Nepali Times Asian Paints
Here And There
Worldly wisdom


One thing constantly lacking in Nepal is context beyond the country's borders. To understand a development today, people reach back into local history, to 1990 or 1856, but never to other lands, other experiences, or other periods in history. This is unhelpful, dangerous even.

Take the explosion of grievances at the moment. Madhesis finally asserting their feelings about loss of influence in the tarai, and no influence in Kathmandu. Dalits fighting Brahminical casteism; women fighting for a fraction of what they deserve in this hugely discriminatory society. Janajatis airing long-felt frustrations at being left out of the mainstream.

All these are part of the process of historical natural justice. You simply cannot, in the absence of effective authoritarianism (and not the tinpot variety that has been practiced here) bend people to the will of an inept ruling elite. Bahun-Chhetri domination is over in Nepal. Period. No arguments. But how to turn the unravelling of a bad consensus into a thousand flowers blooming, how to harness the honest energy of good people looking for a place in a more equitable dispensation-that isn't yet on offer.

Well it may rankle-and it shouldn't-but it is worth looking towards India's experiences. At independence in 1947, India was a strong, unitary state with power concentrated in New Delhi, mostly in the hands of an anglophile, westernised elite that was far from the concerns of the poor, heterogeneous populace. Dalits, women, non-Hindus, south Indians, all were rare in the circles of power, and numerous among the disadvantaged. There were epic struggles to correct this imbalance, and they continue. A few measures have hugely relieved the most dangerous stresses and strains of inequity, and Nepal would do well to begin studying them.

In the 1950s, India began reorganising its states on the basis of language. Thus were born Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra, Gujarat, and others. Local grievances based on ethnicity were salved with a degree of political power that has only grown since then.

It's a no-brainer: Nepal must consider federalism, and quickly. Communities that are small on a national scale will have real influence in their own state or province, but will also have to work with minorities themselves, learning the ropes of compromise and handling power. Federations are the most advanced form of government because they are more democratic and allow people of various backgrounds and ethnicities a voice through different outlets of government.

Consider the USA, Canada, and Germany, where components of the federation have powers of taxation and domestic policy, while the national capital retains defence, macro-finance, foreign affairs, and a broad leadership role on large, national issues. India is moving in this direction too, as it soars economically.

As for inclusion, we don't need to reinvent the wheel here. We need a national debate on reservations and quotas for the excluded, as in India from independence onward. A few groups have held far too much clout in this country for far too long, and affirmative action is the only way to jumpstart the process of inclusion. In India, they drew up sweeping schedules of backward castes and tribes and added them to the constitution. They passed amendments requiring women to be part of the legislative process. There were imperfections, but it was historically necessary, and such steps have forced Indians of all degrees of inclusion to debate, compromise, and find ways to work together. It worked, however tentatively at times.

Beyond India, we have many other examples of attempts at inclusion succeeding and failing. Think Sri Lanka, South Africa and yes, the USA. Let's open our minds and start looking outwards. Most of the ideas that have brought lasting change in Nepal have come from outside, from Maoism to market economics. Let there be no nonsense about India and its nefarious designs. The world works by learning from the strengths and weaknesses of others. Let's join the process and set aside the uniqueness of exclusion and political stasis once and for all.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)