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The Political System And The Federalism – Essay

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Published: Thu, 13 Apr 2017

Federalism is a political system in which the sovereign power is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units. Federalism provides a technique of constitutional organization that permits action by sa shared government for certain common purposes, together with autonomous action by constituent units of government for purposes that relate to maintaining their distinctiveness, with each level directly responsible to its own electorate (Ghai and Jill, 2007:2).

Now, the country has been divided into the various groups on the types of the federalism. They are divided among those who favour a geographically based federation and those who favour a federation based on ethnicity, language or ‘historical regions’. Other considerations also touch on the choice: representativeness and participation, democratisation and fairness to all the inhabitants of the constituent units. The people of Nepal need to select the most appropriate type of federalism which will meet the socio-economic aspirations and strengthen the national unity.

In addition to the above mentioned issue, there is a great concern of people of Nepal that the type of federal system Nepal is going to adopt in near future must embrace the aspirations of the people ensuring the national unity and security. The people of Nepal wish to see the unification of the people of Nepal not only geographically but also with the social and economic justice and harmony. People are confident that the system will strengthen the political, economical, social, informational and military harmony among the people. The federal system will provide equal opportunity for all types of people in the state mechanism and also gives greater space for the recognition of identity and the empowerment of marginalized people. The co-existence and brotherhood among the people which will be of course the outcome of the federalism, creates unity among the people in every sector (ibid.,49). The issue of federalism came up after the Maoists launched their armed struggle (Lawati, 2005:21). They advocated the policy with a view to attract people of different ethnic groups and succeeded in making it popular to a large extent. Now, people from various walks of life are lauding it. Federalism became Nepal’s major political agenda after the April uprising.

Defining the arrangement of federalism in Nepal is not an easy task. Different armed groups and the Madhesi Front are demanding that the Tarai be declared an autonomous state on the basis of region. Similarly, Kirat, Tharu and other ethnic communities are demanding federalism on the basis of ethnicity. But one criterion alone is not enough to establish the extent of the federal states. The size and structure, among other things, should be determined by careful examination of various factors. One of the things for federalism is always an issue of how to design the central government so it represents the diversity of the country. The failure for forming a federal regime is when the people think that the federal government belongs to only one or two groups and another feels excluded. So the federal government has to be concerned about whether in some way it reflects the whole country. The more discussion and dealing with those kinds of things in the national structure, the more the federal government will be protecting the minorities across the country. These are the things which are potentially very important. The whole concept is start building a federation, thinking as a kind of community or ethnicity. Domestic Federal models have to try and build a Nepali identity; the value has to be Nepali, respecting the diversity and accommodating it and promoting it. Though the “Federalism” issue has been a hot cake for all the political arena, the feasibility has yet to be proved. After the unification of Nepal by King Prithivi Narayan Shah up to present government has adopted policy of equity majority of the people are failed to explore those opportunities by individual. Government has given equal importance to all the people since its establishment .This can be prove by the statement of King Prithivi Narayan Shah “NEPAL CHAR JAT CHATTIS BARNA KO FULBARI HO.”

The federal democratic republic of Nepal thus must establish the rights and duties of its partially self-governing units of the governments. One of the basic ‘self-governance’ rights of the local governments is to conduct elections to form their bodies of the governments. Local governments under federalism are fully responsible for their local administration, law enforcement, justice, developments, infrastructure maintenance, school management, local tax and revenue regulations and so on. Except for policymaking, funding and overall state infrastructure development the state has no control over the local governments’ right to self-governance. However, the issue of ethnicity, ethnic identity and self rule was started to rise after the people’s movement of 1990 and during the Maoist movement which has taken a shape at this moment. But it can easily be noticed that the demands of ethnic identity is politicized in such an extent that is has resulted a number of negative impact and seemed to have disturbed the social harmony in Nepal (ibid.,51).

Statement of the problem

Federalism generally implies federation comprising a member of partially self-governing states or regions united by a central “federal” government. However, in the government level the self-governing status of the component states or regions is constitutionally established and no unilateral decision of the central government can alter it. Primarily, state or regional governments must consist of a unit of partially self-governing local governments in which people have constitutional right to govern their own constituencies. It is the partially self-governing local level of governments that play vital role for the stability, prosperity and national integrity of a federal democratic nation.

The country has become more vulnerable and its sustainability has been questioned in recent years and federal system keeps it alive. This is because of its failure to manage its internal order and its inability to promote much needed social, cultural and economic development. Its failure to provide good governance, protect citizens’ basic rights and fulfill their basic needs has led the country towards chaos and instability. The people’s increasing aspirations and successive governments’ failure to meet the general masses’ expectations has precipitated violent conflicts, internal displacement, and an environmental crisis. The experience of many other countries indicates that ethnicity, language and religion could represent other sources of insecurity. Nepal is fast falling victim to this problem, and unless appropriate interventions are made to assure adequate space to all disadvantaged communities, this insecurity could grow. The security threat perception of Nepal has been changing due to growing vulnerability and internal disorder rather than insecurity from external factors. The internal disorder ultimately might pose external threat as well. In the changing context of Nepal as a federal state challenges and prospects to be researched thoroughly.

In this regard, the research is based on the following questions:

  1. How did the concept of federalism evolve in Nepal?
  2. What are basis and challenges of federalism?
  3. What are the positive and negative aspects of federalism in Nepal?

Objectives of the study

The study is undertaken with the following objectives:

  • To analyse the concepts of federalism in Nepal.
  • To explore the issues, problem and challenges of federalism in Nepal.
  • To analyse the positive and negative aspects of federalism in Nepal.

Importance of the study

The peace, development and prosperity of any nation is directly proportional to the political stability of that nation. The causes of political instability of any nation are dissatisfaction of people with the government due to various unsatisfactory activities carried out by government/political parties. The main causes of dissatisfaction of the people with the government are on all the functions of legislature, executive and judiciary.

After first change in interim constitution 2063 of Nepal, nation is going to enter into federalism. Since then it is being a matter of discussion due to lack of appropriate concept of it.

The conclusion so made out of this study brings out to highlight the concept as well issues and challenges of federalism in Nepal .

Theoretical framework

The term “federalism” is derived from Latin word “foedus” which means covenant, agreement, contract, treaty, promise; which signifies a political movement on the basis of political order is the principle of union. Federalism is a form of territorial political organization, which aims to maintain the national unity while allowing for regional diversity. This is achieved by distributing different constitutional power to the national and regional governments (Acharya,2008:42). From the above definition, it is clear on the following points, firstly it is a form of political organization, secondly it operate in different territorial areas, thirdly the aim of federalism is to maintain national unity, fourthly it allows for regional diversity, lastly constitutional power is divided in between the national and regional governments.

Federalism thus describes a system of government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between central governing authority and constituent political units (like states or provinces). It is a political philosophy in which a group of member states bound together with a governing representative head. Federalism is the system in which the power to govern is shared between the national and state governments. In federations, the balance of power is the degree to which power is centralized in the federal government or devolved to the sub-national governments. In confederations (decentralized federations), it is more likely that the balance of power will be in favor of the sub-national level of government (states or provinces government). In federalism, power is distributed among independent interacting centres. Thus the national government is not in a position to impose its decision unilaterally or regional governments.

So from above it is clear that the key features of federalism usually are two (or three) tiers of government enjoying their own rights of existence under the constitution; separate legislative and executive power, separate source of revenue and supreme court plays the role of an umpire on the disputes between different levels and a bicameral parliament which provides for representation in regional or state government. There are different types of federal systems in the world. Most of the nations where there is sustainable peace in federal system of government age big in size and economically strong. The distribution of powers between levels of government in a federalism was the top issue, The propose models to control by central government are: Defence, Foreign affairs, Currency, Immigration, National communication, National infrastructure, Citizenship, Protection of minority rights, Scientific research and technology and Supreme court (Gyawali, 2007:10).

Federal system of government is the government of the union of the states in which sovereignty is divided between a central authority and component state authorities (Acharya, op.cit.,). Generally finance, military and foreign affairs, are usually granted to the central government. The chief political problem of a federal system of government is likely to be allocation of sovereignty, because the need for unity among the federating states may conflict with their desire for autonomy. Most of the nations of the world which are adopting federal system are due to the following reasons:

  • To integrate the scattered separate states in order to bring together for the purpose to form a strong nation.
  • To unite the states together who are trying to disintegrate.
  • During the period to get freedom from colonial power (Acharya, op.cit.,).

One can raise the issue of the relation between federalism and political ideology. But federalism has been practiced by different countries with different political ideologies. The three countries which have different political ideologies but these countries practice a federal system of government. They are the USA, a capitalist country, Russia, a communist nation and Switzerland, a socialist country. Hence we can say that political ideology is not the obstacle for federalism.

Types of federalism

Federations are broadly placed under two categories namely Unitarian and Cooperative. The former one federation is focused towards the centralization of authority in the centre and in the case of the cooperative type of federation both the centre as well as the federal units have keen desire to cooperate to each other. The federal system mainly divides into following categories (Rai, 2007:13-15).

Full federal system

This is a type of federal system in which the states are fully authorized to exercise all the state power as an independent state except foreign affairs finance and military power. These types of states have rights to self decision; such states are known as autonomous states. In some nations, in the case of the former USSR, for example, states had the authority to deal with foreign affairs as well.

Semi federal system

In this type of federal system, the authority to run the administration of state is with the central government with is run through the state governor, and state judge nominated by the head of the state.

Cooperative federal system

This is the system in which the federal states work cooperatively.

Corporation federal system

This is the federal system in which there is no difference among various ethnic, lingual, cast and religious groups. The existence of these all various groups accepted equally.

Duet federal system

This is the federal system in which there is the competition among the federal states which create conflict and violence among the states.

Regional federal system

This is the federal system based on geographical region.

Ethnic, lingual and religion based federal system

This is the federal system in which the federal states are divided on the basis of ethnicity, lingual and religion group.

Symmetrical federal system

This is the federal system in which all states are equally powerful.

Asymmetrical federal system

This is the federal system in which all states have unequal power.

Federalism is arguably the most potent decentralization strategy and most desirable in a pluralistic nation like Nepal. It can not only prevent possible violent ethnic conflicts, but also consolidate democracy and make it more robust (Gurung, 2008:255-256). Federalism generates a sense of nationalism while being discreetly different by virtue of ethnic, religious or cultural backgrounds. Also it creates a sense of competition among federal units for development in all aspects and system creates opportunities for the backwards, under-privilege and neglected groups and individuals. Unity with in diversity can be the phrase to accept and cherish for all the Nepalese be they be Madhesi, Janajatis or Bahuns for all time to come (ibid.).

Review of the literature

The Nepalese political history within the boundary of greater Nepal shows that there were different dependent states (Asrit Rajya) states in different period. Since then main concept of federalism is the sharing of power in between centre and federal states as there was some power delegated to those dependent states as well. So one or another way, the concept of federalism in Nepal is not a new idea, it was in practice through our history. The delegated power for states was kidnapped by different rulers in different period.

After the establishment of democracy in 1950 A.D the new idea of federalism was emerged by the political party named “Tarai Congress” headed by Bedananda Jha.The ideas about ethnic identity was emerged in 1980 A.D. during the period of referendum (Janamat Sangraha). After the reestablishment of democracy in 1991 A.D. many political parties started to advocate on the favor of federalism and made it main agenda of their election manifesto as well. The concept of federalism in Nepal after April movement 2006 AD and the first change carried out by legislature interim parliament in “Interim Constitution of Nepal 2006 A.D.” The political parties, leaders and the academicians who are advocating for and against federalism in Nepal are presenting their concept in the form of books, as an article in the newspapers or in any media, are also different.

The collected articles of different historian was published in a edited book form by Nepal Rajakiya Pragya-Pratisthan in 2001 A.D. The book is entitled “Nepalko Itihaska Bibid Pakshya” edited by Dinesh Raj Panta about the policy adopted by Bahadur Shah towards dependent states of Nepal which basically deals about the system of those state and power/authority delegated from centre to those dependent ( Asrit Rajya) states in present concept that was a type of federalism.

The book written by Bal Bahadur Chemjong entitled “Pallo Kirat Limbuwan ka Magharu” was published in 1957 AD, in which the writer has collected various documents including the agreement ” Tamra Patra” between King PN Shah and the king of Pallo Kirat state, “Tasali Lal Mohar” that had signed and given by king PN Shah to the King of Pallo Kirat. In the book the writer has tried to prove that the “Pallo Kirat” (Limbuwan) was somehow federal state of Nepal, they were getting extra privileges than other areas of the nation till the eradication of Kipat pratha of Limbuwan on 2021 Marga 1.The book does not deals any other concept of federalism in Nepal.

The book written by Bhawani Baral entitled “Yesto hunuparchha rajyeko samrachana” was published in June 2007 AD. The writer has focused the history of Nepal from federalism perspective. Comparing the different concepts about the federal Nepal he has suggested 10 federal states in Nepal all based on ethnicity. The writer has suggested that autonomy is an essential factor for Nepalese federal states. Without evaluating heterogeneous Nepalese human context the writer has given very few advantages and disadvantages of federal system to Nepal by presenting few examples of the world’s federal nation states.

The book written by Pusparaj Kandel entitled ” Rajyeko puna: samrachana, artha rajnitik sandarva ra sanghiyatako prasna” was published in 2007AD.The book deals about the necessity of federalism in Nepal and the concept of federal Nepal among different political parties. He has tried to evaluate the federal system of Nepal from eco-political perspective. The writer has mentioned about the experience of different nations on federal system. He has slightly touched about the ethnicity of Nepal and focus towards the decentralization of power based present political division. The writer has not evaluated correctly federalism concept in Nepal from social, cultural, religious and ethnic perspective and suggested that federalism can be harmful for Nepal.

The article written by Bhimarjun Acharya entitled “Sanghiya Rajyabewasta” in the monthly newspaper International forum of Aug/Sep of 2007 A.D. in which the writer has describe about the cause that any nation adopt federal system and the history of the federalism in the world. He has given the pre-requisites for a nation to adopt the federal system of government. The article does not evaluate the concept of federalism in Nepal from different perspectives.

The collection of CPN (Maoist) historical documents published in the form of book entitled “Historical documents of CPN (Maoist)” collected by Yagya Raj Neupane and published in 2006 A.D. is mainly focused on the political history of CPN (Maoist) and their formation of ethnic based sister organizations as well as their ethnicity and regional based federal 9 autonomous regions. The book does not evaluate the autonomous region from different perspectives, so it seems the bunch of political decision without any evaluation and interpretation.

The book written by Surendra K.C., entitled “Nepal ko rajya punarsamrachana ra sambidhansabha” was published in 2007 A.D. The book mainly focused on the history of Nepal based in federalism. Writer has mentioned the reasons of advocating federalism in Nepal from historical point of view. In this book the writer has presented the concept given by different political parties and academicians. He has purposed 11 federal states in Nepal based on ethnicity. If the nation divided in to federal states based on ethnicity it will be the “Cancer” for the nation for ever, because on his division every ethnic groups within own federal state are in minority .The writer has not analyzed the advantages and disadvantages of ethnicity based federalism concept in Nepal from the present ground reality perspectives.

The book written by Ishwori Prasad Pokhrel entitled “Loktantrik Rajya Samrachhana ka Adharbhut Sutraharu” is purposed for 18 different federal states based on the equal geographical area on every federal state. In his book he has included the concepts of different scholars regarding the federalism model. Writer does not evaluate the proposed federal states from ethnic, cultural, economic and social points of view as well as he has not analyzed the cost and benefit of those federalism concept in Nepal.

The book written by Dev Raj Rai entitled “Sundar,sakshyam ra sabhya sanghiya naya Nepal” was published in July 2007 AD in which writer has described about the importance of constitutional election in Nepal, the different forms of governmental system in the world. The writer has emphasized in the autonomous form of the government in Nepal but he has not mentioned the numbers of federal state i.e. suitable for Nepal as well as he has not evaluate from different perspectives the advantages and disadvantages of federal system in Nepal .

The book written by Kanchha Lawati entitled “Naya Nepal ko Parikalpana” was published in June 2007. The writer has purposed ethnic based 11 federal states in Nepal based on ethnicity showing his concept of federalism stood up from the “Tamra Patra” agreement between King P.N. Shaha and Limbu King. He has not evaluated the advantages and disadvantages of federal system in Nepal from different perspectives.

Limitations of the study

There are a number of authoritative books, periodicals and dissertations on federalism in Nepal, has eased to research. On the other hand federalism has been defined by different angle in different context impose dilemma in focusing the subject matter. Federalism is a system to be strengthened through the formulation of strategy and its application at various levels and dimensions as demanded by the time and situations. But the suitable model of federal model yet to be decided. Moreover, the lack of common vision on modality of federalism rendered the task of conducting research on the topic difficult. Therefore most of the secondary data is from publications as articles and books.

However, limitations could only be overcome by a thorough study and interpretation of the literature review. These limitations do not restrict or restrain this study’s goal. The study is expected to be an eye-opened to the concept of federalism at all levels in the changing paradigm. In this research, the researcher has mainly concentrated on describing the concept of federalism & challenges ahead.

Research methodology

There are reasons behind the selection of research topic and research design for this study.

Justification for the selection of research topic

The challenges that have to be faced by a country on entering into federalism have made the study a choice of many scholars. Federalism has turned out to be a mesmerizing concept. It appears that different groups are expecting different aspects from federalism and they are interpreting the meaning of federalism based on their expectations, which has made this subject matter even more interestingfor the researchers. Thus, the researcher is of the belief that understanding the impacts of the federalism in Nepal where multilingual, multicultural, multiethnic and multi religious aspects holds significance.

Research design

The research design of this study is explanatory and descriptive. The nature of the problem restricts the methodology to descriptive and analytical methods.

Nature and sources of data

The study on the federalism in Nepal requires both quantitative and qualitative data in order to conduct the explorative research. This study is not an exception and will contain both types of data. Basically, both qualitative and quantitative data used in this study are secondary in nature. These are collected through published research articles, books and related websites. The references for the research work are appended at the last.


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