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Central mindset

Central mindset

 Except for a section of the former Maoist gue­rillas and some Madhesi outfits, the rest of the Nepali political parties were always reluctant federalists. It made sense too. Before the 2007 Madhesi uprising, few Nepalis had heard of federalism. So wedded were they to a unitary state, the federal concept sounded alien, even as its proponents were trying to explain that it was just another way to ensure proper distribution of power and resources away from Kathmandu. It was natural that the political parties, the articulators of public aspirations, were also unsure about federalism. That was then.


Today, federalism, firmly enshrined in the Nepali constitution, is a fait accompli. The country has seven provinces and 753 local level units, each with its own government, besides the federal government at the center. The constitution sees each of these 761 govern­ments as autonomous, self-governing entities, even as it envisions a high level of cooperation and coordina­tion among them. Thus when Prime Minister KP Oli says that Nepal is “one country with one [federal] gov­ernment” with seven provincial and 753 local “subordi­nate” governments, he is walking on thin ice.


It was one thing for KP Oli the leader of the erstwhile CPN-UML to publicly express his skepticism of feder­alism. (Even that stand was not entirely unproblematic because he was among the top leaders who had put pen to the draft constitution that instituted a federal Nepal back in 2015.) But to do so as the head of the federal government is not just unseemly; it is also trou­bling for the nascent federal republic. It suggests either the prime minister does not fully understand his role as the head of the federal government, or he is know­ingly abusing his powers.


In the past year and a half Oli has tried to central­ize powers and shown his unwillingness to transfer power and resources to the provinces and local levels. This is as clear in the center-heavy budget allocations as it is in the continued existence of the parallel bod­ies under the old unitary structure that have created many problems for the provincial governments. The country expects better of Oli, the chief custodian and the embodiment of the federal constitution. He should realize that the federal formula can work only with high levels of delegation and trust between the three tiers of the government. On the other hand, the sham federal­ism that Oli and co. seem to be promoting imperils all the recent political gains.