Nepal: Federalism Only In Name? – Analysis


By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan

This month two issues among many dominated the political discourse in Nepal. The first one was the abrupt postponement of Inter State Council Meeting of the Chief Ministers that was being eagerly awaited by the Provincial Leaders. Second was an equally abrupt withdrawal of Nepal from the first ever military exercise of BIMSTEC countries initiated by India way back in June.

Last week, the Chief Ministers of all the seven provinces met at Pokhara for a two-day session to lay the groundwork for the ensuing Inter State Council meeting to be chaired by the Prime Minister.

The Group lamented at the lack of laws, policies, financial and human resources that have failed the provincial governments in delivering services to the people. The Meeting concluded that a “Constitutionally guaranteed Federalism will not be effective in the country without an effective functioning of the provincial governments”. They were right.

Specifically, the meeting by consensus had suggested certain steps to improve governance at the provincial level and thereby contribute for effective functioning of federalism. Some of the important points were:

  • Formation of a high-level body chaired by the Prime Minister for the implementation of federalism.
  • Formation of an Inter State Coordination Committee to work as a bridge between the Centre and the States.
  • Senior Secretaries of the Centre to be appointed as Chief Secretaries of the Provinces.
    Provinces to form Civil Service Commissions to hire employees.
    Centre to make necessary to provide a Provincial Police Force.
  • The District Administrative Offices to be made accountable to the Provincial Governments.
    Distribution of natural and economic resources to the Provinces based on equitable principles.
    Sorting out projects to be constructed in each Province depending on the requirements and viability.

The points made in the Meeting were in the form of a “concept paper” and was to be discussed in the Inter State Council Meeting. It was not a set of “demands”. The meeting was meant to exchange ideas and their experience in running the provincial administration.

Irked by discussions and the concept paper that emanated, the Prime Minister postponed the Inter State Council Meet on 8th of September.

The irony is that in six of the seven Provinces, the ruling party of the Prime Minister is heading the Government. The points made were genuine, harmless and within the limits of the federal Constitution. It is almost certain that Prime Minister Oli was aware of the upcoming meeting of the Chief Ministers of the Provinces. He could have told them not to meet so if he was not happy with it as most of the Chief Minsters are from his Ruling Party.

The fact remains that the federal constitution remains only on paper and no effort has been made by PM Oli to usher in a genuine federal administration as is envisaged in the Constitution. C.K. Lal one of the noted analysts rightly described the present Constitution as a “Dysfunctional Statute”.

In the meeting of the Chief Minsters, it was mentioned by some that the Centre was unwilling to give powers to Provincial Governments on issues related citizenship, passports, setting up of a separate security force as well as handling of border issues with neighbouring countries.

In another instance, on 8th September, the Prime Minister abruptly ordered that Nepal should withdraw from the proposed regional level first ever military exercise under the aegis of BIMSTEC initiated by India The exercise was aimed to “create synergy in the field of counter terrorism operations among the member States”. By the time the PM’s orders were received, an advance party of three officers of Nepal Army had already reached Pune for the exercise. The engagement was at the Platoon level and so to save face, those officers who had reached already were allowed to attend the exercise as “Observers”. Thailand followed suit to join the exercise as Observers.

The idea of this exercise came up even before the summit meeting of BIMSTEC in end August. Also, the Armies of both India and Nepal have traditionally been engaged at various levels at the military to military level for many years and there has been no political interference on these bilateral engagements.

It is said that Oli had to issue the withdrawal orders following opposition from some of his own party leaders. It is said that Bhim Rawal and Jhalnath Khanal as well as Narayan Kaji Shrestha of erstwhile Maoist Centre were firmly opposed for various internal personal reasons. Withdrawal from the exercise should not be a matter of concern for India but what should be of concern is whether both Nepal and Thailand withdrew out of fear of China?

One other issue of interest from the Indian point of view was the visit of Dahal, the Chairman of the Ruling Party to India in the second week of September. It is said that Dahal met the Indian political leadership in his two days of stay that included meeting the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, Home Minister, National Security Adviser as well leaders of BJP and the National Congress. It is also said that the Nepal Foreign Ministry was not informed of the visit nor did Dahal brief the Nepali Establishment on his return from India.

Dahal is a wily and an opportunistic character and it is not known what stories he had woven in briefing the Indian leaders. Or is it one of those tactics of previous Panchayat Regimes which reveled in “Public Humiliation” and Private Explanation” in its dealings with India?

After Deuba, Dahal appears to be one of the darlings of the Indian Establishment. One hopes that it could improve the relationship between the two countries!


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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