The Maoist-Madhesi ruling coalition is trying to define the present stalemate in the Nepali politics as a struggle between the forces of federalism and its opponents. They are trying to portray the parties in opposition, particularly the Nepali Congress and the UML, as being opposed to a federal structure in the new constitution, which resulted in the demise of the Constituent Assembly.
Running parallel to this falsehood is the view expressed by a section of the intelligentsia which seems to indicate that the NC-UML rigid stand in favor of multi-ethnic identity of federal provinces (as against single-ethnic identity) was aimed at ensuring the Pahadi Bahun-Chhetri domination in provinces by creating demographic advantage in their favor. This is a blatant misrepresentation of facts and insinuation against liberal political forces of the country to strengthen forces which, in their unabashed attachment to power, have discarded all political and ethical values.
The Nepali Congress has always played value-based secular politics, and fought conservative forces for the rights of the deprived, downtrodden and the Dalits. History is testimony that NC pioneered liberal values in the country, started a social movement against caste and gender discrimination, put an end to feudal and exploitative land practices, and introduced liberal economic reforms to unleash the creative potential of the Nepali society. All major legislations to make the state structure and government services more inclusive and policy decisions to promote language and culture of various nationalities and sub-nationalities were introduced by NC-led governments in the past. This party has never succumbed to petty politics to create parochial and caste-based power base. Therefore, it should not be misconstrued that because the party didn’t fall prey to cheap rhetoric and bandwagon politics, its actions are detrimental to national interest.
The Pahadi Bahun-Chhetri group will not derive any demographic advantage in the multi-ethnic federalization scheme. In fact, the opposite may be true. The demographic advantage for the Bahun-Chhetri will be greater in the single ethnicity model proposed by the majority report of the State Restructuring Commission or the CA Committee than in the multi-ethnic model where fusion of several Janajati groups vis-à-vis the so-called hill upper caste could significantly improve power balance, if politics is played purely on ethnic issues as expected by some academics.
NC has opposed the single ethnicity model proposed by the majority report because it does not take into account the objective condition of the Nepali society which is characterized by a mosaic of diverse ethnicities even at the lowest level. In the earlier restructuring model proposed by the Maoists, the population of the single Janajati did not match the combined population of a Brahman-Chhetri-Thakuri-Dasnami in any of the proposed autonomous regions in the hills. Therefore, the commission went a step further by making artificial divisions of the country to raise demographic profiles of ethnic groups in the proposed provinces, defying other considerations including administrative convenience, socio-economic complementarities, historical continuity and development potential. Identity as defined by the CA is related not just to ethnicity, language and culture, but also to geography and historical continuity as well.
The commission tore down the existing districts into parts, reshuffled existing VDCs and municipalities, and attached them to different provinces based on their ethnic character, producing provinces of unusual shapes and sizes. The Tamsaling province includes, in addition to all districts surrounding the Kathmandu valley, portions of territories from districts as separate as Chitwan and Gorkha on one side and Sindhuli, Ramechhap and Udaypur on the other, to be headquartered in Panchkhal. Similarly, the Magarat will include parts of territories from districts as separate as Rolpa, Salyan and Rukum to parts of Chitawan and Tanahun, with Tansen as capital. Look at another Narayani with Gorkha as capital, whose very shape looks like a dragon, with territories carved out from districts ranging from Baglung and Parbat to Nawalparasi, Dhading, Chitawan and Nuwakot. The proposal seems to reject one basic objective of federalization, which is to bring power closer to your habitat.
The most glaring part of the story is that the decision to chop the existing districts is being taken without consultation with the people who will be affected most. What happened in Chitwan and Far-west could be an indication of the trouble the nation will have to cope with, once the full story of carved out provinces ignoring administrative convenience and economic interdependence affecting daily lives comes out. I cannot imagine what the popular response will be, if such a model is put to vote before them.
Even with much gerrymandering and manipulation, the dominant group does not gain decisive demographic advantage in the proposed provinces. Limbus will account for only 27.4 percent of the population in Limbuwan. The population of Rais, Tamangs, Newars, Gurungs and Magars in Kirat, Tamsaling, Tamuwan, Newa, and Magarat provinces hover around 33 to 35 percent in their respective provinces. The presence of hill Bramin-Chhhetri-Thakuri-Dasnami will be almost equal or even higher in these provinces.
The other interesting facet of Nepal’s ethnic demography is that a significant proportion of the ethnic population lives outside the territories it is being identified with. For example, about half of Newars and Rais live outside Newa and Kirat Pradeshes; 66 percent of the Magars and 63 percent of Tharus live in areas other than the provinces named after them. This shows the geographically scattered and migratory character of Nepali population, making the task of identifying a federal province with one particular ethnic group difficult. Even when we go to basic VDC level, not more than fifty percent of the units will have majority population of one ethnicity.
Identity is best recognized at the local level through decentralization and devolution of power, which will collectively empower all ethnic groups—even those who may be small in number at macro and provincial levels. Newars, Magars, and Rais who reside largely outside the provinces named after them can live with communal identity in other regions also. The Dalit community, which represents the most discriminated community and is scattered through the nation, will also get recognition and empowerment in their respective localities.
This is first of a two-part article. The second part will be published tomorrow.