Nepali Times Asian Paints
Guest Column
Beyond control


Back in 1986 at a meeting of the CPN-ML, I proposed that representatives of ethnic groups be members of the central committee. My colleagues rejected this, saying it was 'communal'. At the time the only criteria for being in the central committee was having spent time in jail. If they had listened to me then, the country would not have drifted into the extreme ethnic chauvinism you see now.

I have always felt ethnic extremism should never lead to the fragmentation of the Nepali nation. Which is why we have always tried to ensure progress towards a proportional representation of ethnicities through elections. The marginalisation of these groups can be redressed peacefully through elections. But the Maoists hijacked this agenda during the war and made the ethnic groups carry guns. Ethnic groups that were moving ahead in a peaceful manner were sidetracked into violence.

The Maoists are being dishonest towards the Janajati movement with their ethnic autonomous councils. It is opening up a can of worms. Already, Bahuns, Dalits and Muslims are saying: where are our autonomous councils?

It looks like the councils will have hereditary chief ministers from only the ethnic group represented. Limbus and Magars are majorities in their areas, but following the Maoists to declare Limbuwan and Magarat shows an insecure minority mindset.

Limbus will not liberate their people by asking for Limbuwan. Magars will not be autonomous in a Magarat. The kind of emancipation we want is one which can bring together all 30 million Nepalis. We don't want a territorial liberation because that would mean explusion of those not belonging to a particular group. The Maoists are lighting an ethnic bush fire that they will not be able to control.

Many say a federal state structure is the first priority for ethnic liberation. For me it is only number two. If federalism is for decentralised development, it may still have some uses, but it is not enough reason to carve up the country along political lines. The most we can do is have representation in the national legislature or federal councils that is proportionate to the ethnic composition of the country.

In a sense, most of us in Nepal came from somewhere else to live here. We shouldn't waste time trying to figure out who settled down where first.

The important thing is for one group not to behave like the others do not exist. By not dividing up opportunities equally, there is a danger that the struggle for liberation will turn violent. We should address societal inequities before they turn violent. There is still time to address the problem of discrimination and inequality in a non-violent manner, we haven't exhausted peaceful options.

The proportional representation in the legislature/constituent assembly last year wasn't a mechanism to allow former prime ministers who lost elections to have a berth in the house. It was to allow the marginalised and unrepresented groups a presence in the legislature. The question of ethnic representation has to be addressed at the political level within the chambers of the house. Lately, however, we see the struggle spilling out into the streets, and it is spinning out of control of the political forces.

I have never lived through an ethno-separatist civil war and I hope to never have to see it dismember my own motherland.

Gorebahadur Khapangi Magar is the acting chairman of the Rastriya Janamukti Party. The original version of this article appeared in Himal Khabarpatrika, 16-30 December.

Dealing with Delhi, Editorial - FROM ISSUE #482 (25 DEC 2009 - 31 DEC 2009)

1. jange
If you want representation based on ethnicity then you need a system of voting on the basis of ethnicity. If you want representation based political parties then you will get representation based on votes given to respective political parties, which so far is what has been practised. But it is illogical to have a representation system based on political parties and expect it to reflect ethnic composition. Decide what you want and design the system accordingly. If you want representation based on ethnicity then ask everyone to select an ethnic label (or assign one) and vote their ethnic representatives.

2. Sargam
Those buggers who invented this sort of ethnicity based states must be aware of the fact that they have given birth to a humbug that fits politically nowhere. I had thought a state like Limbuwan was consistently viable but alas with merely 350 thousand Limbus those creators of such a Hydra would reach nowhere. Henchforth we will sure enough start hearing ethnic cleansing in some parts of the country because some of those local kapos would feel detaining the mandate from their Maoist honchos, and I suppose that is precisely what Maoists wanted; that means Nepal in bloodshed like at the time of the separation of India and Pakistan. Why should they be precisely the Maoists to be possessing the pea-brain to be illustrated!?!

3. Arthur
What an interesting article saying nothing at all, but saying it very well. Who says that only Bahuns have that particular stereotype? Perhaps this kind of completely empty writing is what the author means by "to be addressed at the political level within the chambers of the house". With political forces spinning their words without meaning like this, it is no wonder "we see the struggle spilling out into the streets, and it is spinning out of control of the political forces". But why on earth should that result in "expulsion of those not belonging to a particular group" or "ethno-separatist civil war"? Why should it not just result in the marginalization of people who have nothing to say but insist on talking a lot?

4. Ashu
They (Nepali Times included) equate political demands raised by "ethnic" groups as a "ethnic" demands based on "ethnic" identity. It's a gross mistake. The political demands are what they are, political demands. They just happened to be raised most vocally by the so called "ethnic" people, because they've been kept out of political power ever since the house of Gurkhas conquered them. By painting those political demands as "ethnic" the Bahun/Chhetri establishment seeks to stir the distrust, prejudice, and apprehensions about "ethnic" people ruling Nepal. Just like they said the country will disintegrate without the feudal monarchy, they're now saying Nepal will disintegrate without a Brahmins/Chhetris leading the country. Thus they raise the specter of ethnic cleansing carried out against the Brahmins/Chhetris. I won't call it racist (because race hasn't really been an issue in Nepal for historical reasons) but it is definitely "casteist."

5. random
Be very very aware of compassion with people 'kept out of politics'in Europe the populists the anti muslim the anti immigrant, anti anything good old nice are usually the frustrated poor neigbourhoods, not the enlighended university teachers who know it all. Wholehearted maoists these days....yep. You know them, I know them. They never had a headache and never will, taking taking taking. Wake up Nepal you are throwing away the birthright of Himalayas to people that never did up till class 5.

6. Anuj
Damn right ASHU, it seems those who lead Nepal's political field are in continual denial of political awareness and demands raised by Janajatis, Madheshis and Dalits. All those talks that seem to argue against proportional represeentation and ILO 169 are based conscipracy theories. They will keep on howling like mad dog. They are classic example of "humbug". They should know tht Nepal has already committed to ILO 169 and people have given their mandate for change with equal opportunities. Let us not harp on theories, ground reality is what matters !! Change has already taken its foothold. Congratulation !!!

7. R RAI
Dear Mr Khapangi, 1. Nepal must remain intact and sovreirgn. 2.Ethnic conflicts must be avoided - it requires serious soul- searching and " give and take" attitude.Greed,narrow-mindedness and self-centredness will only do harm. 3. Whether we like it or not, status quo can not be maintained anymore( I personally would prefer peace,stability and law and order of the past )-we have no choice but to move forward,of course very carefully. 4.You had a very good reason why you left ML/UML-the saddest thing is your former comrades have only changed very little(look at their leadership structure) 5.What Indigenous peoples of Nepal need is proportionate representation in every part of state machinary,not only in political bodies. There must be honest and transparent affirmative action/ reservation in every aspect of the state machinary.Sadly, You do not see it happening when you look at the list of newly selected section officers/police inspectors/sec lieutenants- actually the data was far better during Panchayat days!(A big joke in the name of inclusiveness) 6.Nepal sandhai baachi rahos.

8. KxN Rai
A thought-provoking article from a noted Politician, Mr. Khapangi!

9. Patriot
Some commentators are repeating the mistake of being insensitive to genuine ethnic concerns by painting it nothing more than political. They represent the core status quoists and like make sweeping comments without attempting to analyse a bit. Perhaps the litmus test is, is there mass support for such ethnic agendas? Lets address that first and understand what ethnic groups truly want. They want equal rights and opportunities. Ethnicity based federalism was a Maoist agenda, it was uncalled for, many still dont know what it means. I still think it is extremely risky that can either work or be a disaster. However, going by the way Bahun leaders are behaving, disregarding people's mandate, making whimsical decisions amongst themselves behind closed doors, it is only giving impetus to ethnic assertion and separatism. It was the Bahun leaders who made a mess of Nepali democracy, and created Maoists, and who have stirred the ethnic hornet's nest. It is obvious there will be bahun bashing and assertive ethnic groups who wants separate states and want to have nothing to do with Bahuns. While that may not solve ethnic problems like Mr Khapangi says, still people may prefer it, than having their destiny controlled by Bahunist freaks who know only how to screw up things. Bahuns had the terrific opportunity to lead this country by virtue of their education, but its been squandered. Obviously other groups will be disenchanted. While I have many Bahun friends and dont believe in stereotyping groups, I cant change the perception in the streets. And in the streets it is easy to stoke the ethnic fire.

10. Anuj
Words are interesting and powerful. Language is the medium to express your feelings and arguements through words uttered. Lately, i am feeling..english has limitation for us , who recieved their education in St. Boris school ( Bora ma paleti marera school padheka haru ) unlike in St. Xavier's. I suggest, NT to have a discussion board in Nepali. I am of the opinion that we can put forward our arguement clearly and have equal 1 2 1 discourse on the subject with any commentators.

11. ashuosh
Anuj, there's a circle in Nepal who thrives in English. This circle is mostly conservative and it's main concern is too be seen proper vis-a-vis "liberal western democratic norms." If their ideas were written in Nepali (for example Mr. Khapangi, or any of Nepali Times editorials) Nepali public would scorn them. But the veil of English works very well for this circle who basically thinks of itself as cosmopolitan and the Nepali language as a provincial medium. ....And Patriot, there's nothing wrong with being political or calling the demands of ethnic groups political as I've done above. Doing so allows us to seek a political solution and compromises. "Ethnicity" and "ethnic" demands, if they exist, are very very irreconcilable. Being Political is not necessarily mischievous despite what the Bahunistas have done.

12. jange
Anuj- I think you have an exaggerated notion of the value of the English language. What is important is the quality of your thoughts and the logic of your arguments. There is no reason why you cannot write on this board in Nepali using Roman script.

13. Anuj
JANGE, thank for your comment. I am not exaggerating. Many of us feels the same. However, you are right, in your words "the qualtity of thoughts and the logic of your arguements is what counts" and I take that.

14. Arthur
Perhaps a combination could be used? There are other forums for Nepali only or english only. Here a mixture is natural for people disadvantaged when expressing themselves in english. I have noticed that the underlying meaning is often more logical from Anuj than from others whose english is better but who have nothing interesting to say whatever language they say it in. Since jange and I usually disagree I should add that is not a sarcastic remark directed at him. I expect jange would argue skillfully in both languages, even though his arguments would always be wrong! A reply from Anuj to jange clearly expressed in Nepali plus a translation less clearly expressed in English would still be enough to prove jange wrong. Anyway those who did not learn to argue in elite schools will have to learn how to govern Nepal instead of the elite. This must include learning the language used for higher education and international relations as well as learning how to argue skillfully. Using both languages instead of one is twice as hard work, but it is a good way to learn and the elite is notoriously not very good at hard work. The author of this article is a good example of someone who writes well in english but has nothing to say.

15. naresh neupane
ok my all friends,be serious.Lets not make assumtions based on rash and headstrong imperatives.You may be Maoists,Leftist or Right-wing polemicist.Come and converse not by words but ideas,by wisdom than viscera. Yes,Thakuris and Bahunis have long controlled states and acted greedily and with stupidity.But,they can be chased ,they can be outsted.But by what measures.Prachanda Khalaks are pushing their agendas not out of liberalism and peace but out of predisposition of their schooling and their instinctual understanding that anyone who acts hard ,works hard,march wisely are nothing but pro-capitalists and burgeoisie.I think the leaders(coincidentally mostly Bahuns)brainwash people,turn them to fanatics and zealots,put agenda for martyrdom and make people think that they 've done for people.It is a nature that human mind is precaptured by superirity complex.But noone are stopped to make money,live and think your own.Since the issue of democratization is far above elections;for poorly democratized like ours,any intelligent analyst must 've known that ethnic tensions could puncture our identity not as others than caste itself.While ethnic disparities must be adressed(how?is most important answer than question),its a pure myth that we are liberalized by fedaralism based on ethnicity on sole basis.You can't sack Prachanda out in the street simply for,he being Bahun.Think similar circumstances.

16. naresh neupane
Jange JI'first it is not justifiable to use 'illogical',and direct blows like "if.."that justify your sense.You may be first to argue but not first in sensical and sound prescriptions.Ones mentality is reflected not only in walking down in pavements but also in the way we convey our ideas

17. ashuosh
This comment has been removed by the moderator.

18. Patriot
ashuosh - excuse me, i seem to have misread your statement the first time. my reference were to those who are out to discredit genuine ethnic demands by calling it names, trying to affix confusing erudite permutation/combination to an otherwise straightforward thing.

19. Free Willy
Impressive forum and passionate discussions. I'd like to comment on what was said on the ethnic need to burst out due to oppression. My dear friends, why was that not the need back then and why is it suddenly such a raw emotion now ? What purpose does it serve to divide the country in ethno-federal line, apart from producing marginal others and the same cycle of conflict ? And most of all, is the ethnic conscious revival, like that of 'Ashu' above, self driven or is it the product of instrumentalist Bahun leaders again ? Well if you have doubts, Bhattarai and Prachanda are the main vocals in this conquest. The bottomline therefore is that it is just instrumentalist idea of the leaders who want to mobilize the easy ethnic cards to gain political power. I think Mr Khapangi's message was not "nothing" but caution not to fall prey to these calls by the leaders that want to have the power, no matter even if the country disintegrates. His wanting to have ethnic representation in political power meant that it would reform and make the ethnic sentiment of the people less susceptible to the prey of ambitious politicians with puns about ethnic oppression. Yes it is real but there are other primary concerns that politicians should be worrying about if they want to lead the country to prosperity, like poverty, education, health, employment and the list goes on. Mulling over and getting obsessed with ethnic emancipation is setting oneself on destructive mode. That is not propaganda of bahuns, the ones who feel that are already prey to the instrumentalist bahuns and are shutting their eyes to the historical fact of ethnic cleansing in the balkans and the Africas.

20. Arthur
Free Willy, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and Africa is the result of trying to suppress legitimate demands for local autonomy against a central power dominated by a single group. Nepal is very fortunate that a nationally oriented party is supporting a federal structure for all nationalities. Otherwise instead of a peaceful restructuring into a federal state as agreed in the peace agreement there would be violent clashes between competing minorities - eg Tharu and Madheshi parties both fighting for large overlapping parts of the Terai and attempts to expel the minoritity groups in each area. Only federalism can prevent such ethnic cleansing by recognizing that all Nepalese have the right to live where they live and to be treated with equal respect wherever they live. Nepal is also fortunate that the main opposition to such a peaceful and democratic settlement is coming from parties already discredited as upholding the old system whereas ethnic separatist parties have been somewhat marginalized by the Maoist support of federalism and have not been able to become the main force opposing the old system. As for "leaders that want to have the power, no matter even if the country disintegrates" you must be referring to the losers now in Government rather than to the only party that has ever voluntarily resigned from office on a matter of principle. The losers lust for the spoils of office and lack of achievements on "poverty, education, health, employment and the list goes on" are so well known that even the Maoist haters despise them.

21. Patriot
Free Willy, I totally disagree with the substance of your argument. You don't seem to leave any space for accommodating the ethnic viewpoint, which is exactly why we have not been able to have an honest, open debate on this, leading to further distrust and division in society. You are right that the ethnic pandora box was ignited by instrumentalist Bahunists, but don't forget, the underlying volcano had been simmering for ages solely because of the policy of marginalization followed by the state for centuries, of which the same Bahunists were an integral part. This volcano only needed an outlet, and it is a raw emotion NOW because there is finally an opportunity to assert and rebuild the state on the basis of equality. You are also right these leaders are playing the ethnic card for power, but let me correct you here, the bottomline is this ethnic assertion is indeed SELF-DRIVEN, exactly due to this very behaviour of the ruling class who treat the rest as expendable. First they promote marginalization and later take advantage of the frustration to further consolidate. People never bought into the Maoists ideology. These goons were successful because they promised ethnic emancipation, not due to their sexy communist ideologies, so your assertion that this is a Bahunist idea falls flat. Remember, in a poor country like Nepal, when majority resources and power is controlled by few, and the fate of the nation is being decided in a whimsical fashion behind closed doors, the people's mandate is totally disregarded, polarization in the society is obvious. It becomes more easy to divide people and ethnic assertion gains even more steam. I myself fear for the uncertainly of ethnicity based federalism and balkanisation of our nation, but if the priviledged fail to show the way, its futile to expect the poor masses to show grace and fortitude. Your attempt to discredit the ethnic movement as merely ideas of instrumentalist Bahunists is insulting and does no good in healing the divide in our society. You are just shutting your eyes in denial my friend.

22. Free Willy
Arthur, your insights are commendable. Yes there is a genuine need for ethnic affirmative action, but the line has to be drawn when ethnic rise begins to sound like ethnic dominion, which the ethno federalism that the Maoists concede to, as a means of populist measure. Playing on such populist card, when all else fail, hints the loser mentality instead. Yes the Madhesis have always been oppressed, but the solution is not to create a Madhes where hill people are treated as enemies. Rather than that, there should be a focus to better the livelihoods of the people and uphold their dignity. Choosing to divide on ethnic lines instead of conceding to pass reform bills through legislation brings fore the old communist notion of 'Reform kills revolution'. Yet, the revolutionary measures opted in this case can be dangerous. The case for Balkans as you pointed, was not suppression of local autonomous demands, but rather Milosovic playing on the populist ethnic call to bolster his political power. Utterly expedient measure and very cheap. Once the ethnic flare lights up, it will be difficult to put down, as other ethnic groups flex their muscles to secure itself. A classic case security dilemma. Therefore, when there is a mechanism to address these grievances in the parliament, proportional representation is not too bad in itself. Rash and revolutionary sentiment, especially in a violent prone country like Nepal, again thanks to Maoists, can be detrimental for the fledgling peace.

23. Free Willy
Patriot, Glad to know your stance and that people care, genuinely, to the ethnic cause that needs attention in my country (without political puns !). Critics are valid. However, current government warts and all, is not heading wrong direction in the aspect of ethnic division, compared to Maoists. No matter how vulnerable we find ourselves to the Maoists call to revolutionize the status by drawing ethnic division, I would say hold on to your horses. The grievances are real but that should not blind us into hitting the wall. Its not just on ethnic lines that we're deprived of, there are scores of other aspects and what looks the most glaring is what has been shown to us by the political leaders. I am grateful to the Maoists in this aspect, but do not agree on their method to divide the country citing this grievance. It is not the case of simmering ethnicity in Nepal but the fact that there are different ethnics living is exploitable to mobilize for political gains. Why is there such a hue and cry about ethnic oppression now, when everyone has always been happy before ? This is not between Arab and Israelis, but among Nepalis. If anyone thinks there will not be oppression after ethnic lines are drawn, then that is a gross mistake. What about different clans within individual castes ? Has anyone realized that within gurungs there are minor gurungs who are treated as dalits, a little better perhaps ? Same is for every caste ! Thats the reality, therefore division on ethnic lines is a big no no ! If you can convince me, I will succumb !

24. Arthur
Free Willy, others have answered you on "Why is there such a hue and cry about ethnic oppression now, when everyone has always been happy before?" I will only add that the same absurd questions were asked during the civil rights and black liberation movements in the USA in the 1960s - and the same stupid answer that it was due to "communist agitators" was offered. Such "insight" didn't work in the US and it won't work in Nepal. Oppressors always claim the oppressed are "happy". You also say "Yes the Madhesis have always been oppressed, but the solution is not to create a Madhes where hill people are treated as enemies." I agree. Everyone knows that in the Terai the Maoists have far more support among the Hill people than among the Madheshis. Your suggestion that they, rather than the anti-Maoist Madheshi parties are treating hill people as enemies is simply absurd. In fact they encourage people of every nationality in Nepal to support the equal rights of all other nationalities in Nepal. This is the exact opposite of supporting ethnic division. It is the same approach hat has produced peaceful federations in countries like Switzerland, Canada and Belgium and opposite to the approach of Milosevic in Yugoslavia who insisted on Serbian supremacy over other nationalities in the same way that the Bahunabad parties do in Nepal.

25. jange
There is a lot of comment about "genuine ethnic grievances", " the ethnic cause", etc. What are these grievances are? What are these ethnic causes?

26. Patriot
Free Willy, I understand you are truly concerned as much as I am. I can't convince you, for I too believe the nation must never be drawn on ethnic lines, and we mustn't falsely believe ethnic emancipation will solve all our problems. Thats why to diffuse this crisis brought upon us we must engage in a honest reconciliation, which i feel will pave a new chapter. You are right, Nepal has big problems like poverty/hunger, but before that it is a loosely coalesced society of different kinds of people, for whom identity is always a contentious issue like it is to all mankind. In a poor country like Nepal, where the pie is limited, this thread is stretched, creating fertile opportunity for politicians. More than hunger/poverty, it is the inability to keep this delicate thread together as all humans are born proud creatures, and any threat to their collective identity, even if only perceptional, is easy to galvanize. To believe all was well before (though compared to now yes) and why the hue & cry cannot be fully validated, because either ways, there was opportunity that Maoists exploited, and the ethnic card was their gateway. What makes things worse is there are everyday examples of failure from our mostly bahun leaders, which only helps fuel further polarisation. We may hold on to our horses for we have the luxury of a bourgeoisie, but in the streets, the opinion is more radical as hopes of improving one's standard of live remains ever elusive. I am not calling for ethnic division in the country, we don't need that. What I am calling for is an honest and open discussion led by well read people of the society who are mostly bahuns, to salvage this delicate issue from the hands of few ruthless unqualified bahunists. But if you start by denying this street perception then it becomes a non-starter. You unwittingly end up strengthening the agenda of those very politicians trying to divide the country.

27. Free Willy
Folks, thanks for the healthy debate. I did look up on Canada and Switzerland to recheck my own knowledge. Still far from convinced that Nepal should be divided along ethnic lines. I agree on federation but not on ethnic lines, that is still populist measure. Gathered from an article that appeared earlier on this paper, we have only 14 district that have majority of an ethnic group, in rest 61 there is no majority. We have 82 languages, 100 castes and 10 religions. So, division on few ethnic lines as Maoists suggest would clearly oppress the right of the rest, at least relatively. If we are to look at switzerland, we should have remained so since 'Baise chaubise Rajyas' before Prithvi N Shah united. Because Swiss constitution divided the country in 1845. Therefore, such divisions now will amount to what they say in Nepali 'don't ride on top of your ceiling, seeing others ride their horses'. Anyway, this will go on and on. I hope to learn more and really see the point the Maoists are trying to make.If not I wish they leave their ego and trace back footstep and start afresh. Cheers to all the Nepal lovers...

28. Arthur
Free Willie, nobody thinks of Canada or Switzerland as "divided on ethnic lines" they are known to be "united as a federation". It would be impossible to have a united Canada if the French speakers did not have the same rights as the English speakers and did not have autonomy in the province of Quebec. There would instead be two separate countries as the people in Quebec would have refused to live under the domination of english speaking people who refused to recognize their rights by claiming it was "ethnic division". Likewise there could be no such country as Switzerland if the German speaking majority did not recognize the autonomy of the cantons that speak French, Italian and Romanesh. They would have each become part of separate countries. Today it is even more absurd to think that people can be forced to remain under governments they do not accept. Freedom of divorce strengthens marriage. Denying rights to use ones own language, by calling it "ethnic division", is exactly what produces ethnic division. Recognizing rights is what enables unity, like Canada and Switzerland.

29. jange
As Bahuns, Thakuris, Newars and Chetris and Ranas have made excluded everyone else from politics for the last xxx years, the logical thing would be exclude them from politics for the next xxx years to make things even.

30. Anuj
Happy New Year 2010 to all fellow commentators. May this new year bring new dimension in our life.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)