The protracted dispute that ultimately polarized political parties on the model of federalism finally resulted in the dissolution of an elected Constituent Assembly, without a constitution being drafted. Advocates and campaigners of ‘single-ethnic identity based provinces’ (SEIBPs) have always cited ‘exclusion’ or ‘oppression’ of non-Khas communities in the past as justification to create SEIBPs named after eight or so communities (out of more than a hundred), other than the Khas.
The reason, according to them, is that the single largest ethnic group comprising 38 percent of the population scattered around the country, is not an ‘oppressed ‘community and is rather, the ‘ruling’ community. This, despite the fact that majority of the Khas people are as poor as many Janajatis or Madhesis. The pro-SEIBP lobby also argues that to right the ‘wrongs’ of history, the Khas community, which is one of the oldest inhabitants of the land, should continue to be denied both a separate identity and indigenous status enjoyed by the rest. Janajati activists, Madhesi parties and Maoists largely share these views.
Khas, along with the silent majority of people belonging to all communities that includes the more educated ones, believe that SEIBP will be gravely detrimental to social harmony and national integration, besides being economically unviable and discriminatory. Nepali Congress, NCP-UML, along with most fringe parties, subscribe to this theory. Hence, the two political sides failed to reach an agreement on the mode of state restructuring, which led to the demise of the constitution making process.
Emotional pleas and rhetoric such as Brahmanbad (Brahminical) have dominated the discourse of ‘exclusion’, instead of facts and logic. There is no denying that Khas, especially the Bahuns, have dominated the civil service. However, their achievement is a result of their historical fondness for education, which enabled them to succeed in the competitive selection process. Janajatis are under-represented mainly because they prefer jobs in uniform. It is no secret that recruitment in the British Army is the Janajati’s coveted choice, followed by the armed forces of India, Brunei and Singapore. Even in Nepal, they prefer security services to the civil service. Consequently, they are over-represented in the armed police force besides being fairly well represented in the army and the police. ‘Oppressed’ or ‘excluded’ communities could never have dominated the security services in which the nation invests far more (both financially and in terms of trust) than it does in the civil service.
The incumbent chief of army staff, a Janajati, was successively promoted to the second rank even during the alleged ‘exclusion era’ (before 2006). Similarly, ever since the police force was formed in 1951, majority of its chiefs of staff (IGPs) has been the members of Janajati communities. Of the seven IGPs that have headed the APF since the force came into being some eleven years ago, two are Janajatis (one Magar and one Tamang), one each are Chhetri and Bahun and three are Newars . The incumbent IGP is also a Newar.
Newars, a highly urbanized and wealthy community, are highly represented in public service, especially in technical jobs, disproportionate to their population size. The irony of the ‘exclusion-ethnic state correlation’ campaign is that the educated business community that ranks quite high in the Human Development Index and that produced a long serving Prime Minister and several powerful ministers will have a state of its own.
In the technical public services such as agriculture, forestry, healthcare, engineering and land survey Madhesis are fairly represented. They are well represented in the judiciary as well; during its 55 year long history, many Madhesi chief justices have headed the Supreme Court (Bhagawati Prasad Singh, Anirudra Prasad Singh, Surendra Prasad Singh to name a few). Today, from the President and Vice-President of the country to most of the ministers and several high ranking government officials, are Madhesis.
If there are truly deprived and oppressed groups in this country they are the dalits. Women too, as in many other societies, are yet to enjoy true freedom and equality. Those social evils need to be addressed through education rather than by legislation, simply because the raison d’être is not political. If Maoist-Madhesi-ethno-lingual alliance cannot create a separate state for dalits, or if they cannot guarantee women’s proportionate representation in their own ranks, they have no moral right to blame others for being anti-change or regressive forces (paribartan birodhi shakti), while claiming to be progressive themselves. How often have we heard or seen Madhesi leaders, elites and intelligentsia speak or write against the plight of Madhesi dalits or social evils like the dowry system?
Emotional pleas and rhetorics have often dominated the discourse of ‘exclusion’ and federalism, instead of hard facts and logic.
In traditional and less industrialized societies, individuals and communities choose professions that are compatible with their historical, ancestral, occupational and educational backgrounds, as well as aptitude. That is why Newars, Marbadis and Thakalis prefer, and succeed in, business or self-employment while Bahun Chhetris prefer government jobs.
However, it is true that any disparity in representation in public service needs to be corrected or else the situation may be capitalized by divisive forces, which is exactly what is happening in our country. Affirmative action for the under-represented and marginalized is the most appropriate tool to correct such imbalances, although it can only be a short and medium term solution. The long term solution lies in capacity-building measures such as educating the targeted communities.
Whatever differences and discrimination may have existed between diverse peoples, cultures and regions historically are being recognized, respected and corrected in the post-1990 democratic Nepal. Paradoxically, at a time when the nation was gradually identifying and rectifying the socio-demographic fault-lines of the past, the Maoists sowed the seeds of ethnic discord. They initially resorted to this to win a losing insurgency but now they are doing it to woo the ethnic vote-bank.
Inclusiveness and devolution of power were and are what our nation needs the most and we were indeed moving in that direction. Power and resources were being devolved to local self-governments. Reservations or quotas for the marginalized and under-represented communities to the tune of 45 percent (both in recruitment and promotion in all public funded jobs) have been in place. But it will take some time before tangible results become visible. This is true even for affirmative action in areas of public-funded education or other public service delivery systems. To ensure Madhesi and Janajati communities’ fair representation in the political process, a mixed election system that included proportional representation is also in effect. Unfortunately, in the name of empowering oppressed and excluded communities, the Maoists have diverted the whole course of peaceful and progressive transformation towards the dangerous path of divisive clashes.