Potion to Cure



Nepal’s body politics has been terribly sick for quite some time. But its caretakers are seeking treatment only for the symptoms, not the disease. If we do not insist on treating the disease now, it will likely lead to a bigger regret later. 

The caretakers, who fight all the time for power, have given the patient wrong food and drinks and administered nostrums that have worsened the condition further. They gave us hope that election to a Constituent Assembly (CA) and abolition of monarchy would prepare a potion to cure the disease. The monarchy was abolished and the CA elected. But the CA could not produce the potion because the caretakers poisoned it to death with corruption, mistrust, discord, and self-centered myopia. 

Evidently, the immediate cause of the CA’s death was the caretakers’ self-centered myopia on a key ingredient of the potion—nature and number of federal states. The Maoist caretakers wanted 14 states based on ethnicity in the hills and on geography in the plains. The Congressites and Marxist-Leninist wanted 7 to 13 that merged identity, geography and economic viability. The Madheshis wanted one, at most two, state(s) in the Tarai and more than 10 up in the hills. They all stuck to their guns to shoot the CA to death.


Both internal and external factors caused the discord. Internally, the Maoists hope that a fragmented Nepal will succumb more easily to their dream of proletariat control. Their rhetoric that they are trying to redress historical injustice on minorities is a false facade. The NC and UML want states that are viable and that preserve multiculturalism. The Madheshi parties want few states in the plains so they can use their economic weight, strategic location and proximity to India to bend the entire country to their will. 

Our neighbors and friends have their own worries and agendas. China, for instance, is worried that ethnic federalism in Nepal could send a wrong signal to its poor and restive minority provinces in the west. India, on the other hand, is eager to see that the Tarai has no more than two states to make Nepal its de facto province. Western countries want to expunge their sins of genocide committed by them against the native people in their countries or colonies by encouraging ethnic federalism in Nepal and to have unobstructed freedom to convert minorities to Christianity.

They must be already drawing the battle lines for a civil war between Hindus and Christians in Nepal 20/30 years down the road.

Just before the CA died on May 27, 2012, the caretakers seemed close to agree on 11 states under time pressure, leaving the names and boundaries as the only sticking points. The emerging agreement fell through as the Maoists and Madheshi parties backtracked at the last minute, at the behest of their external backers. You may recall that Madheshi parties opposed the deal after a friendly diplomat urged some of their CA members at a dinner to unleash a storm against multiple state proposals in the Tarai. You do not need an enemy if you have a friend like that. 

Federalism is an emotive issue. To strike an agreement, the caretakers should have, in addition to identifying identity and viability as the basic parameters, assigned weight to them and assessed their implications. But they did not. Negotiations on the issue, therefore, were ordained to fail from day one and they did. Nothing has changed since. The caretakers wasted their time—some trying to keep their chair and others trying to snatch it. Short of a miracle, the gulf on federalism is unlikely to be bridged in the next CA unless a new approach is pursued. 

There are two options which can prevent the CA from being poisoned to death by the same factors once again: one, formation of a constitution drafting committee and putting the draft constitution it comes up with for an up-and-down vote in the new CA; two, having a referendum on the nature and number of federal states during the next general election. 

A few weeks ago, Bhagirath Basnet and I had argued about the need to constitute a constitution drafting committee and put up the committee’s draft for an up-and-down vote in the CA (Oligarchs and elections, April 3). That is a shortcut. However, I understand that this shortcut will not be acceptable to those parties that fear that public opinion is not on their side. 

The most democratic and viable way to narrow the disagreements on the nature (ethnic, regional, or geographical) and number (5 to 14) of provinces in federal Nepal and neutralize unwarranted external interference will be a referendum. Such a referendum will empower the Nepali people to express whether they want a few economically viable states and low taxes to support them or too many economically unviable states and high taxes. The CA can then decide the names and boundaries of states. 

It will not be outlandish to have such a referendum on the nature and number of states. Several countries —including Canada, Switzerland, Finland, France, the Philippines and Germany—have provisions for initiatives or propositions for such referendums at the national level. The US has it at the state level. States in the US hold such referendums together with general elections, at a small additional cost of printing an extra ballot paper and putting an extra ballot box at each polling booth. 
For instance, in the November 2012 elections alone, 38 US states conducted referendums on 174 propositions, including on the right to die, genetically modified food, same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana. Voters voted to choose the president, members of congress and members of state congress, as well as to express their views on the propositions, in the same visit to the polling booth or with the same click online.

In Nepal, Article 157 of the Interim Constitution provides for a referendum on “matters of national importance.” Nothing could be more important for the country now than taking a decision on federalism. If the cabinet decides and the president approves, just the way constitutional hurdles for the election have been removed, the referendum could be held by simply placing an extra ballot box at each polling booth and an extra ballot paper, as in the US. 

We know the limitations of our caretakers. They could not produce the much-sought potion, and killed the machine meant to produce it. They could not hold the election on their own in accordance with the Interim Constitution, so they appointed temporary caretakers and mauled and raped the constitution to do it. Like fish out of water, they are desperate to get back into the pond. They want your vote but they do not respect your vote or the due process. The caretakers will not go for the referendum unless the Nepali people insist on it. 

Therefore, the Nepali people now have a choice to make. They can insist on the referendum on the nature and number of federal states to ensure the preparation of the right potion by the new CA. Or they can let the caretakers have their flawed way that is sure to prevent the preparation of the potion to treat the ailing Nepali body politics, and at best, to produce a potion that the majority of people may find abhorring when the cost of running so many states begins to break their back.

Maybe the New Year will give us wisdom to treat the disease from which the Nepali body politics is suffering, not just its symptoms.


Published on 2013-04-21 01:15:20


Neglected Priority



Youth unemployment is 20.5 percent in the UK and 17.1 percent in the US. In continental Europe, 21.6 percent youth are unemployed. In Australia, youth unemployment is around 25 percent. It is 20.4 percent in the G-20 countries—big advanced and developing nations, while the corresponding figures for Greece and Spain are 50.4 percent and 50.5 percent respectively.

According the Nepal Labor Force Survey 2008, Nepal’s youth unemployment was 13 percent in urban and 2.1 percent in rural areas; and 46 percent youth were underutilized. These old figures misrepresent the reality in absence of a reliable and regular tracking system. If youth employment were so low, Nepal would have been an oasis of peace and prosperity. 

Based on the UN World Youth Report 2012, out of 1.2 billion youth in the world, close to 75 million are unemployed. Thus, youth unemployment is a serious global problem. Young people without jobs not only face destitution but also become a source of political instability and socio-economic disruption. The impact of high youth unemployment is particularly severe in developing countries where poverty is rampant and the social security system to support the unemployed is non-existent. 

Though pushed to unprecedented heights by the Great Recession of 2008 in the West, high youth unemployment is essentially a structural problem in that it is consistently higher than average unemployment. For example, average unemployment is under 8 percent in the US and UK. It is 12 percent in the Eurozone and 5.2 percent in Australia. Nepal’s official average unemployment is around 3 percent, which is ridiculously unconvincing. 


In all societies, the youth are the most creative, vibrant, energetic and educated group. Still they are unemployed due mainly to two reasons: Disconnect between education and market and our obsession with higher education and experience. By fixing these twin problems, every country, including Nepal, can largely resolve the problem.

Disconnect between education and market in Nepal is staggering in two spheres. First, our schools and colleges produce graduates in arts and social sciences with no practical skills, more than the market can absorb. However, they produce fewer engineers, doctors, plumbers, masons, electricians, overseers, mechanics, agricultural and veterinary technicians, etc. than the market needs. 

Second, there is a wide gulf between the skills imparted by educational and training institutes and the skills required by the workplace. Our teaching institutions largely neglect practical work due to lack of facility and emphasis. Theory is necessary to get a general understanding of how things work. But without practical work, graduates cannot be employable. 

Parents, children, government and educational institutes will have to recognize that education without employable skills is not the best pathway to employment, prosperity and empowerment for everyone and work together to change the existing situation. Parents should tell their children—considering their academic performance, interest, and above all, the job market situation—whether general, technical or vocational education would be the best option for them. Children should opt for the education and training that fits their proclivity, performance and job prospects. 

Schools, colleges and training institutes should adjust their curricula and instructions to market demand and encourage students to do internship before graduation to make them employable. Students should go for apprenticeship and on-the-job training after graduation so they will be readily acceptable to employers. 

One of the reasons why there are fewer graduates in technical and vocational fields is the lack of access to technical and vocational schools and training centers for students. Government and the private sector, therefore, should partner and collaborate to expand vocational education and technical training opportunities across the country. This partnership should span right from the beginning of program development to the point of providing opportunities to young jobseekers. 

The other problem that significantly contributes to high youth unemployment is obsession with higher education and experience. Of course, higher education is important for the individual and the country, but it is not for everyone. Only those who do well academically should go for higher education so they can be successful in their studies and in finding appropriate jobs. For others, it is a waste of time and resources that promises only unemployment and frustration. 

Similarly, experience is very important, because it increases expertise and enhances productivity if applied appropriately, and helps tackle recurrent problems. But it does not necessarily give you the vision, creativity, innovation, energy and talent which young people bring to the job to create and market new products and services.

Many rich and famous people were neither highly educated nor experienced when they started. For instance, Bill Gates, the second richest person in the world now, was a young Harvard dropout when he started his computer business and built Microsoft. Mark Zuckerberg, born in 1984, is the founder of Facebook, the largest social media site. Marrisa Mayer, who was 22 when she joined Google in 1999, is now the CEO of Yahoo!, one of the Fortune 500 companies. Nick D’Aloisio, an A-level student, became an internet millionaire at 17 recently by selling a computer application for US $ 30 million. The majority of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are young. 

Hence, parents and children should shed their obsession for higher education and employers should abandon their obsession with experience. They should rather follow a talent-based approach. More so in the fast-changing creative sectors and entrepreneurial domains, such as information technology and fashion. Computers have revolutionized every sector—from music and drafting to repetitive tasks in assembly plants and mathematical programs. Computer programs change very quickly. Those programs that were new and hip two years ago have now become obsolete. Fashion that was in vogue a year ago has disappeared. 

Besides, old scientific theories are no more thought to be scientific. New management theories and structures have been fast replacing the old ones. Even economic theories become outdated. Therefore, employers should hire young people based on what they can bring to the job, not on their age and prior work experience. Experience without productivity gains does not have any value. In many instances, recent graduates tend to be better versed and prepared for the task at hand than experienced ones.

For instance, while we struggle, our children tell us what needs to be done and how while using computer programs, without which life would now be unmanageable. A young musician or draftsman can use modern gadgets to bring out refined products, while an old one would not know how to use those gadgets, which did not even exist when he was training for the job.

However, paid employment alone will not be enough to absorb the burgeoning youth force in an age of increasing automation in production and services and global competition. Countries, including Nepal, need robust programs to promote youth self-employment in the changing economy. Jobseekers will have to create their own jobs more than ever before.

For this, government must formulate a youth self-employment scheme in public-private partnership that focuses on, apart from skills training, providing enterprise training and venture capital to prospective entrepreneurs. Though successive governments have announced such schemes on and off in Nepal, none of them has been implemented on a sustained basis. Young men and women who are bursting with energy and creativity have nowhere to turn for help. 

As long as our youth do not have employment and self-employment opportunities that empower them to enjoy improved standards of living and contribute to economic and social progress, they will be susceptible to irresponsible political parties and outright criminal gangs that want to cause political instability, increase crimes, and create obstacles to economic and social progress. Making the youth more employable and capable of self-employment has been a neglected priority for too long in Nepal and across the world.

Sharma is former foreign secretary and Khadka currently manages an Indigenous Medical Specialist Project at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in Melbourne

Published on 2013-04-07 01:15:21

Oligarchs and Elections


Three very important appointments, two in Asia and one in Europe, were made on March 14, 2013. Two of them will have significant impact on their countries and the world, and the third only on Nepal. All three leaders appointed on the day have significant challenges before them.

On that day, 2,987 deputies in the National People’s Congress elected Xi Jinping as president of China, a once-in-a-decade decision. Xi’s immediate challenge is to strike a balance between ideologies and loyalties of Politburo members and consolidate his position. This is necessary to focus on other pressing challenges: Arresting growth in population; ensuring that people have food, water, and clean air; controlling corruption; reining in inflation; bridging the gap between rich and poor; and promoting national interest in the region and beyond without intimidating others. How China tackles its domestic problems and conducts its relations with other countries will have a decisive impact on the world and Nepal.

In the Vatican, 115 cardinals elected a new leader, Pope Francis, of Argentina, the first from outside Europe in 1,300 years. He too has daunting challenges: Addressing the cases of sexual abuse, including of children, by pedophile priests dating back decades, which has tarnished the image of Catholicism badly; evolving the Vatican’s views on issues of materialism, secularism, and general disillusionment among Catholics; and reforming the Vatican bureaucracy and finances. As leader of over a billion Catholics around the world, Francis will have significant impact on how Catholics work with other faiths across the globe and how Nepali Catholics avoid the impending Shivasena-like backlash to aggressive proselytization in Nepal.


In Nepal, four houses of oligarchs—UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the Madheshi Morcha—selected Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi as chairman of election government on the same day. While China and the Vatican followed due process to appoint their chief executives, Nepal’s political oligarchs thoroughly flouted the constitution and due process and Regmi accepted a position expressly prohibited by the constitution. As in the Middle Ages, Regmi will work as chief executive while remaining chief justice. Even for this woefully faulty decision, the oligarchs took 10 long months, thanks to their constant bickering and mutual rejection. It is a glaring failure of the political class.

Nepal has made a mockery of the interim constitution, separation of power, rule of law and due process. Regmi, supposedly the symbol of justice, failed to demonstrate decency by resigning from his court post before heading the government. The only fortunate thing about this whole saga was this: The outgoing Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai did people a favor by dropping at the last minute his plan to address the nation to extol himself for non-performance and for holding the country hostage for 10 months.

Civil society, the majority of political parties, and a large section of the intelligentsia have condemned the regressive decision of the oligarchs and criticized Regmi. The Nepal Bar Association labeled March 14 a Black Day in the history of Nepali judiciary, strongly condemned Regmi for compromising the court’s independence and urged him to resign from his court post. Immediately after Regmi’s swearing-in, 26 political parties blocked roads throughout the country demanding his resignation. Never in the history of Nepal has any government been asked to resign on the very day of its inauguration.

These issues apart, Regmi’s challenges are no less daunting than that of Xi and Francis. He will have to clean the mess left by politicians, manage the country and conduct the polls as a marionette while the oligarchs will maneuver the strings through the High Level Political Committee (HLPC). They will tell Regmi what to do and place all the blame for failure at his doors. If Regmi was going to flout the constitution anyway, he should have done so after securing some level of independence from the oligarchs rather than becoming their puppet.

The oligarchs see Regmi as their toy, though he can still refuse to be so. The outgoing Prime Minister Bhattarai made that clear at a press conference by saying that no one—read: Regmi—should undermine the political parties, for the real power lies in their hands and that there hasn’t been any transfer of power. Where there is no rule of law and respect for due process, the one who wields the baton rules. Amshuvarma ruled even though he was not king. Rana prime ministers exercised all the power on behalf of the ruling monarchs. The interim parliament suspended the monarchy when it had the power. So, Regmi can use his power almost as he pleases.

There is no shortage of those who doubt the elections will be held. Chitra Bahadur KC, the chairman of the National Front, speaking to Nagarik News recently has said there will be no election; and if the election is held at all, the Constituent Assembly will not be able to write the constitution due to differences over the issue of federalism. Regmi can prove KC and other doubters wrong by doing three things.

First, he should resign from his court post and negotiate with the 33 protesting parties, some of which have vowed to boycott the vote under him. Like fish out of water, the oligarchs are in a hurry to hold election even if it means riding roughshod over the protesting parties, but that will be a blunder. No one should forget the fiasco of the polls held by former King Gyanendra in the face of Maoist threat to disrupt them. Construction is difficult but destruction is easy.
Second, Regmi must take the absolutely necessary time for legal, technical and logistical preparations for the vote to avoid the Shakespearean dictum that people marry in haste and repent in leisure. There is not enough time for this for June polls. Regmi should zero in on October. Even for October-November, the government needs to start preparations on a war footing right away.

Third, Regmi must convince smaller parties and people in general that he will hold free and fair elections. Since he is not a candidate for the vote, nor does he represent a party, he should hold at bay the deep and pervasive criminal-political nexus developed, nurtured and used by the oligarchs in elections and governance. The oligarchs, acutely aware of the voters’ disdain for them due to corruption and failure to deliver, will certainly try to manipulate the polls to their advantage, which must be prevented.

We believe the oligarchs, too, should show some humility and convince the protesting parties to join the elections. Besides, they should find common ground on federalism through the HLPC so the constitution can be written and political uncertainty ended. One way to resolve this matter would be to form a constitution drafting committee of experts and put the draft up for an up and down vote in the new Constituent Assembly. If the oligarchs are not prepared to lift that burden, they should at least not queer Regmi’s pitch.

Though his government is unconstitutional, Regmi can make it more palatable by resigning from his court post, convincing the protesting parties to join the ballot, and making the election free and fair. The result will be a beautiful lotus which grows in mud. Thus, the outcome of all three appointments made on March 14, we hope, will turn out to be good for the respective countries and be appreciated by the world

Published on 2013-04-03 01:15:48