President of Bibeksheel Sajha Party Rabindra Mishra has every right to freely explain his vision for the country, however odious his prescriptions may sound to many. Mishra urges the country to ditch federalism and hold a referendum on its secular status. These are valid political propositions. He is also right that there have not been enough informed public debates over these vital issues, neither at the time of constitution promulgation in 2015 nor after that. All those trying to shout him down because of his ‘regressive’ ideas are also into a kind of regression: stifling free speech.
Now, let’s get to some of Mishra’s ideas. He says federalism should be scrapped by the sovereign legislature. His main premise is that federalism was something imposed on Nepal and that it poses grave risk to Nepal’s territorial integrity. Secularism, another imposition, will meanwhile in his view tear apart the country’s social fabric. His high praise for monarchs also suggests he sees a place for monarchy in his imagination of Nepal.
There is little to suggest federalism is a greater risk than a unitary state. Since its independence in 1947, India has had a disproportionate sway in Nepal, a unitary state for most of this period. As Mishra himself says India in this period had proposed some treaties that threatened Nepal’s very existence. So it is disingenuous to argue that federalism, only installed in 2015, has already emerged as a bigger threat. Nor is his argument that the nascent federalism is unaffordable sound. In fact, devolution of power to the lower rungs have already sped up service delivery and eased public access to vital services. How do you put a price on that?
On secularism, too, some of Mishra’s claims are dubious. It was under the monarchy-run Hindu state that Evangelical Christianity spread in the country like wildfire. Secularism seems to have made no material difference in its spread or in the ‘breaking apart’ of Nepal’s social fabric, as Mishra puts it. Nor does Nepal’s post-1950 history suggest monarchy is somehow uniquely suited to protecting Nepali interests. Just like politicians today, the erstwhile monarchs acted more often in self than in collective interest. Rabindra Mishra has started an important debate (and ApEx only scratches its surface in this editorial). This is also the perfect time to prove him and the adherents of his beliefs wrong.