years. That kind of growth rate is the best and fastest way to wiping out poverty in the country.

(Paramendra Bhagat is a tech entrepreneur based in New York City. His global team is working on an Augmented Reality Mobile Game.)


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