There are certain moments in a country´s history that shapes its contours for generations to come. This is one such time for Nepal as it struggles to come to terms with the revolutionary changes since the start of the peace process in 2006. With a strong symbol of national unity in monarchy (whether the symbol was imposed or accepted) gone, possibilities opened up for all sorts of permutations and combinations in the national polity. Right now, there are various protest programs being organized right around the country by various communities for inclusion of their agendas in the new constitution.
In the Far-west, there are two distinct groups, one in favor of undivided Far-west while the other campaigns for a Tharuhat, both of which have stepped up their protests in recent times. Now, demands have surfaced for ´undivided Western´ region, while there are nationwide demonstrations for ´undivided Nepal´. Everyone expected some kind of political turmoil in the lead up to and the immediate aftermath of promulgation of the new constitution, irrespective of its character; addressing the demands of the vastly disparate communities at one fell swoop was an impossible task. But the hope was that the worst of violence pitting one ethnic community against another could be avoided.
It is impossible to gauge the trajectory of the current round of protests that have erupted throughout the length and breadth of the country. But there are still measures which can be taken to ensure the worst forms of violence can be avoided. First, it is important for people from all ethnic, linguistic and regional backgrounds to internalize the fact that a constitution is a document of compromise: unless every negotiating side is ready to concede something, there can be no meaningful agreement. This means that the heretofore privileged groups have to understand the deep-seated feeling of disenfranchisement among the communities at the bottom of the Hindu varna system. It is unrealistic to expect this long-nurtured feeling of persecution in all fields to disappear just because political leaders, the same ones who have promised so much and delivered so little, assure them that this time will be different. That is why they want something more concrete: inclusion of their demands in the constitution.
But there is other side of the issue as well. Among the so-called privileged group, only a small section was able to benefit from the skewed socio-economic and political structure in their favor. For instance, even among the Brahmins and Chhetris, yes, they +were disproportionately represented in state machinery; but these people at the top made for only a small sub-section of the broader Brahmin and Chhetri community. The poor among the Brahmin/Chhetri were no poorer than the poor from other ethnic communities. It is for this reason that the majority of Brahmins and Chhetris feel it is unjust to punish the whole group for the privileges enjoyed by a small section.
Unless there is mutual recognition of each other´s problems, there is unlikely to be a way out of the current state of disorder. This is not the time for hard stands. What we fear the most is that the elements that were always against the federal agenda and for the continuation of the old order, might infiltrate the current protest programs. And, god forbid, if it leads to an untoward incident—say the death of a member from one ethnic community as it clashed with those from ethnic community—it could potentially spark an insidious sectarian conflict. That eventuality has to be avoided at all costs. The longer the current state of political flux continues, the more time they will get to make some mischief. Hence it is important that all stakeholders in the federal agenda come to the negotiating table and try to hammer out differences, no matter how entrenched. There is no other course. The sooner this message filters through to all sections of Nepali society, the better. There really is no time to lose