A powerful global narrative has been forming over the past few years – I (we) represent myself (ourselves). Voices demanding equal share in every structure and process of the state, in the benefits and services available to the citizen, and in development building processes and their dividends have become more and more intensive. The issues of inclusion and proportional representation have reached the citizens at the grassroots level. The essence of this debate is, ‘participation in proportion to population’. And this is also the most important social justice issue, of great relevance and concern.
The debate around inclusion and proportional representation intensified after the successful People’s Movement of 2005-06. The discourse about ‘writing the constitution of Nepal through a constituent assembly’ originally began after the People’s Revolution of 1951, but it became a reality only in 2008 when the elections for the first Constituent Assembly were concluded. These elections ensured the representation of all ethnicities and castes, groups, communities, genders, religious and cultural groups, regions and geographies across Nepal. Its tenure was repeatedly increased, up to six years. But it failed to promulgate a constitution. The contentious issues of the number, delineation, and naming of provinces remained. Although issues of state structure and electoral processes also become complicated, the number and delineation of provinces became the main issue of concern for the people. When each ethnicity/community and region began demanding its own province, the Nepali society became extremely divided. The Constituent Assembly, failing to promulgate a constitution, was dissolved.
Elections were held once again in 2013 for the second Constituent Assembly. Contentions remained around the naming and delineation of provinces. A constitution was promulgated in 2015, but the nation had to live through violent incidents in many places across the country. As the date for the promulgation of the constitution approached, eight police personnel, including a Senior Superintendent of Police, and an innocent child were killed in an incident in Tikapur in August 2015. This incident took place against the backdrop of the demand for an autonomous Tharuhat/Tharuwan province. These were the circumstances in which the constitution was promulgated. Seven provinces were created, but some regions and communities continue to refuse to fully accept the new state structure.
The farce of inclusion was a regular feature also of the Panchayat system. That inclusion wasn’t done on the basis of the population share of various ethnicities, castes or communities, but on the basis of groups. The Panchayat system attempted a form of representation from the lowest rungs of the state structure by creating various group organizations. The Panchayat system was mainly structured as a unitary centralized state. This was merely a form of civil autocracy in the garb of communist dictatorship, military autocracy, or a democratic system. The Panchayat system fell in 1990, and the multiparty democratic parliamentary system was reinstated. Once more, the exercise in social inclusion and proportional representation, especially at the grassroots level, began to move forward. The Local Self Governance Act, 2055 (1999) envisioned autonomous local governance. This Act played an important role in increasing the participation of women and Dalits in local government. The participation of women and Dalits especially at Ward-level structures was ensured to some extent.
With the promulgation of the constitution through the Constituent Assembly, which established three levels of governments, constitutional provisions have been created to include women, Dalits, indigenous ethnicities, backward regions, and persons with disability at every level of the state. The effort to ensure inclusion and proportional representation in every entity and structure of the state is ongoing. We must accept that this has been meaningful to some extent in facilitating inclusion at every level and structure of the state.
Although our constitution ensures social inclusion along with proportional representation in every state structure and process, an important question remains – how are these provisions being implemented in practice? The universally accepted essence of social inclusion and proportional representation in state structures is, ‘participation in proportion to population’. Two rounds of elections for federal, provincial and local governments have taken place since the constitution was promulgated in accordance with this essence. Women’s representation was especially robust in local governments formed after the first round of elections following the promulgation of the Constitution of Nepal. The constitutionally mandated provision requiring political parties to field a woman for either the municipal chair or deputy chair post significantly increased the representation of women across the 753 local governments. However, during those elections most political parties limited women candidates to the deputy positions. Women’s representation decreased comparatively during the 2022 elections. Coalition formation between political parties was the main reason behind the decrease. Since the coalitions were between two or more parties, the constitutional provision requiring a party to field a woman candidate for at least one of the two top positions in local government – Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson; or Mayor and Deputy Mayor – could not be enforced. Just how serious are the political parties regarding inclusion and proportional representation? The instance above adequately answers this question.
Sudurpashchim Province appears especially insensitive to the issue of social inclusion and proportional representation. Social discrimination and caste-based discrimination and untouchability remains rampant across Sudurpashchim Province, considered comparatively weak economically and socially. With a total population of 2.9 million, Sudurpashchim Province has about 17 percent Dalits, 17 percent Tharu (including Rana Tharu), and about 3 percent indigenous ethnicities. The population of Hindus is 97 percent. The largest language groups are Nepali and Dotyali. Tharu is the second most widely spoken language. There are dense settlements of the Tharu community in the Terai districts of Kailali and Kanchanpur.
The Provincial Civil Service Commission legislation provides a clear example of how insensitive the governments across Sudurpashchim Province are toward social inclusion and proportional representation. This legislation was passed by the Provincial Assembly in 2019, but the word ‘proportional’ was erased from the civil service commission formation process. After widespread protests, the word was reinstated through the first amendment to the Act. However, the Act could not be implemented. It was implemented only in 2021, after a second and then a third amendment.
This is but one example. The state has created committees at every level of government in order to ensure participation of all castes and ethnicities, groups, communities and genders in governance. But such committees still haven’t been formed in most of the local governments across Sudurpashchim Province. Or, where they have been formed, they are mostly inactive. There is no debate that inclusion must be systematically instituted in accordance with the provisions in, and spirit of, the Constitution of Nepal. Because this is the main instrument and process for strengthening the essence of social justice.
Journalist | Dhangadhi
Manmohan Swar is a citizen journalist and media professional with 31 years of experience, promoting a constructive media landscape as a ‘Constructive Permanent Opposition.’