Murari Sharma: Want New Constitution Quickly? Do Something Unusual

The Nepali Congress Party has decided to lead the next government and the UML is claiming a bulky share in it. It is so like the failed Constituent Assembly I. If a new constitution is to be drafted within a year, as they have promised, they should let the Khil Raj Regmi government continue and focus their time and energy on the statute.

Hardly one month has passed since the 19 November elections for the CA II, the popular hope and enthusiasm about getting a new constitution from six months to a year has already evaporated, thanks to disagreements among the major political parties. Some analysts have even suggested that the CA II will repeat the CA I fiasco.

Naturally, the ideal and best option is for the elected leaders to rule and write the new constitution from six months to a year, as most parties have promised in their manifesto. The second best option consists of letting the bureaucratic government continue while the elected leaders target their energy and time to formulate the law of land. Third and the worst option is for the elected leaders to run the government and not deliver the constitution for next several years.

Evidently, the CA I went for the best option and ended up with the worst. Given the political squabble that has erupted in Kathmandu after the recent polls, there is every likelihood that the CA II will follow the disastrous path of the CA I.

The Nepali Congress and UML, the largest and second largest respectively in the CA II, are competing for power and have threatened to sit in the opposition if they did not get what they want. The Maoists, reduced from the largest in the CA I to third in the CA II, have put forward a slew of preconditions to remain relevant. The 33 parties opposed to the CA II elections want to write a constitution outside the Assembly.

In a normal parliament, political parties should try to gain and retain power. But the CA is not a normal parliament; its principal goal is to write a new constitution; and the power game being played will come in the way of drafting a new statute. The CA I did not work well as a legislature or as a constitution writing body. The CA II might follow suit if leaders do not recognize this difference.

Some analysts have prescribed the Indian model for Nepal. The Indian CA was headed by two different speakers, one for making law and the other for drafting the statue. But that was not the reason why it succeeded in delivering the constitution within three years.

India had a different set of political circumstances in 1947: The CA was elected by provincial assemblies; had only 299 members; had 69 percent members from the Indian Congress alone; and was led by a visionary leader Dr. Rejendra Prasad. And the government was led by the illustrious and enlightened leader Jawaharlal Nehru.

Nepal does not have the leaders of Prasad and Nehru’s vision and caliber. Its CA is more inclusive, more complex and more divided. You cannot expect the same result from a drastically different set of circumstance.

That leaves us with the second best option. Although it sounds anti-climactic and anti-democratic at a time when the newly elected leaders are restless to reclaim the saddle of government, letting the Khil Raj Regmi government continue will free the NC and UML of the burden of government, and write the constitution and go for parliamentary election quickly. A small sacrifice now will give them a new and longer mandate to govern.

It is possible. The CA I has covered much ground. The NC and UML should first show magnanimity to the Maoists and Madheshi parties and strive to find understanding on the outstanding issues of federalism and form of government, on which they differ. If the effort fails, they should go for the constitutional provision under which they could approve the new constitution with a two-thirds majority. They can easily muster the number.

The Maoists and other protesting parties will not respect the two-thirds majority and will protest and engage in violence against the government. The government headed by the NC or UML will not be able to maintain law and order and will have to compromise against the voters will to keep the street quiet.

But the Regmi government will be under no such constraints. It will effectively maintain law and order, as we saw in the last several months, and the NC and UML can focus on the constitution without the burden or risks of government. Once the NC and UML have decided to stay out of government, they will have very few issues to fight over. The constitution will be written quickly.

That is why the current administration of Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi should be allowed to run the country and conduct the local elections while the CA focuses its energy and effort on drafting the new constitution. The Regmi government could also conduct the parliamentary elections under the new constitution and hand over power to the elected government.

In Economics, there is a theory of second best. It suggests that when the first best option is impossible to achieve beneficially, you go for the second best, which if not ideal, but is beneficial.

Since the best option runs the risk of ending up as the worst, the second best option will deliver a new constitution within a year. The NC and UML should let the Regmi government continue for six months within which time the constitution could be written and focus on the statute. It is a bitter pill but a good one to cure our political disease of lacking the capacity to compromise for the greater good.

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Who Fouled up the Election?

By Murari Sharma

I had read a story long time ago in which the main character, attacked by someone at night, wonders about who might have assaulted him even though he had no enemy but concludes that everyone around him could have reason to hurt him. The UCPN (Maoist) finds itself in that character’s predicament after the recent election debacle of monumental proportions.

But there is a major difference between the story character and Maoist leaders: The former quietly pondered while the latter have been making hue and cry about domestic and foreign players fouling up the election. So much so that the Maoists have announced that they would boycott CA II if their complaint about the election fraud were not properly addressed.

In a monumental decline, the Maoists were reduced from the first position with 238 seats in the 601-seat Constituent Assembly I to the remotely third position in CA II. They have 80 seats from direct and proportional elections and may have four more seats if the nominated 26 are apportioned this time as before. All told, their rivals, the Nepali Congress, the CPN (UML) and the UCPN (Maoist), may  have 215 and 183 seats respectively.

To internally investigate the election fraud, the UCPN (Maoist) constituted a committee headed by Barsa Man Pun. The committee reported that the Election Commission and the army had conducted institutional fraud by letting the army transport the ballot boxes to counting centers and letting their agents go with the ballot boxes and demanded official investigation. Both agencies have denounced the allegation as baseless.

Why the alleged institutional fraud? The Maoists claim that domestic and external players conspired to defeat them. In a great irony, among internal players, the head of the election government, Khil Raj Regmi, and the chief election commissioner were appointed at the recommendation of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the fallen Maoist star. The army chief was appointed by Dahal’s deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, when he was prime minister. It is inconceivable that the Maoist protégés could have betrayed their mentors.

The usual external suspects are India and Western countries. Of course, India prodded Nepal to go for the polls at the earliest and helped organize them with equipment and materials. But it apparently did not try to influence the outcome as such. India did not help Madheshi parties, even though Rajendra Mahato, the Sadbhavana Party leader, has said their defeat was India’s defeat.

There is no indication, let alone proof, that Western countries tried to shape the election result. Why should they? They are sympathetic to the Maoist proposal to carve Nepal into an ethnic federal state. And they do not have the kind of network India has in Nepal to influence Nepalese elections, even if they wanted.

Let us stretch the net further and include China as a potential suspect because it is wary about the ethnic division of states in a federal Nepal. But Beijing would not want to defeat the ideologically closest kin that is also most sympathetic to its most vital interest in Nepal: Control anti-China activities of Tibetan refugees.

Put it differently, the conspiracy by national and foreign elements does not wash.

That leaves voters disaffection as the only valid and overwhelming reason behind the Maoist meltdown. As the largest party in the CA I, the Maoists could not deliver good government and a new constitution. Government was corrupt and ineffective and the constitution stalled because the Maoists backed out of the last minute compromise on federalism. Besides, Maoist leaders were arrogant. So voters jilted the new boys in town and went back to the old love.

It was unexpected. Dahal and Bhattarai had called on voters to give them a two-thirds majority and hoped that they would again be the largest party. Even analysts had predicted only a slight loss for the Maoists. However, the Nepali Congress and UML had predicted that they would win the election and did. Madheshis had hoped to win big on “One Madhesh, One Pradesh.”

Of all, Dahal was stunned most. He had left no stone unturned to win. Going against the grain of communist ideology, he had rooted for ethnic states. He had called on his supporters to use all fair and foul means, including booth capturing, for his party to win, had travelled across the country by helicopter flouting the Election Code of Conduct to arouse support for his party. Voters thronged to see him and his helicopter but voted for opponents.

Dahal himself lost a relatively unknown NC candidate the Kathmandu constituency. His victory from Siraha was wafer thin. Bhattarai too won one and lost the other. So many of their comrades lost. With this outcome, Dahal’s dream to write a constitution in his vision and become the first executive president of Nepal shattered into smithereens. Now he is worried about losing his party leadership.

To be fair to Dahal, elections are never perfect, not even in most advanced democracies.  Carried out nation-wide on a single day by thousands of officials in thousands of booths, they are likely to have weaknesses even in the most advanced countries. In the recent Australian elections, some ballot boxes were found missing. The Supreme Court settled the dispute over hanging chads in the Bush-Gore contest for the US presidency in 2003.

Neither in 2008 nor in 2013, the Nepalese elections were clean. If the 2008 vote were clean, Bhattarai would not have won by a higher margin than the total number of voters in his constituency. This time, Dahal himself had asked his supporters to get the vote by hook or crook. Others may have followed suit. Yet this election was the cleanest in Nepal’s history thanks to voters identity cards and non-partisan election government. Both national and internal observers, including the former US President Jimmy Carter, have vouched for it.

Although Dahal might be making a noise about fraud to save his leadership, he or his party has no moral ground to denounce the vote, boycott the CA II, and disrespect the voters’ mandate. In democratic politics, losing one ballot is not the end of the world. Losing patience with voters is. If the Maoists behave, they will have a second chance. It is a different matter altogether that the winners should demonstrate some magnanimity towards the losers as well.

But when will the Maoists realize that they have lost the election and their main enemy was themselves?

काँग्रेस-एमालेलाई अवसर र चुनौती

मुरारि शर्मा

नेपाली जनताको चेतनाको बारेमा कसैलाई शंका थियो भने उनीहरुले मंग्सीर ४ को निर्वाचनको परिणामबाट त्यसको पूर्ण निवारण गरिदिएका छन् | यस पटक मात्र होइन, २०४६ सालदेखि नै नेपाली जनताले आफ्नो राजनैतिक चेतनाको उम्दा उदाहरण पटकपटक दिएका छन्.l

२०४६ सालको चुनावमा नेपाली जनताले प्रजातन्त्रको लागि जनआन्दोलनको नेतृत्व गर्ने नेपाली काँग्रेसलाई सबभन्दा ठूलो दल बनाएर संसदमा पठाए l जनताको सद्भावले सत्तामा पुगेपछि काँग्रेस मात्तियो र मध्यावधि चुनावमा गयो | जनताले नेपाल कम्युनिस्ट दल (एमाले) लाई सबभन्दा ठूलो बनाएर संसदमा पठाए | एमाले पनि मात्तियो सत्तामा पुगेपछि | उसको अल्पमतको सरकार धराशायी हुने देखेपछि उसले अरु दलसंग सहकार्य गर्नुको सट्टा चुनाव भएको ९ महीनाभित्रै अर्को चुनाव घोषणा गर्न पुग्यो, जुन सर्वोच्च अदालतले तुहाइदियो | अर्को चार बर्षसम्मका अप्राकृतिक गठबन्धन र त्यसले उब्जाएको सांसद किन-बेच लगायत अन्य भ्रस्टाचारको पराकाष्टा पछि भएको अर्को चुनावमा नेपाली जनताले फेरि एक पटक नेपाली काँग्रेसलाई विजयी बनाएर संसद पठाए | सत्तामा पुगेपछि फेरि पनि काँग्रेस मात्तियो |  सत्ताको बागडोर दरबारमा जिम्मा लगाएर काँग्रेस फुट्यो |

त्यसपछि भएको २०६४ को निर्वाचनमा जनताले  क्रान्तिकारी पहिचान बोकेर आएको नेपाल कम्युनिष्ट दल (माओवादी) लाई सबभन्दा ठूलो बनाएर संविधान सभामा नयाँ संविधान लेख्न पठाए | मधेश आन्दोलनको बलमा मधेशवादी दलहरुले पनि राम्रै सहभागिता पाए | चुनावमा सबभन्दा ठूलो दल बनेपछि माओवादी उत्ताउलियो  मात्तिएर | उ प्रजातान्त्रिक नयाँ संविधान लेख्ने भन्दा कसरी सत्ता एकलौटी पर्ने भन्ने दाउतिर लाग्यो | माओवादी नेताले सम्पत्ति र बैभवमा आहाल खेलेर जनताका चाहना र १७,०००  मान्छेको बलिदान बिर्सिए | हेलिकप्टरबिना चुनाव प्रचारमा जान नसक्ने र स्व-घोषित रास्ट्रपति भए | मधेशवादी दलहरु माओवादी नेताको चाटुकारिता र सत्ताको मोहपासको दलदलमा भासिएर जनताका माग सम्बोधन गर्नुको सट्टा  र क्षेत्रियताको बलमा सत्तामा आफ्नो दीर्घकालीन पकड जमाउनेतिर लागे | संविधान नलेखी संविधान सभा मर्यो |

यस पटकको चुनावमा जनताले माओवादी  र मधेशवादी दुबैलाई पछारेर फेरि एक पटक मध्यमार्गी नेपाली काँग्रेसलाई बहुमत दिएर र एमालेलाई दोस्रो ठूलो दल बनाएर संविधान सभामा पठाएका छन् |  यस चुनावका मूल मुद्दा संविधान, संघीयता र सरकारको स्वरुप हुन् | जनतालाई काँग्रेस-एमालेको धारणा मन पर्यो अरुको परेन | हारजीतको चूरो कुरो यही हो | काँग्रेस र एमाले फेरि पनि मात्तिए भने नेपाली जनताले तिनीहरुलाई फेरि पनि सजायं दिने छन् |

यस चुनावले विजेता नेपाली काँग्रेस र एमाले नयाँ अवसर र चुनौती दुवै दिएको छ | उनीहरुको मध्यमार्गी प्रजातन्त्र र संघीयताको मुद्दाको जनअनुमोदनले नेपाली समाजको सही प्रतिनिधित्व गर्ने बहुपहिचानमूलक संघीयता र विकाशमूलक प्रजातान्त्रिक संविधान लेख्ने अवसर दिएको छ भने हारेका दलहरुलाई समेटेर सर्बमान्य राष्ट्रिय कानून तयार पार्ने ठूलो चुनौती पनि दिएको छ |

जनता विकास चाहन्छन | थेग्न सक्ने संघीयता चाहन्छन | राष्ट्रिय अखण्डता चाहन्छन | जातजातिबीच सद्भाव र सहजीवन चाहन्छन |  स्वच्छ शासन चाहन्छन | प्रजातन्त्र चाहन्छन | यो चुनावपरिणामले जनताका माग र मुद्दाका आडमा आफ्नो स्वार्थसिद्धि गर्न खोज्ने अतिवादीहरुलाई दण्डित गरेर ती माग र मुद्दा पुरा गर्न नयाँ नेतृत्वको चयन गरेकोछ | यो हार्ने नेताहरु, दलहरुको र उनीहरुको दृष्टिकोणको हार हो | कुनै समूहका नेपाली जनताको वा उनीहरुका मुद्दाको हार होइन | न त भारतको हार हो | जनताले विकास बिरोधी, प्रजातन्त्र बिरोधी, भ्रस्टाचारी एवं मुलुकले थेग्न नसक्ने र जातीय सद्भाव बिथोल्ने संघीयताका समर्थकहरुलाई यस चुनावमा बढारेर पाखा लगाइदिए |

चुनौतीहरुलाई सम्बोधन नगरी नम्बरको बलमा संविधान लेख्नेतिर भरिसक्य लाग्नु हुँदैन काँग्रेस र एमालेले | संविधानलाई बहुमत पुर्याएर पारित गरिने सामान्य कानूनको रुपमा मात्र हेरिनु हुँदैन | नत सहमतिको नाममा मुलुकलाई सँधै अनिर्णयको बन्दी बनाइराख्न हुन्छ |  भरसक सबैको लागि स्वीकार्य होस् भन्ने दृष्टिकोण राखेमा मात्र संविधानको स्थायित्व प्राप्त गर्न सकिन्छ | तर यस पटक आफ्नो वर्चस्व गुमाएका दलहरु जनताले चाहेको मध्यधारमा नआएर जनताबाट अस्वीकृत आफ्नो अडानमा टिके भने के गर्ने भन्ने अहम प्रश्नको उत्तरका लागि पनि काँग्रेस र एमाले तयार रहनु पर्छ |

त्यसका लागि काँग्रेस र एमालेले सहकार्य गरेभने संविधान सभामा झन्डै दुइ-तिहाई मत हुन्छ | प्रत्यक्ष र समानुपातिक मत जोड्दा काँग्रेसको १९६ र एमालेको १७५ सिट पुग्छ | मनोनीत २६ स्थानमा काँग्रेसको ९ र एमालेको ७ सिट आयो भने ३८७ सिट यी दुई दलको मात्र हुन्छ | एकदुई साना दललाई साथलिए संविधान पारित गर्न अन्तरिम संविधानले तोकेको ४०१ संख्या पुग्छ | बहुमतीय आधारमा संविधान पारित गर्ने प्रावधानलाई अन्तिम अश्त्रको रुपमा मात्र प्रयोग गरिनु पर्छ |

जनमतको अनादर गरेर संविधान सभामा भाग नलिने एकीकृत माओवादी नेता पुष्प कमल दाहालको धम्की उनको राजनैतिक कदभन्दा धेरै तल्लो भयो भनेर धेरैले भनिसकेका छन् | उनको दलबिरुद्ध देशी विदेशी चलखेल भयो भन्ने आरोपमा पनि केही दम छैन | किनभने त्यस्तो खेल भएको भए अरुभन्दा उनले र बाबुराम भट्टराईले चुनाव हार्नु पर्थ्यो | हारेनन | फेरि कुन विदेशीले चलखेल गर्यो? पश्चिमा राष्ट्रहरु जातीय संघीयता चाहन्थे | भारत पनि जातीय संघीयताको विरोधी थियेन | चीनलाई अलिक असजिलो लागेको हो | के दाहालले चीनले एमाओवादीलाई हराउन चलखेल गर्यो भन्न खोजेका हुन् हो? चीनले त्यसो गर्यो भन्ने मलाई लाग्दैन |

चुनावमा हार्ने व्यक्त्ति र दलले चुनावमा धाँधली भयो भन्नु स्वाभाभिक हो | प्रायः सबैले भन्छन र भनेका छन् | चुनाव शतप्रतिशत धाँधलीरहित हुन्छ भनेर कसैले ठोकुवा गर्न पनि सक्दैन | अमेरिकामा समेत राष्ट्रपतिका प्रत्यासी बुश-गोरको हारजीत सर्बोच्च अदालतमा पुगेर टुंगिएको थियो | मतदाता परिचयपत्रको कारणले यस पटकको चुनाव नेपालको इतिहासमा नै सबभन्दा स्वछ भयो भन्ने कुरा स्वदेशी र विदेशी चुनाव पर्यवेक्षकहरुले भनेका छन् | तैपनि चुनावमा धाँधली भएका पर्याप्त प्रमाण छन् भने पीडित व्यक्ति र दलले अधिकार प्राप्त निकायमा पेश गर्नु पर्छ र त्यस्तो निकायले त्यसको जांच गरी आवश्यक आदेश दिनु पर्छ | न्याय भएर मात्र पुग्दैन, न्याय भएको पनि देखिनु पर्छ |

तर संविधान सभाको निर्वाचन बहिस्कार गर्ने दल, खासगरी बैद्य माओवादी दललाई के गर्ने? उनीहरुलाई संविधान निर्माणमा सहभागी गराउने तीन बाटा — मनोनयन, संविधान संशोधन र बाह्य सल्लाह — मध्ये दुई बाटा राम्रा छैनन् | मन्त्रिपरिषदले मनोनयन गर्ने २६ सबै वा तीमध्ये केही सिट उनीहरुलाई दिने बाटो सजिलो छ तर त्यो बैद्य माओवादीको लागि सम्म्मानजनक बाटो हुँदैन | साथै यदि सहमतिबाट संविधान बन्ने अवस्था आएन भने काँग्रेस-एमालेले दुई-तिहाईबाट संविधान पारित गर्ने सम्भावना कम्जोर भएर जान्छ | यदि यस पटक संविधान बनेन भने मुलुकमा अन्योल कायम रहने छ र काँग्रेस-एमालेले अर्को पटक यसपाली माओवादी-मधेशवादी जस्तै नराम्रोसंग चुनाव हार्ने छन् |

अन्तरिम संविधान संशोधन गरेर बैद्य बिनानिर्वाचन माओवादीलाई संविधान सभामा ल्याउने कुरा सुन्नमा आएको छ | अहिले बैद्य माओवादीले पनि संविधान सभामा भाग लिने चाहना प्रकट गरेको देख्दा उनीहरुले चुनावको विरोध सैधान्तिक धरातलमा होइन, हारिन्छ भन्ने डरले गरेका रहेछन भन्ने स्पस्ट हुन्छ | हुन पनि चोइटिएर गएका दलले २०४६ पछिका सबै चुनाव नराम्रो संग हारेका छन् | यो हास्यास्पद कुरा भएकोले यसमा अरु शब्द खर्च नगरौं |

चुनाव बहिस्कार गर्ने दलहरुलाई संविधान निर्माणमा संलग्न गराउने उत्तम उपाय संविधान सभाबाहिर अबाध्यात्मक राजनैतिक छलफल हो जुन काँग्रेस-एमालेले गर्नु पर्छ | यस्तो छलफल र समझदारीले सभाको सार्वभौम अधिकार, गरिमा र कार्यक्षेत्रमा हस्तक्षेप भने हुनु हुँदैन किन भने त्यो जनताको मतको अनादर हुन्छ |

यस चुनावमा नत नेपाली काँग्रेस र एमालेले जे मनलाग्यो त्यही गर्ने जनादेश पाएका हुन् न त अरु दलले | सहमतीय वा बहुमतीय माध्यमबाट होस्, काँग्रेस र एमालेले वाचा गरेअनुसार विकाशमूलक, बहुपहिचानी संघीयतामूलक र प्रजातान्त्रिक संविधान एक वर्षभित्रमा जनतालाई चाहिएको छ |

How to Tackle Racial Discrimination in the UK

Murari Sharma

Recently, four white teenagers threw pebbles at Asian passengers in front rows from the back seats on the upper deck of Bus 207. When a victim protested, the boys jeered at him. But they went downstairs when they realized that all other passengers were angry too. In another incident, as soon as a brown-skinned man sat next to a white middle-aged woman, the woman left the seat on the District Line Tube in London. Such things don’t happen every day — few things do – but I see them happen with uncertain regularity.

Let us face it: we are all closet racists. However, some of us try to be more nuanced by not wearing the sin on our sleeves. Others are not so subtle, out of ignorance or simple malice. British society is no different. Most British are polite and respectful to minorities. Many of them understand their country’s compulsion – declining birthrate among whites and aging population — to welcome immigrants to keep the economy growing and have learned to enjoy the diversity of faces, dresses, festivals and cuisines.

But a small misinformed and prejudiced minority hold immigrants, new and old, responsible for their woes. They might have heard bad things about aliens. They don’t realize that their government allowed foreigners in and that their employers fired them to grapple with their own financial difficulties or to save money by hiring minorities who would work for less. A handful may even hate minorities simply out of ill will. 

Consequently, every year, thousands of minority people face insult, abuse and violence. Official statistics pick some of them. For example, 41,318 race and religion related hate crimes were reported in 2010 and 37,623 (86 percent of 43,748) in 2011/12. Since the death of Stephen Lawrence killed in 1993, says the Institute of Race Relations, 96 people have been killed in race related attacks.

But most incidents go unreported, for victims do not report for a variety of reasons: language barrier, lack of information, lack of recorded evidence, lack of trust in the police, fear, etc. Anecdotal evidence suggest that racism has increased since the Great Recession of 2008 due to anti-immigrant rhetoric of politicians, openly racist government programs like the Go Home vans, and anger of the furloughed people. But statistics show a decline in such incidents, which means underreporting.

For instance, the statistics don’t capture the prejudice I witness every other day in public transports and public places, including the ones I have mentioned. Neither do they include the case of the British girl of Indian ancestry who applied to 2,500 vacancies but was never invited for an interview, until the story came out in the media or the fact that only one minority doctor gets promotion for every three white British doctors.

Although non-reporting has lulled policy-makers into complacency, the lack of reporting, and thus of catharsis, deepens the sense of injustice and resentment that sometimes explodes, as it did during the London riots. If unchecked, it may trigger a much bigger clash of civilizations, to borrow Samuel Huntington’s phrase, on the British Isles.    

The British government has made laws and rules prohibiting racial discrimination, but they have become paper tigers due to lax execution. You need consistent action for good results. The Institute of Race Relations reports, “The main parties are in denial about the extent and severity of racial violence, and interested in right-wing extremism only when it challenges them electorally.”    

For far too long, British policy-makers have lived in the bubble of whiteness while 45 percent of Londoners come from minority groups and still counting. If they continue bashing immigrants for the country’s woes, the UK could be a battlefield for racial war. To avoid such outcome, Britain must grab the bull of racism by the horns with a four-pronged strategy: Stricter law enforcement, education, job creation and quota.

Better enforcement calls for easier procedure to file racism complaints and cases and swift justice, not obstacles and delays; sensitive officials dealing with such cases; prompt compensation for victims and punishment for perpetrators, when the case is proved.  Education is key to inform people that racism is wrong and tolerance is right. It should cover homes, schools and workplaces and could be a joint endeavor of government and civil society.   

Home is the first school where unemployed and misinformed parents transfer prejudice to children. Britain has no public information program against racism. Schools are teaching children about religions, but the course is rudimentary. My son took the subject and I found that it does not cover the nuances, subtleties, and multiple interpretations that are integral to every religion.

Workplaces are the Potemkin’s village. Employers don’t adequately inform employees about their right to equality and when complaints are filed, they brush them under the carpet. I know of an incident where the entire staff of a department in a multinational hotel complained about their manager’s racist behavior, but senior managers didn’t see it. If our own mothers, wives, sisters and daughter are not getting justice, minorities can hardly hope for it.

Racism tends to rise when people lose job and become angry. To keep racism at bay, we need the job creating investment, a growing economy that absorbs the workforce, and smart immigration controls, which open the door for immigrants only in skills shortage areas and sectors and don’t displace British workers.

After living many years in the United States and United Kingdom I have concluded that America is much less racist than its once colonizer across the Atlantic, for two reasons. First, Americans are more open to picking up meritorious minority candidates for vacancies than the British. Second, the minority quota in education, government and businesses has helped the US narrow the gap between races. The proof: the United States has already produced the first black occupant of the White House and several Asian CEOs of large companies. Where does the UK stand?

Unfortunately, racial quota has remained taboo in the UK so far. But it is time to introduce it at least for a few years. Otherwise, Great Britain will have a permanent underclass of minorities — like the  British youth of Pakistani and African origins, whose unemployment rate is over 50 percent even when so many people are having two jobs – that could be a perennial source of instability.

There is a strong case for racial equality not just in law but beyond. For the faithful, all human beings are children of the same god. For evolutionists, the entire humanity evolved in Africa, spread across the world, and acquired different colors and features to adjust to the local climate.  Either way, discrimination and injustice against our own brothers and sisters with slightly different appearances and beliefs is morally and politically wrong.

Do we want to prevent a clash of civilizations in Great Britain? Then let us enforce the law better, promote education, retrain people, create jobs, calibrate immigration controls and introduce the quota system for minorities. There is no short cut.

Festivals and Elections Bring Joy and Hope in a Poor Country Like Nepal

Murari Sharma

In the beginning of October 2013, more than a million people left Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, for their ancestral homes in the hills and the plains for autumn festivals. Tens of thousands of diaspora Nepalese also returned home. This year, a record number made the trip because the festivals will be followed by the general elections scheduled for November. Many of these people will stay put until the polls.

The Nepalese celebrate festivals and elections with gusto. Festivals and elections make them forget for a moment the constant trials and tribulations for survival.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. According to the Oxford Multidimensional Poverty Index, 44.2 percent people lived in poverty in 2011. Youth unemployment and underemployment remains close to 50 percent, though more than 2 million people have left for the Middle East, Korea, Malaysia and Western countries in search of jobs.

People live in extreme hardship. Take the capital city, Kathmandu. Life in the city is onerous for the poor and not easy even for the middle class. The shortage of necessities is acute. Electricity is supplied by rotation leaving much of the city in dark. Water too is rationed and comes at odd hours. The cooking gas and petrol frequently vanish from the market.

Roads are in a terrible condition. They have potholes beyond count. They become muddy in rain and dusty when dry from the haphazard demolition of houses to widen the city roads. The government has budget to demolish roadside houses but not to rebuild them to standards. Piles of rubbish go uncollected for days. Consequently, respiratory and other communicable diseases have increased several folds in the last two years.

Besides, crimes and congestion have increased. Frequent shut-downs called by political parties make life miserable round the year. It is a pleasure for outsiders to leave Kathmandu for a while for festivals and elections. It also makes life a little less chaotic for those who stay.  

Life in rural areas is even more miserable. The shortage of necessities is more acute and poverty more rampant. Education and health services are worse. Only children and old live in villages, for others have left for cities or foreign countries in search of employment.

Most of those who go abroad have a precarious life. As The Guardian reported recently, many of them working in Qatar are dying due to poor working conditions and heat related complications. They do not get what was promised in Nepal, cheated by agents, intermediaries and employers . With their meagre income, many of them cannot pay back the loan they had taken to pay commission to agents and buy tickets. 

Still the Nepalese enjoy every festival and election, and their average life satisfaction is above the midpoint of five.  What makes them so? Festivals, elections, and a bit of fatalism.

Nepal has festivals round the year. Autumn has the biggest two of them: Durga Puja and Dipawali.  In Durga Puja, people worship the warrior goddess, wear new clothes, eat good food, sing, dance, play swings, and seek blessings from elders. In Dipawali, they illuminate their houses to invite the goddess of wealth, ask for treats at night playing traditional songs, and worship brothers and sisters.

This year, these festivals are followed immediately by the elections to the second constituent assembly on 19 November 2013. For the desperately poor people, election means politicians promising the sky to make life better and some cash spent by bribe voters. Many people do not trust that the next assembly will write a new constitution. But they do think that polls are necessary to keep democracy intact.

The first assembly was dissolved without writing a new constitution due to big differences among political parties, mainly on the issue of federalism, which remains contentious.  Minority groups support ethnic federalism and majority groups geographical one. Yet elections are welcome not only as an exercise in democracy also as an opportunity to renew patron-client relationship.

Elections are great occasions for people to build bridges with politicians to land jobs and other favors in Nepal. Nepalese society is so politicized that you cannot get a job or a project without the blessings of one of the major parties and influential leaders. Being in the good book of a senior politician makes a difference between miserable poverty and reasonably good life.Young people expecting such favors have to work for the election of their leaders.

 So this year, many more people have gone back to their ancestral homes for the festivals than before. Many have come back from foreign countries, too, including the United Kingdom and the United States.  

Unfortunately, however, not everyone is on the same page regarding the polls. The non-political election government and the big four parties overseeing it are eager to go to the vote quickly. But 33 parties, led by the breakaway faction of the Maoists, have opposed the elections, as proposed. They say they want change in government and in the polls date for their participation and have vowed to disrupt the vote if held without their participation.  

 Actually, the breakaway Maoists have been preventing the election campaign and harassing the candidates. If they continue doing so, the polls will be far from peaceful, credible and legitimate. It is, therefore, wrong not to try to accommodate the demands – the reasonable ones, at least – of these parties to pave the way for peaceful elections. Otherwise, the joy and hope brought in by the festivals and the elections will at best be fleeting and sterile.

Secure the Future

Murari Sharma

 YOUTH EMPLOYMENT

The Office for National Statistics says youth unemployment in the United Kingdom is 20.5 percent. Minority youth unemployment is even higher, 44 percent among black and Pakistani Londoners.

Government has tried to address this problem in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on education, training and occasional other measures. But the statistics manifest this approach has not worked. Unemployment is destroying the youth — society’s hope and future — with serious political, economic and social consequences. A youth employment scheme with holistic approach, therefore, is essential to tackle this scourge.

The most energetic and creative group, the youth are also impressionable, vulnerable and volatile. If society does not tap their energy and creativity by giving them jobs and economic opportunities, unscrupulous elements will to commit crimes and foment social and political troubles. Angry unemployed youth were behind the British riots in 2011.

Unfortunately, the youth get a rough deal in the job market. In normal times, employers hire them last, only if experienced and qualified candidates are not available. In downturns, they fire young workers first. Consequently, youth unemployment is much higher than adult unemployment.

Though difficult to eliminate completely, youth unemployment can be significantly reduced through a holistic approach comprising pragmatic strategies. A Nigerian proverb says it takes a village to raise a child. To promote youth employment, it takes an entire society. Families, communities, schools, universities, businesses and government must cooperate to create a sustainable edifice of youth employment, including self-employment.

Parents are children’s first role models and family their first school. They often shape up children’s education, attitude, ambition, work ethics, even innate skills, and prospects for future employment. Parents must offer children stable home and inspire to acquire these positive traits. Dysfunctional families and parents cannot do that. Community and government, therefore, should enable families and parents to rise to this challenge.

An economically secure and socially mobile community motivates children to grow into fine citizens who seek progress and help others do the same through networking. Communities mired in poverty, crime, and addiction have higher youth unemployment. Government should work with social and religious leaders to fix such broken communities and invest to regenerate them, more so in bad economic times. Revival of Manhattan’s west side in New York offers a successful example.

Reforming education is fundamental to promoting youth employment. It requires several steps. First, schools and universities must meet the prescribed achievement standards or face cuts and closure. Too many of them are providing sub-standard education and still receiving government and community support. This should change.

Second, education must impart readily employable skills. There is a serious disconnect between education and skills needed in workplace. Government, schools and universities, and businesses should cooperate to restructure curricula and introduce teaching-learning materials and methods to equip students with practical skills to foster youth employment and self-employment.

Third, universities must also encourage students to do internship as part of graduation, and public and private organizations must open their doors for more interns to let them bridge the skill gap and build employable experience. Internship often leads to long-term employment. Increasingly, US corporations are recruiting interns as staff.

Fourth, education should respond to market needs. It has failed to meet the demand for medium-skilled plumbers, electricians, mechanics, masons, etc., and high-skilled scientists, mathematicians, teachers, information technologists, accountants, etc, in the United Kingdom. Government should promote higher intakes in trade schools and universities in such shortage areas and families should motivate children to enrol in them. Singapore has done this quite successfully.

Only a growing economy can absorb more young people. Government should, therefore, stimulate job-creating demand, investment and growth. First, it should increase wages or reduce taxes for groups having a high propensity to consume to enhance demand, which will push up investment. Particularly during downturns, it should launch public works to create jobs and provide businesses with tax credit and other incentives to encourage investment. The London Olympics in 2012, for example, brought a spike in growth and employment.

Second, government and businesses should join forces to create volunteering and apprenticeship opportunities so the youth can acquire experience. Many youth will be hired where they do volunteering or apprenticeship and others will become easily employable elsewhere. The British apprenticeship programme, criticized as exploitative and unfair, can be improved by tweaking it. Government, which provides the jobseekers allowance, should ask businesses to contribute an equivalent amount to remunerate apprentices; and businesses should try to place apprentices in or near jobs for which their qualifications match.

Third, making firing easy encourages hiring. However, it gives disproportionate advantage to employers over employees, creates low-paying jobs, and increases inequality further. This is happening in the USA. Fourth, government and family should encourage and facilitate the youth to take up jobs in labour shortage regions within the UK and abroad. Fifth, government should restructure the immigration system to ensure that foreign nationals compete only in skill-shortage sectors and jobs, not others.

These measures will help the youth find jobs and pursue self-employment. To reduce the appallingly high rates of minority youth unemployment, the American style affirmative action is also necessary for a short term.

Two additional measures will be necessary to promote self-employment: Government should offer young people training and low-interest venture capital, through a youth bank, to start businesses as individuals and cooperatives. It should also give preferential treatment in public contracts and procurement to the products and services of the self-employed, without which they cannot compete with big companies.

Government must establish a bureau to monitor the implementation of the youth employment scheme. It should motivate businesses to rise to their corporate responsibility of hosting and hiring interns and apprentices by publicly recognizing them.

The statistics show the piecemeal approach to tackling youth unemployment has not worked. If society fails to tap youth energy and creativity, rouge elements will. It is, therefore, time to pursue a holistic approach in which families, communities, educational institutes, government, and businesses collaborate to tackle youth unemployment in the UK and secure the country’s future.

Let Us Learn to be Grateful

Murari Sharma

 On my second visit to Pittsburgh, I learned that my landlord of the student days there, an Italian old widower living alone, had died. When a terrible stench began to waft from the house, the neighbors informed the police, and the police informed the old man’s children. The door was broken and the man’s body was found badly decomposed.

 This is common in the West now. Individualism has flourished. Filial love has largely evaporated. Family has broken. Only around 50 percent people of marriageable age wed and 50 percent marriages end in divorce in America.  The rat race for career and comfort has pushed family down in priority. Children leave old parents back or send them to old-age homes. The old die, deprived of love and care.  

 Similarly, the Cultural Revolution, one-child policy, and migration have broken Chinese families. The Communist Party encouraged children to snitch on their parents to suppress anti-communist activities in the Revolution and children complied. When the parents were jailed or killed, the children became orphans. One-child policy shrank the family size and social net. When the only child left for town, parents became lonely and helpless in village.

 To repair the damage, China has recently enacted a new law – Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People — that calls on the children living apart to frequently visit their parents and regularly send greetings. But for many Chinese, it is too little too late.

 Family breakdown has not gone as far in Nepal. But growing migration, emigration and materialism are taking their cruel toll. Nearly 3 million people are working abroad. The 2011 census shows most hill districts have lost population in the last decade. With people moving to greener pastures and individualism making inroads, joint family has given way nuclear family. The commitment to intergenerational care built in tradition and law has weakened.

 Traditional family itself is under threat. These days, one seldom hears and reads inspiring stories of self-less Shrawan Kumars. Rather, the media are replete with such tormenting incidents as children abandoning their old parents in the street or an old-age house, widows eloping with men leaving small kids behind and fathers dumping toddlers for new women. You don’t have to live in an irretrievably dysfunctional relationship. But you should not break it without trying to retrieve it. Such incidents set a terrible example for future generations to follow.

 This reminds me of an old story. A man carried his old father in a basket to throw over a cliff. The man’s son asked him to save the basket so he could use it when the time came. Mahatma Gandhi aptly says, “Every home is a university and the parents are the teachers.” Your home-university teaches invaluable lessons of life.

 The Dalai Lama says, “It is vital when educating our children’s brains that we don’t neglect to educate their hearts.” You educate children’s hearts by being there for them to speak to you, play with you and learn from you. Nothing should deprive you of that opportunity.

 Modernization cannot and should not be stopped. But a way should be found to modernize keeping the good and removing the bad parts of our tradition, preserving mutually caring relationship between generations, and protecting family as an institution from existential threats. This is vital for social stability and economic net.   

 Some people smugly claim they are self-made. Research refutes their claim. For instance, Brian Millar and Mike Lapham found that self-made man is a myth. They have cited several so-called self-made men and women who conceded that help from someone was vital to their success. Well, events, people, values, and ambiance largely determine success and failure.    

 Events like World War II changed the way people think and interact and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia ushered a new political and economic regime. Progress in education opened new frontiers and in health delivered healthier and longer life. A car accident kills or disables for life. The self-immolation by a fruit vendor in Tunis, after a woman police officer slapped him, triggered the Arab Spring that pulled down long entrenched dictators in Tunisia and other Arab states. 

 More importantly, people and values shape our lives. Children’s first role models are parents. Senior siblings and other close relatives also greatly influence how children think and behave. They instill values in children and help them stand on their feet. Kids often do what their parents and teachers consistently motivate them to do. Great political, spiritual and intellectual leaders inspire the grown-ups.   

 Unfortunately, people seldom appreciate all this. They take it for granted. They forget that, as children, they relied on parents for our bare survival. As they grew up, they veered away from their senior relatives who urged and chided them for one thing or another. When they got a job, they thought they had a million more important things to do than talk to their parents, siblings or children. When they realize what they missed, it might have been too late.

 I have my experience.  I left home for education when I was nine and could not spend much time with my family. When I grew up, I was busy with my jobs and hobbies. If I can live my life all over again, I would spend many folds more time than I did with my close elders, who are no more, listen to them, learn from them, or just give them company.

 Outside the family, a good Samaritan may present himself as a guiding light. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam prescribe tithe – usually 10 percent – to help the less fortunate than yourself.  In 18 epics he wrote, Ved Vyas has, it is said, essentially two messages: Charity for piety and trouble for sin. A fodder collector inspired Poet Bhanubhakta to do things for others. Poet Laxmi Prasad equated helping the poor, diseased and weak with serving God.

 I have been a beneficiary of a good Samaritan’s help. In my teens, I moved from Rishikesh to Varanasi with a friend without informing my father. The money that could last for months in Rishikesh vanished quickly in Varanasi. Impecunious, we spent days on a meal a day. Khom Prasad Adhikari, of Arkhaule in Dhankuta, who was a Home Guard and who lived across our room, witnessed our predicament and proposed that we cook for him and eat with him.  

 We agreed. Adhikari paid not only for our food, which was part of our understanding, but also for our application fee for high school exams, which was not. I passed high school from Varanasi, continued my education in Nepal and the United States, and pursued a career in the Nepal government and the United Nations. Without Adhikari’s help, I might not have been where I am today.

 Although I paid Adhikari back when my family sent me money, I can never requite the enormous debt of gratitude. I would like to meet with him and say a big thank you once again. But unfortunately, I lost his tracks after I left Varanasi.

 Most people help when they can without expecting returns. They donate money, material and labor to help the needy – victims of disasters or unfavorable circumstances. It ensures cohesiveness and mutual care in society. But politicians are an exception. These self-claimed servants of people don’t assist anyone but their voters. Maybe, self-less charitable work is not up their alley.

 The West allowed society to irreparably decay. China is trying to save it. Nepal should learn from their mistakes and protect family and society before it is too late.