We are living in paranoid times. Madhesis think that their future isn't safe in the hands of pahadis. The pahadi leadership of the janajatis isn't too sure of its place in a democratic Nepal. Tharus don't trust the pahadis but fear even more the domination of upper caste madhesis. Dalits continue to be the most underrepresented community in every sphere of the state, but they have no enclave of their own with which to threaten secession. Muslims are even worse off than most dalits, but they are making their claims in a more dignified manner than their better-placed counterparts on the margins.
Amidst all this, the Bahun-Chhetri-Newar ruling elite is the most sanguine. It knows that the people on the periphery have less in common with each other than they do with the centre.
So what does hold us together? When ethnic autonomy is discussed, it is in Nepali, a language that evolved during the Gorkhalis' military campaigns and was later standardised by the Ranas to serve as the court language. Upendra Yadav of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, speaks a more refined Nepali than does his bete noire, Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula. Each time the Mahanta Thakur committee sits to negotiate with madhesis, janajatis, dalits, Muslims, karnalibasis, and women, the lingua franca will be Nepali.
Occasional muttered complaints apart, nobody really objects to our red double-triangle either. It continues to flutter atop even those government buildings on whose signboards 'Nepal' has been replaced with 'madhes' in Rautahat, Bara, and Parsa. That the Nepali flag resembles the banner of Hanuman helps in a predominantly Hindu country, but also doesn't seem to offend Muslim Nepalis. Radical monarchists who wave the flag to denounce democracy are almost always dismissed as losers too scared to openly carry the standard of the royal family.
Wherever you go in Nepal and whenever, through the Himalayan winter, midhill monsoon, and tarai summer, the food of choice for those who can afford it is dal-bhat. Perhaps we should have learnt through those Mahendramala books in school that this is our national cuisine. In fact, if the cow can be retained as the national animal in the interim statute, there's no reason a national food can't be named in the forthcoming constitutional amendment.
It probably isn't pc to say so in a secular Nepal, but Pashupatinath continues to be the national deity even for many who don't take his omnipresence too seriously. Siddhartha was born in Lumbini and attained enlightenment in Bodhgaya, but that's a technicality best ignored. For most Nepalis, the Buddha's birthplace is marked by the Ashoka pillar near Bhairahawa and we all are extremely proud of it.
We also ignore the inconvenient fact that Everest is on the border and that its northern face lies in foreign territory and claim that the highest point on earth lies in Nepal. Sagarmatha will soon replace the king on Nepali currency. There was a time, not too long ago, when the mohar rupaiya was frowned upon in Biratnagar, Birganj, or Nepalganj. These days, it's legal tender across the border in India in the bajars of Jogbani, Raxaul, and Rupaidiha.
The model of integration adopted by BP Koirala in 1950s and communalised by King Mahendra in the 1960s has its irritants. But the process of national unity set in motion by the people's struggle of 1950s has had significant successes alongside its important failures. Its accomplishments need to be institutionalised and its disappointments addressed sincerely. The fears of fragmentation aren't all unfounded, but there are enough commonalities among us to build a better and more tolerant society.