Book Review

New Constitution of Nepal and expectations

The promulgation of the new constitution in 2072 BS is a significant event to all Nepalis. This historic event was anticipated to not only end years of political unrest, but also to herald in a new era of development and prosperity for Nepal.

Particularly, federalism – featured as the central theme in the constitution – was viewed as a genuine remedy to a multitude of developmental challenges. It was a noble concept, with numerous provisions derived from other jurisdictions, but unfortunately lacked empirical validation. The most significant challenge of this paradigm shift was vague and poorly defined nature of federalism which was characterized by numerous incongruous and inconsistent provisions. There was no clarity about how to implement it, with the framers of the constitution perhaps assuming that everyone working in the government and elected officials would over-night become expert implementers. Despite these ambiguities and inconsistencies, there was sweeping enthusiasm in the people who believed in what the pro-federal leaders were saying.

A book ahead of its time
The overarching concern thus was the precise definition and effective incorporation of federalism in the Nepali context. What was the most efficient and effective method for its successful implementation in Nepal? In addition, it became essential to identify and evaluate the potential pitfalls and opportunities inherent to this transformational endeavor. My friend and colleague considered composing an exhaustive document to respond to such inquiries. This book, aptly titled “Sanghiyatako Arth-Rajniti” would not only explicate the fundamental principles of federalism, but also provide incisive answers to these questions and contribute to an in-depth comprehension of this crucial transitional period.

A belated review
I thought about sharing this review on Binod Neupane’s book on Federalism approximately two years ago! I was hoping that the book will receive organic and natural traction amongst those who are sitting on the helm of federalism in Nepal, but it didn’t! Those benefiting from the loopholes of Federalism, overnight became “gurus of federalism” and perhaps decided to downplay the warning that the book issued. Yes, sadly, the book hardly features on the top shelves on the libraries as a “reference book” on federalism, nor has it been utilized as a “must read” manual by those who are responsible for implementing this provision inscribed in the new constitution as its bedrock.

What’s in the book?
Through the lens of Binod’s book on Sanghiyata, we can analyze comprehensively the complex relationship between federalism, the new constitution, and the pervasive problems of corruption and abuse of power in the Nepali context. The book highlights an important issue: the pervasive misunderstanding of federalism among Nepali public officials.

As numerous nations have effectively transitioned to a federal system, thereby improving the well-being and livelihoods of their citizens, it is not unreasonable to assume that Nepali citizens have similar hopes. However, elected officials’ profound disregard of the intricate complexities and inherent responsibilities associated with this structural transformation within the government is the underlying cause of the stumbling implementation of federalism. The allocation of powers and responsibilities between the federal, provincial, and local levels of governance is a common source of confusion. Some public officeholders may lack a clear understanding of authority boundaries, resulting in conflicts and inefficiency in decision-making and service delivery.

I highly recommend this book as it is both an  interpretation of federalism and an account of “how-to-do-it right.” By reading the complexities of federalism as described in the book, one can gain a deeper understanding of the structural and systemic factors that contribute to corruption and abuse of power in the context of Nepal’s evolving political landscape.

Another common misperception concerns the federalism principles of inclusivity and diversity. The ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity of Nepal’s population necessitates the representation and preservation of the rights of all ethnic, cultural, and linguistic groups. Bluntly put – misunderstanding even of those in the cabinet appear perpetuating social disparities and tensions.

In addition, fiscal federalism, revenue sharing, and resource allocation are misunderstood, which may have impacted the equitable distribution of resources and economic development across Nepal’s various regions. Binod’s second edition of this book seeks to delve into this issue.

The author notes that for the successful implementation of federalism in Nepal, it is essential to address these misunderstandings among public officeholders. It requires comprehensive education and training programs, an open dialogue, and a commitment to upholding the principles of transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness in government. For Nepal to become more equitable and efficient, clear communication and a shared comprehension of roles and responsibilities within the federal system are essential.

More so, these issues need to be documented! And the book has done it really well!  The comprehensive analysis provided in the book sheds light on how the federal system, as detailed in the new constitution, was intended to equitably distribute power among Nepal’s regions and local level. Nonetheless, it highlights the potential obstacles and hazards that can arise when implementing a system of this complexity.

Regrettably, a very poor understanding on the substance of federalism is now becoming evident. Every single day, the inherent misuse of power is blamed for pervasive corruption and abuse of authority. While decentralization may have empowered local governments, it has also helped create loopholes for multiple levels of corruption. The book has conducted a thorough examination of these levels that need to be reexamined in order to streamline and/or innovate new workflows. Not only does the book help readers fathom how these problems have manifested in Nepali societies, but it also provides insight into
potential solutions.

By reading the complexities of federalism as described in the book, one can gain a deeper understanding of the structural and systemic factors that contribute to corruption and abuse of power in the context of Nepal’s evolving political landscape. This knowledge can then inform efforts to resolve these challenges and
ensure that federalism fulfills its intended purpose of empowering local communities while maintaining transparency, accountability, and integrity in governance.

A Forethought!
I’m not sure if  the book – written in the most simplistic way- has reached those who are now sitting in the helm of federalism in Nepal. Two years ago, former Foreign Minister of Nepal, Mr.  Pradeep Gyawali had written a review.  He had praised the book for what it contains and had wished those working with him also go through it.

I highly recommend this book as it is both an  interpretation of federalism and an account of “how-to-do-it right.” The author deserves ‘kudos’.

Title: Sanghiyatako Arth-Rajniti
Paperback:  507 pages
Author: Binod Neupane
Publisher: Sangri-La Books