The federal government has been loath to devolve power and resources to the provinces and local bodies, in a clear violation of the spirit of federalism. Of course, the picture is nuanced. Members of the provincial assemblies, for instance, are constantly looking for guidance from the center, as they struggle to settle even petty provincial agendas. But, again, this is to be expected as they don’t feel empowered enough to make crucial decisions like deciding on the name and capital city of their province.
A curious spectacle is now unfolding over the naming of Province 3 and the selection of its capital. The nine-member Nepal Communist Party Secretariat has issued a diktat to its Province 3 assembly members that the province should be named ‘Bagmati’ and its temporary capital of Hetauda should be made permanent. The constitution clearly states that the twin duties fall on the provincial assembly. Yet when members of the NCP parliamentary party in Province 3 could not come to a consensus, they brought the issue before the party secretariat. The assembly members who were all along for Hetauda as the permanent capital supported the secretariat directive, while those pitching for alternative places decried the ‘interference’.
As the NCP has 80 seats in the 110-member Province 3 Assembly, the parliamentary party had enough votes to push through its recommendations. And yet they were bitterly divided. In this situation of a deadlock, it may seem natural for them to look up to their political masters for guidance. Yet the NCP secretariat offered not so much its guidance as settle the matter altogether. Federalism works only when the provinces and local bodies feel adequately empowered to take important decisions and settle differences on their own.
If top party leaders were serious about federalism, they would have better trained representatives of the provincial and local governments to expect and handle such problems on their own. There would have been greater debate on the suitability of certain provincial names and capitals. The kind of administrative federalism that the central-level leaders seem keen on, with decision-making still centralized in Kathmandu, is token federalism. Some friction was to be expected in the implementation of federalism. Our political leaders’ fecklessness has greatly increased that friction.