Foreign expert’s inputs in building Nepal’s democracy and modern constitution
The central theme of this paper is the dubious role of some influential external actors in building democracy and writing of Nepal’s new constitution 2015, including strengths and pitfalls of Nepal’s internal political actors. In this paper we shall understand the term ‘democracy’ in the traditional sense of understanding as well as in terms of inclusiveness and identity-based representative democracy as devised in Nepal’s modern constitution.
My personal view and analysis in this paper are shaped from and based on my experience as a participant observer in Nepal (from the early 1970 till the early 1990) and as an outside observer since the 1990s. Being outside from Nepal for nearly three decades, I do not intend to be a part of the ‘orientalists’ to misrepresent the actual needs of the country in focus and do not wish to enlist myself in the group of scholars, who went to Western world and when they return to their country of origin argues for and suggest the Western models. Nonetheless, I believe that, it is worth “taking a risk to go beyond the easy certainty provided by one’s own background, language, nationality, which so often shields oneself from the reality of others” (Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual 1993 BBC Reith lectures). Understanding the ‘others reality’, I suppose it is not only right knowledge and skill, but also right attitude is necessary for shaping the modern democracy. The ‘right attitude’, I am referring here to indicates the attitude of the internal actors and foreign aid and expert’s advice, relates the democratic development of Nepal in the post-2015-era. Above all, it is about civic knowledge of democracy building actor themselves, including internal and external actors.
The issues discussed in this paper are: the stage, the time -1990-2018, the role of outside experts, democracy assistance and INGOs, democracy-building foreign actors, internal actors and recipient’s need and perception, and telling truth about Nepal’s constitution 2015 as conclusion.
2. The stage
The art of democratic governance may be described as the greatest human innovation, which is increasingly becoming a global common necessity for all. The democratic governance is supposed to be based on the common people’s will – but democracy is the rule of the majority – and therefore it is also a difficult system to guarantee what everyone to get everything they want. Over times, the old ideas have been reformed to advance the cause of democracy. And, in recent years, the concept of inclusive democracy based on identity and democratic representation has come at the forefront of the political science discussion.
Generally acknowledged basis for the democratic governance are; a) political parties, articulating and integrating people’s interest, b) elected legislative to make laws, and c) responsible executive towards people, maintaining the rule of law, d) independent judiciary and, e) free press to monitor the centres of power. It should be acknowledged at the outset that there are different kind and practices of democracies. For instance, there are differences between the Swedish democracy based on the proportional representation and the US or Indian democracies based on traditional democracy (i.e., classic Abraham Lincoln’s term as a form of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”) which are not based on proportional representation. Because democracies are practiced differently in different countries, it is questionable whether one could/should transplant or impose democracy from one country to another, and therefore the modern critics are asking a vital question; democracy on whose term?
The issues on focus are: the restoration of Nepal’s democratic system in the early 1990, which was torn down in the early 1960s, the Maoists rebellion from the mid-1990s that killed nearly 17 thousand people and the post-conflict negotiation from 2005 to the 2015 declaration of Nepal’s constitution, including the outcome of 2017 general elections. The role of outside world during the time frame is also on the focus, either it was given in the name of Nepal’s democracy building or donors vested interests or both. A question for analysis and understanding is, whether the changes been organic (in-plantation) or it is trans-plantation of democracy from abroad. For a critical analysis of the politics of Nepal from 1990 to 2017, let us see some facts:
The European Union’s Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) in its report 2018 on Nepal elections 2017 has noted that representation of the “well-represented group Khas-Arya arguably contravened international standards of equality, as affirmative measures are foreseen only to promote equality…Christians were not considered for inclusion, despite comprising 1.4 percent of the country’s population.” Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli reacted that the recommendations and conclusions of the EUEOM have undermined Nepali people, suggesting that the recommendation be reconsidered being against the sovereignty and independence of the country. A few years ago, British Ambassador to Nepal (2013), Andrew Sparkes, created tension in the Kathmandu diplomatic circle, suggesting that Nepal should be declared a secular state. Constitutionally Nepal became a secular state in 2015. The pro-Hindu-BJP-led Indian government since then is using its influence for the restoration of Nepal as Hindu (Rasta) nation. The Indian government is also asking for a proportional system of representation in Nepal, which India itself has not adopted a system of proportional representation. The International Crisis Group and number of international human rights organizations have regularly published reports, but even their reports are being challenged as biased many Nepalis experts. Some of the foreign projects in Nepal are accused for unduly raising issues of the ethnic identity and representation and some others are being condemned for Christianization of a section of Nepalese population. The capabilities of an intergovernmental representative, e.g. Ian Martin – head of UN Mission in Nepal (2006 -2009) was openly questioned by Kul Chandra Gautam who himself was the former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. According to Gautam, “UNMIN’s seeming inability to control or even monitor such activities began to erode the public’s faith in UNMIN” (Lost in Transition: Rebuilding Nepal from the Maoist mayhem and mega earthquake, 2015).
It needs to be said that all advices from the foreign donor, diplomates and experts cannot and should not be considered outright worthless, but these are some negative examples of advices, if not interference, which is the concern all those involved with democracy building at home and abroad. The fact that there are varied experiences of democratic practices, the quality of foreign expert’s input in the constitution building should be welcomed by the countries that are developing democracy. It is nonetheless necessary to bear in mind that there are some limits the foreign inputs, according to the rules and norm of international and national laws, e.g. to what extent should foreign experts in put be allowed and under what condition the recipients should follow or not follow? What are the accountabilities of foreign experts in the event when advice goes wrong, or if the foreign personals – whether working for the governmental or non-governmental sectors – were not abiding by the norm of their positions?
To be specific in context to Nepal, why for instance the supporters of peace process, including the governments of India, the EU and the US, demanded amendment of the constitution immediately after its adoption by the Constituent Assembly of Nepal in 2015 while all these countries have been advising Nepal from 2008 when Nepal’s Constituent Assembly elections were held, or even from the post-conflict negotiation 2005?
It is a well-known that the constitution writing is a sovereign internal matter of Nepal, but wider acknowledgement of Nepal’s constitution became political necessity for the country in the aftermath of the declaration of the constitution. One reason for this was that the government of Nepal used force against civilians in the southern region of the country and killed more than 40 people, who were protesting the declared constitution, considering it non-incisive and discriminatory (the protesters also killed number of police officers and cadres, but the international human rights group were much silent). At the same time, India openly sided, if not instigated, the Madeshi political parties, imposing de facto blockade on Nepal for nearly two months. India openly demanded changes in favour of the Madeshi parties form the southern region that is towards Nepal’s southern border with India.
The UK, the EU, and the US followed the Indian view regarding Nepal’s constitution. These states certainly have the right to voice their concern on the human rights issues. To demand human rights protection has become a universal right of all states, but the powerful states seems voicing concern on smaller states without looking at their own human rights violations (e.g., death penalty in the US and India’s human rights situation in its internal conflict areas, rising racism in Europe).
Voicing the concern about human rights protection is governed by one type of international rules and foreign diplomate being engaged in the internal politics of the host countries is regulated by another kind of rules. In any circumstances, diplomacy is supposed to be conducted based on the international law and norms. Whether the diplomats of the UK, the EU, the USA and India have the right to get involved with the internal politics of Nepal, demanding more quality of the human rights there than what exist in their home country, is the issue of much larger significance. This is one of the causes and consequences, determining trustworthiness of the foreign support and hidden interests of foreign projects or personals.
Despite the well-intended input from foreign experts as well as Nepal’s internal need for the constitution building, the 2015 constitution of Nepal, along with its positive aspects, has also some of the unacceptable paragraphs, especially those which have acknowledged and determined caste/race, sub-races and ethnicity as the basis of representation. Instead of eliminating the race and sub-race-based classification, which is scientifically wrong and morally condemnable. Inclusive democracy is setup based on the 18th century race theories. One wonders who is responsible for such education in the 21stcentury. Given the background of the controversial EU’s report 2018, the role of the foreign experts has thus partly become a bone of contention, questioning whether the foreign/INGOs working for minority rights giving the right message to the society?
The Nepalese people had vested much of their hopes in the political leadership. The larger part of the academic class in Nepal seems not acknowledging the historical injustices that exist in the name of religion and hierarchy of caste system, and at the same time the idea of economic class remined as the backburner from appropriate discourse on the corrective actions against the historical injustices. Because of the weaknesses of foreign experts some of them listed in the beginning of this work, they have become the locus of frustration. The rising cynicism towards the leadership class stems from the fact that they themselves lack democratic functioning and/or misinformation. They have failed to distinguish between caste systems from the idea of identity and representation based on various language and cultural basis. Let us look back from 2018 to the early 1990.
3. The time from 2018 back to early 1990s
Nepal’s Communist Party United Marxist-Leninist (UML) Chair KP Sharma Oli was sworn in as the first prime minister in February 2018 after the general elections 2017 held under the 2015 constitution of Nepal. Nepalis casted their votes in the first of two-phase of provincial and federal elections on December 7, 2017. With thousands of candidates of more than 90 parties competed for 275 seats in the federal parliament, and 550 seats in seven provincial assemblies across the country. These elections were held after the country’s local elections in September 2017, electing over 35,000 representatives to govern 753 local municipalities.
Nepal’s elections were held under the first-past-the post (FPTP, e.g. UK) election system and proportional representation (PR partly e.g. Sweden). In the House of representatives, there are 275 members of which 165 are elected through FPTP, while 110 will elected through PR system.
Five major parties emerged out of the 2017 elections and they are: Nepal’s communist party, CPN-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) and CPN-Maoist centre, Nepal’s oldest democratic party Nepali Congress, Madheshi – Rastriya Janta Party Nepal (RJPN), and Madhesi party- Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN).
Whipping Nepali nationalist card against the Indian blockade 2015, UML’s candidates got elected 80 seats out of 165. CPN Maoist canter, which is on the process of unification with UML, has won 36 seats. The two communist parties were formally unified on 17 May 2018 with their initial name in the 1940’s as Communist Party Nepal.
The Nepali Congress party is the oldest party with social democratic ideology, which has become neo-liberal was in power during the elections together with the Maoist centre, won just 23 seats out of 165. And, the two Madhesi parties won 11 seats. Rest 5 seats are won by independents. Regarding provinces, the UML and Maoist won 6 out of 7 provinces, and province 2 won by FSPN and RJPN alliance.
This election (2017) result show a total domination by Communist alliance between Marxist-Leninist and Maoists, including the central level, provinces and local municipalities. The elections were held after Nepal’s political journey, e.g. upheaval and transformation from monarch to republic as well as transition from the conflict negotiation to building of a democratic system.
More than a decade-long armed conflict between the Maoist rebel and the government of Nepal ended in 2006, and it took another decade to adopt a new constitution in 2015. The political landscape of Nepal changed since the early 1990 from the dictatorial monarchy to the restoration of a multiparty democracy that was abrogated by the king in the 1960s. Nepal has now also transformed from a Hindu monarchy to a secular republic, where the politics was rooted in the ancient Hindu belief, superstitious rituals or dogmas and where the role of the citizens was considered insignificant against the power of monarchy.
Political changes do not take place in an isolation and arguably both internal and external factors are responsible for the change. The Nepalese monarchist continues to believe that change is not organic, and the republican form of government is not Nepal’s own internal need and they argue that it is just installed by foreign forces. A section of the royalist supporters also suggests that the idea of republican form of government, federalism, proportional representation and inclusiveness embraced by the country’s constitution is foreign idea, not demanded by the people of Nepal.
Political scientists have a wider space to research e.g., was the change an organic internal process itself and, if not, what role the external actor’s influence played in and inspired to the people of Nepal for such a drastic change within the two decades. Here are the two samples of book published about Nepal in recent years:
“Kathmandu is a nest of spies…The South Koreans and the Japanese are there to watch the North Koreans…while the North Korean to make money by selling Viagra…The Chinese are there to watch the Tibetan refugees… The Indian intelligence agency RAW operates a station of scores of officers, because the Pakistani ISI uses Nepal to infiltrate counterfeit currency into India… “The Maoists were the targets. MI6 were said to have used three safe houses…, supplying 35 motorcycles, 36 sets of night vision binoculars, 35 desktop computers, 35 stills cameras and 35 cassette players as well as a varying number of cars, television sets, video cameras, lap tops, mobile phones, faxes, fridges, air conditioners and items of furniture. A radio mast was installed on top of Pulchowki hill” …” About the operation, a high level environmental NGO, i.e. High-Altitude Research Centre, was formed to provide extra cover. Someone leaked the operation plan and the equipment stolen and the Indians apparently bought up the bugging and interceptor gear”, Excerpts from Thomas Bell’s “Kathmandu” (2014).
“…the USAID development advisors made necessary arrangements to import American bulls. Not long after the expert’s recommendation, the first American bull arrived in Nepal. It was taken to a village, and the villagers were invited to bring their cows for crossbreeding. Cows were hundred to the enclosed area where the bull was stationed. Both the villagers and Americans, including the animal’s husbandry experts, gathered around, anxiously waiting for the bull to begin mating with the cows. It was a true spectacle… The bull refused to buzz; it showed no interest in any of the cows in its newly established harem, not even shifting around,” Excerpts from Nanda R Shrestha, In the name of development, A reflection on Nepal (2009).
Nepal initially started modern democratic change from the old undemocratic family rule in the early 1950s. The first elected government for a short period of time until the late 1950s, but the then king Mahindra dissolved the parliament and established dictatorial monarchy which lasted till 1990 under his successor Birendra. The modern political changes in Nepal since 1990 are particularly important because until then the ruling king was considered by many people as an incarnation of the supreme Hindu God Vishnu. How did such deep rooted strong belief begin to change, intensifying among youths and students is the point of much larger significance. As a mixture of internal need and external influence, a major section of Nepal’s school and university students started questioning the prevailing belief from the late 1970 when public protest forced the then king Birendra to announce a public referendum in the early 1980 to choose between a party less panchayat system introduced by the king Mahindra in the late 1960 and a multiparty-based system that was abrogated earlier on. King’s system prevailed over the opposition for another decade. The people’s protest again forced the king to restore democracy and the democratically elected governments from the 1990 onwards introduced neoliberal economic system.
Meanwhile, in the mid-1990, the Maoists rebels started their war against the elected government and parliamentary political system restored in the aftermath of the 1990 mass movement against the dictatorial monarchy. Whether the Maoist rebellion itself was the foreign design has become a most debated issue in Nepal.
There was a palace massacre in 2001, the then king Birendra and his family were killed, allegedly by the crown prince Dependra. King Birendra’s brother Gaynendra took the power but eventually was over thrown by the people’s mass movement. The Maoist and the other political parties, who were fighting against each other during the conflict 1996-2005, formed an alliance against the monarchy. Formally, the monarchy ended with a majority vote of the elected constituent assembly in 2008. Many people, not a majority perhaps, believe that there is foreign conspiracy behind declaration of secular republic of Nepal. Is there any truth in this?
In recent years, the Chinese and the Indian diplomats in Kathmandu apparently been engaged with Nepal’s internal politics so much that they look as if they are the Nepalese super political class. Thomas Bell’s ‘Kathmandu is a nest of spies’… makes sense. Except for a few honourable exceptions, the European diplomacy to Nepal continues to serve as a ‘carrot’ to the ‘stick’ of the US diplomacy. Nepal’s diplomacy abroad, primarily seeking foreign aid, is becoming less significant since the donors themselves are residentially present in Kathmandu not necessarily to address Nepal’s needs, but to execute the donor’s interest. The internal political interference by foreign diplomats is illegal, according to the principle of international law and UN Charter. Many commentaries believe that such diplomacy is being practiced, forming and/or toppling the governments. The foreign diplomats are often found not abiding by the classic norms of diplomacy, keeping themselves aloof from internal matters. Nepal’s ambassadors abroad do not dare to speak openly in their respective host countries.
Along with the foreign aid, Nepal is receiving the foreign experts both at the inter-governmental and non-governmental levels. The capacity of these experts and their understanding of the local realities of the country, however, remains outside the radar of accountability, whereas the Nepal government is rightly under scrutiny from the radars of anti-corruption and transparency rules. It must be acknowledged that Nepal’s new constitution has framed the country into seven federal provinces and many local municipalities. A new administrative structure at the local, provincial and national levels has emerged in the aftermath of the 2017 elections in Nepal. The flesh and blood of the democratic structure is still to be infused.
More than three million Nepali work abroad, including in the British and Indian armies. The remittance from the diaspora is apparently increasing in Nepal, which arguably may have helped to reduce the country’s absolute dependency on the foreign aid, however Nepal’s annual budget still largely depends upon the foreign aid. There is also alarmingly deficit of trust in Nepal from the part of foreign aid-project including diplomats in Kathmandu; questions are being raised for the donors and recipient; whether the foreign aid is being received and/or spent on the receiver’s need or the donor’s desired conditions and interests.
4. The role of outside experts in Nepal’s political change
Despite donor’s good intentions, there is alarmingly increasing trust deficit of foreign diplomats and hidden agenda/interests of foreign projects or personals, including governmental and non-governmental levels. Above all, it is about the individual capabilities of experts, understanding the local realities of Nepal.
The EU report 2018 mentioned in the beginning, suggesting representation based on the Christian religion, is the case in point about the lack of local realities. The larger question is; what are the accountabilities of foreign experts in the event when advice was wrong, or if the foreign personals – whether working for the governmental or non-governmental sectors – were not abiding by the norm of their positions? British Ambassador to Nepal Andrew Sparkes, suggesting that Nepal should be declared a secular state, was called back by the British government.
The EU has not thought or done anything, but it has already created distrust between Nepal and EU. Arguably, it is the right time for self-reflections for those who have worked in Nepal as foreign governmental representatives and non-governmental personals, in the external aid-assistance projects, especially Nepal’s peace process, the constitution building and good governance.
5. Nepal’s democracy assistance and INGOs
Nepal’s civil society organizations came into focus for the international aid agencies after the establishment of multiparty democracy in 1990. Part of the rationale was that since governments in a fledgling democracy do not always perform democratically, the demands of the governed need more avenues for expression. In the case of Nepal, international assistance to civil society empowerment has proven fruitful, especially when one considers the independent media’s role in revealing corrupt government practices during the 1990’s, as well as civil society’s role as a catalyst in the pro-democracy people’s movement of April 2006. This happened against the background of weak and compliant political parties, with party leadership unaccountable to rank and file members that left themselves open to manipulation by not only each other but also anti-democratic forces. Democracy incrementally gave way to oligarchy and political conflict to civil war. In that vacuum, civil society organizations took a leading position in the pro-democracy movement, in part because they had more credibility, leverage and latitude than the parties.
Along with the boom in Nepal’s NGO sector and the positive aspects that came with it, there were also negative aspects. As has been the case elsewhere, there were some NGOs established in Nepal that weren’t rooted in the traditional altruism of civil society. Among these are MONGO’s (My Own NGO’s) and DONGO’s (Donor-Organized NGO’s). The most negative view, which democracy and party aid organizations should be cognizant of, is that which sees NGO’s as “advancing the neo-liberal project and collaborating in the depoliticizations of development.” In this process of depoliticization, a divide is created between political parties and NGOs. One study in the Philippines noted that party workers are “lured into these (NGO) offices instead of returning to direct work among the masses and the countryside where they are so badly needed”, preferring instead the NGO environment where “loose discipline and craving for comfort are strong and often go unchallenged.”
This is especially evident in Kathmandu, where a new class of people working with NGO’s has been created, where those who wish to can challenge political parties from outside the party structure, using the platform that civil society provides. In worst scenarios, NGOs that tend to condemn political parties outright, without any consideration given to the cumulative effect it has on increased cynicism and decreased political participation.
Nepal’s situation indicates the need for a balanced aid focus on empowerment of civil society actors as well on the internal capacity building of political parties; this approach must also, of course, be devised based on the domestic, regional and international context. With political developments in the post-conflict-era, the democracy assistance agencies’ attention turned to the impending constituent assembly elections and the constitution building process. Electoral aid (e.g. electoral design, election monitoring, etc.) is a significant segment related to democracy assistance and in most respects a more mature sector.
6. Democracy-building foreign actors
A review of the democracy assistance organizations in Nepal suggests that there have been three main and interconnected areas of focus: good governance, multiparty system-building, and civil society aid. The review of democracy assistance suggests that the essentials of intra-party democratization have been, relatively speaking, ignored. Looking from the capacity-building point of view, Nepal’s parties are the missing puzzle piece.
The international actors and their work concerning democracy-building in Nepal include the following: the good governance program launched by the Netherlands/SNV and Norway ; human rights and good governance programmes conducted through Finland’s bilateral cooperation and Danida/HUGOU ; the peace and development fund of the CIDA and Swiss/SDC ; the election monitoring team of JICA ; the community development programmes of CARE Nepal ; marginalized group programs of Ockenden International ; the poverty reduction program established by the EC , DFID , MS-Nepal and CIDA/CCO ; and the professional training program of the UMN.
Democracy-building actors work indicates that there is a piecemeal approach among the actors who are engaged in a wide variety of democracy assistance activities. There is no doubt about the commitment of these actors, however the coordination of these actors’ activities could be enhanced. Specifically, while all are involved with civil society empowerment and good governance, few are working with political party empowerment, which is arguably the weak link that could be strengthened via greater attention from the democracy assistance actors in Nepal.
The UNDP is one of many UN agencies working in Nepal , the one most pertinent in terms of governance issues. The UNDP concentrates on several areas that relate to decentralization, gender equity, judicial and human rights oversight capacity building. With their Handbook on Working with Political Parties, the UNDP has taken on the task of building governance capacity within parties. In response to Nepal’s situation, the UNDP worked with other donors through the Support for Peace and Development Initiative (SPDI). As a part of this initiative, the UNDP together with the DFID/UK, the Norwegian Embassy, SDC and CIDA/CCO formed the Peace Support Group (PSG).
In the 1990’s, the main supplier of multiparty aid was (and to some extent still is) USAID. This is the main arm of US government overseas aid, and it dispenses party aid through various channels, including NED, NDI and IRI. In Nepal, the most active agency is NDI, although USAID has, on its own, funded projects designed to strengthen civil society and political parties. USAID, in coordination with Danida and other agencies, doled out specific grants that strove to “sustain the democratic opening” under the rubric of its Democratic Pluralism Initiative (DPI). This includes six components ranging from an MP orientation programme to NGO support.
Government-to-government type assistance, known as Official Development Assistance (ODA), has long been the usual practice in international relations, involving state donors/recipients. Irrespective of what generation or type of assistance is at issue, ODA is the locus of the whole package. This type of aid is basically development oriented. Nepal has been receiving such aid since the 1950’s, when the country emerged out of its self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world. This model of aid is based on the idea that governments, who define the needs of the people, are the principle actors in democracy.
Democracy assistance is one small slice of the ODA that the developed nations provide to Nepal. Within the democracy assistance that Nepal receives, party aid is an insignificant fraction of the entire package. And even that party aid which does reach Nepal’s parties is relatively uncoordinated. To address this, a coordinated multilateral effort, such as that which marked the London Conference of 2002, an attempt to piece together a long-term strategy for a harmonized and integrated approach towards Nepal’s political health. Up until the events of April 2006, donors seemed to have contradictory approaches in helping to re-establish democracy in Nepal. With the changed context since then, donors must reinvigorate their efforts.
7. Recipient’s need and perception
Perception is a reality in politics, and therefore the prospect of foreign aid ought to be viewed against Nepali people’s perceptions of the international community. In that regard critics have pointed out that the average Nepali is wary of the international community’s “trustworthiness” when it comes to commitment to democracy. This is the result of having proven to be “fickle”, and some even suggest that the international community must be held accountable for its “betrayal” during the events of April 2006.
Such critiques were raised against the international communities’ implied support of Gyanendra’s coup in February 1, 2005. For example, the US ambassador condemned the parliamentary parties’ weakness and dysfunction, suggesting that there should be a 100-day grace period after the coup for Gyanendra to deal with the Maoist insurgency. In this vein, it is worth mentioning that India, the UK, and the US continued to supply military aid to the RNA, despite widespread reports of systematic human right abuses.
The US and UK, while publicly pronouncing their support for democracy, provided the means for the RNA’s aerial bombings, “targeting crowds heavily populated by civilians and a few Maoists”. Belgium’s military assistance to the RNA was found in violation of the EU code of conduct (the European Parliament later called on all EU member states to halt such deliveries). Up until the day that Gyanendra surrendered power (April 24, 2006), the international community was in favour of “stability over principles” and this shows that:
“Democracy, moreover, is not the aid industry’s concern; in fact, democracy often deters the aid industry by forcing greater transparency and accountability in public expenditure. An old Nepal hand (who wishes to remain anonymous) voiced a common wariness to me when he said: “If this had been a competent fascist coup, they would have backed it. But it’s been an incompetent fascist coup. They’re embarrassed by how crude it is.”
The Swiss, Norwegian, Danish agencies’ response to the political situation after the February 2005 royal coup was to support the political parties (recall, Thomas Bell’s “Kathmandu” 2014). It is known that some of the personnel from these embassies smuggled political party people in their diplomatic vehicles to India, providing support and protection to others. This divided the international community, roughly along the lines of UK, US, Germany, India versus other Europeans and Canada. The challenge here is to work on the shortcomings, perceived or real, of the international aid actors in Nepal.
To manage this perception of developed nations using a “tanks and ambulances” approach to the developing world, party aid workers are faced with a public relations challenge. There is no easy formula to explain why, for instance, some EU countries were providing weapons to the RNA while other EU countries were providing logistical support to pro-democracy activists. This could be mitigated if aid agencies made greater efforts to take an integrated approach to party aid, which does not ignore the linkages between ODA, international economic/military interests, and recipient needs.
Aside from the party aid agencies’ efforts, it must be recognized that the political parties have ultimate responsibility for their internal democratization. Some of their failings can be attributed to resistance from central and regional party leaders. Thus, realistic democracy assistance packages, ones that recognize the nature of “leader parties”, are vital to achieve tangible results.
8. Needs assessment
In the past, whether military aid, development or civil society assistance, all prioritize donor preferences over recipient needs. During the pro-democracy people’s movement of April 2006, a lack of understanding of the ground reality was so acute on the part of international community that “key diplomats wrongly assumed that they understood Nepal and its politics better than its own politicians and people.” The role of the international community at the peak of the movement in 2006 cast doubts on the foreign diplomats’ capabilities:
“Diplomats had a clear idea of their own preferences but had difficulty putting themselves in the place of the party leaders and appreciating the pressures and calculations they faced. Once the direction of the country started to depend on the sentiment of the people at large rather than the manoeuvres of small political elites, the diplomatic community’s isolation from the ordinary Nepalese became a critical weakness.”
There is room for these weaknesses to be corrected, but understandably diplomats will face questions of credibility in the future. In a situation where foreign policy considerations of donor countries often do not match recipient needs (e.g. in a developing country such as Nepal), there is an obvious asymmetry that favours the donor. Supply-driven activities suffer from a lack of needs analysis and clear objectives (recall earlier quote from Nanda R Shrestha, In the name of development, A reflection on Nepal, 2009).
Donors’ ability to ensure appropriate aid expertise can be enhanced in many ways. For instance, the donors’ own impact assessments and evaluations, which document their perceived levels of efficiency and realistic goal setting, can be instructive for future efforts. These documents could be utilized more rigorously, to bolster international/regional sharing of expertise and experiences borne out of past practices.
It can be said that party aid faces several challenges in Nepal, not least of which is the perception that parties are one of the lower priorities for aid, usually far behind ODA and civil society aid. In the new political landscape of Nepal, party aid should be re-evaluated and, it is argued, is a necessary part of overall democracy assistance. Managing perception while providing aid is a challenging task, but in that endeavour some aid agencies are well experienced, having built long-term relationships through their years in Nepal. It is not easy to pinpoint in which areas the democracy building has been organic nature or designed by the outside world.
It can be suggested that donors should “refrain from dictating recipients what to do, but when recipients states ask how to do certain things, provide techniques and knowledge.” And at the same time, the recipient must be transparent and accountable to project and its people.
Is it possible for donors and recipients to do what they are expected to do? Foreign aid is a part of the foreign policy objective of the donor country which is intimately linked with the national interest. Therefore, the recipient should be aware what kind of aid in in their own interests and accept accordingly should they want to be free, especially from cultural imperialism and military strategic sphere of influence from the donors.
It is difficult to demonstrate the extent the organic change qualitatively. Certain changes can be the necessity of the time, e.g. the monarchy was abolished because it failed to change itself according to the need of the time and the republic of Nepal is thus established. There may have been internal organic need for the abolition of the monarchy as there may have been external forces for ending the monarchy. The mixture of internal and external forces will continue to work in the future. The facts presented in the beginning of this paper and the role of foreign aid and experts are only microcosm of the foreign actors’ intention for change in Nepal. Whether Nepal can sustain the organic part of the process of the democracy building depends upon the wisdom of the political class of the country. Honest conversation between the foreign donors/experts and the Nepali recipients/counterparts will be necessary to infuse the flesh and blood in the recently developed democratic structure of the country.
9. Telling truth about Nepal’s constitution 2015
Currently a question stands for intellectuals regarding constitution; how critical, independent and truthful one should/could be, telling of truth about the writing, declaration and implementation of the constitution of Nepal? This question begs yet another question, i.e. what legal truth, for whom, how and where? Is it possible to be critical and fully independent against one’s own knowledge discipline, group, nationality (patriotism) bias, if so how? Yes, it is possible to identity relative truth, but it requires the ability of ‘taking a risk to go beyond the easy certainty’ and understanding ‘the reality of others” and challenging unjust practices, legal or normative. The greater historical changes in societies have come about by challenging social norms. For examples, the prohibition of slavery, decolonialisation, the end of apartheid, women’s right, and the idea of welfare state are some of the positive outcomes of the critical approach to law. It is not easy to be democratic self-critic’ or coherence evaluation. But one should not impose one’s own subjective view to evaluate objectivity of the situation.
Setting people in hierarchy of the races is the legacy of the barbarian past. Federalism, secularism, proportional representation and inclusiveness are certainly the antithesis of modern democracy; the political leadership class seems lacking the basic understanding on the race issue and the academic class has also failed to acknowledge the historical injustices that exist in the name of religion and hierarchy of caste system, as well as the class failed to identify appropriate discourse on the corrective actions against the historical injustices.
No individual today is purely one thing and have one single identity; no culture is pure, or all cultures are hybrid. Nepal’s constitution 2015 has formalised the race. The problems in terms of intellectual discourse in Nepal can be noted as follows: most people, demanding identity-based representation and constitutional right, are guided by the 18th century race theories (and who is responsible for such an education in the 21st century?) Cultural-language-based identity is often misunderstood with the racial identities, and in fact the race or ethnicity based-identity should have been a subject to eradication, instead such identities are being demanded and continues (are the foreign and national agencies working for minority giving the right message to the society?)
With a few honourable exception, Nepal’s most well-known writers and mainstream journalists fail to acknowledge gradual dynamic change in the human geography and seem confused with Pahadi and Madashi narratives. Now, there appears trust deficit from the part of academic class and the most important now is the Madashi issue, which need to be dealt with and sooner the better. The Madsshi issues is also linked with India and its representatives in Nepal. Nepal’s most foreign policy experts seems writing for the Chinese and/or Indian perspectives and rarely from Nepal’s own perspective and why? With this question I mean that, as long as the idea of nation-states lives on, Nepal should also live on. The humanistic approach is the ultimate resistance against all kind of injustices.
We the humankind are certainly facing difficulties in the digital media age, balancing between ‘self-censorship’ (to control oneself to avoid offending others) and full ‘freedom of expression’ (what one wants to say or express). Generally, I agree with those who believe in the freedom of expression without any limitations. In recent years, however, I am also realizing that ‘self-critic’ could be a balancing method, while expressing about others and at the same time not annoying others. ‘Self-critic’ I am not suggesting to the level of Buddha’s experience of Mara or self-shadow, it simply means evaluating one-self and expressing with coherent manner or viewing or analyzing issues (at hand) and tell stories as well as providing news, views and/or understanding the others (perspectives). It is about using same epistemological approach to one-self, as well as to others, whether it is about democracy or constitution building at home or abroad.