Expanding Civil Space: Building Democracy in South Asia
Author: Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, Frank Fischer, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey Publication Type: Books 

For the past few years, the discussions of Nepali civil society organisations have focused broadly on issues of human rights and the creation of a new constitution. Primarily, this has involved matters of political transition, the constitution-making process, and contested questions surrounding the peace process and Nepal’s internal conflict-management in the aftermath of the Maoist insurgency and people’s movement that abolished the monarchy in 2008. With this emphasis on the country’s internal issues, Nepali civil society has not paid enough attention to the issues currently being raised and deliberated upon at the regional and global level. However, in today’s global and globalised context, we cannot remain in isolation from wider international debates on freedom, rights, justice and open civic spaces.
It is important to link our advocacy initiatives to global currents and broader philosophical questions, since it would be difficult to garner the solutions to Nepal’s current problems only from internal discussion and deliberation. Apart from domestic politics and internal conflict, citizens need to be exposed to current socio-economic thinking and technological developments. This has been happening to some degree in workshops and informal interactions, but the discussion needs to be expanded so as to incorporate broader perspectives and more voices. In this context, public lectures are an effective medium to expand Nepal’s civil society dialogue. It is with this in mind that Alliance for Social Dialogue (ASD) has been bringing regional thinkers, experts and activists on diverse social, political and developmental issues to speak to Nepali audiences, thus promoting public engagement in politics and development, and creating forums for open discussion.
This publication is a compilation of public lectures delivered throughout 2011 and 2012. These are: ‘Pakistan: In search of Nationhood’, by Pervez Hoodbhoy; ‘Citizens and Expertise in Policy Deliberation: Situating Policy Analysis in Socio-Cultural Context’, by Frank Fischer; ‘Democratic Culture and the Right to Information’, by Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey; ‘The Promises and the Limits of Civil Society’, by Neera Chandhoke; ‘The “World-Class City” Concept: Repercussions on Urban Planning in South Asia’, by Arif Hasan; and ‘Leadership in South Asia: From Netritva to Netagiri’ by Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the speakers for accepting our invitation and supporting us in expanding the public debate in Nepal. I would also like to extend my gratitude to our institutional partners, Himal Southasian and Nepal Policy Research Network, with whom we collaborated in organising some of these lectures. I would also like to thank my colleagues at ASD, especially Shehnaz Banu, who ably coordinated the organisation of these lectures.
Finally, thank you to our readers and friends. I hope you enjoy this collection, and join us in imagining and debating a vibrant, democratic Nepali society.