Politics Over Provincial Capitals
Protests erupted in different places soon after the government fixed temporary capitals of the provinces last week. In some places, the demonstration was so violent that the authorities had to clamp curfew or resort to firing in the air to prevent further violence.Local leaders of almost all the political parties led such agitations which demanded that their particular city or area should be named as the provincial capital. Out of 7 provinces, there was no protest in three provinces, Province No 3, 4 and 6. People took to the street in Dharan and Dhankuta to make these cities as the capital of Province No. 1 while the government named Biratnagar as the provincial capital.
People in Birgunj demonstrated against the government’s decision to name Janakpur as the capital of Province No 2. In Dang, the agitators imposed shutdown against the government’s declaration that Butwal is the capital of Province No 5. People in Doti, particularly Dipayal, hit the street against the government for naming Dhangadi as the capital of Province No 7. What was surprising in these demonstrations is that local leaders of all political parties, ruling Nepali Congress or opposition CPN-UML included, led the protest although their parties in the center had no such decision as to launch the protests against the government decision.
The demonstrations in the given cities severely affected the normal life of the common people. These incidents only showed how political parties even at the provincial/local level can run after the whims and complicate public life for no genuine cause.
People in the cities where the protest were staged may have expectation that their city would be named as the provincial capital. Their expectation was based on the hope that their city would be developed fast enough after being the provincial capital.They may as well have the belief that the provincial government is very powerful compared to the local government, which is not the case. Unlike the past local bodies, present local level government is far more powerful and all the services directly related to the people are provided by them at the local level.
In addition to the previous services such as providing social allowances as the ward levels, local level governments or the metropolis/municipalities/ rural municipalities are entitled to provide services related to land ownership certificate, registration of radio and cooperatives, education up to secondary level, land revenue and asset tax. In a way, the local government is as powerful as the central or federal government with regard to issues of local development. It is one thing that as full implementation of federalism is yet to take shape and the local governments are yet to provide all the facilities to the people as entitled.
Of course, provincial government has its own importance as being the bridge between the local and the federal government. It has its own rights and responsibilities related to the development of the province. As the seat of the provincial government and a policy and programme making place, provincial capital has its own significance. And overall milieu of the city gets changed when it becomes the provincial capital because of the presence of the provincial leaders, ministers, officials, which also promotes trade and tourism in the city. Because of our long-held wrong practice of focusing only on the political power centers such as district/regional headquarters in relation to development, it is very likely that similar tendency may repeat to focus only on provincial capital. But, time and system has changed now. Any local level government can boost development of its area out of its own resources and the development grant provided by the federal government even if the provincial government neglects it.
Therefore, instead of wasting time in protest to change the location of the provincial capital, provincial/local leaders had better focus on making the local level government effective in providing services and carrying out development activities. It is understandable that the leaders vowed to make their constituencies as the provincial capital during the elections. It was their tactics to attract voters.
It was wrong to make such unnecessary promises. But, now they should correct it for two reasons. One, a two-third majority of the provincial assembly can change ‘temporary’ provincial capital as well as name the province. Two, all the provincial capitals as named by the government are fit for various reasons. Moreover, Nepali Congress leaders have no reason to resort to protest because the decision is made by the government led by their party and CPN-Maoist Center and CPN-UML, or the left alliance, leaders have no point in continuing agitation because they are in a very comfortable position to form both the federal and provincial government (except for Province No. 2) and they can change the seat of the provincial government if they do not like the present one.
By naming the temporary seat of the provincial government, the government has taken a very positive move. A lot unnecessary politics was done in the name of provincial capitals. Land prices in many places have skyrocketed because certain leaders have assured that the place/city would be the provincial capital. Many land plotters and brokers may have gained a lot because of this. But, now the government decision has cleared all doubts.
There is no need to dispute and protest or make it an issue of a political prestige of a particular leader. Instead of lengthening the political process to implement full federal setup, the leaders should take positive moves and work hard on concluding the process fasters and moving ahead for economic development. Additionally, they should be engaged in making the local level government effective by means of proper utilisation of the resources. The country cannot be entangled in political processes and dispute for federal set up any longer. Fruits of federalism should reach the people as soon as possible.