Nepali Times Asian Paints
Identity crisis

All signs point to the ethnic demarcation debate getting even more heated and unpredictable in the months before 28 May.

When the cabinet endorsed a new crop of Nepali ambassadors recently, the good news was that many of them were career diplomats. The bad news: most were from traditionally privileged caste groups. Even more worryingly, no one really thought there was anything wrong with that until a parliamentary committee raised the issue.

Every day we see other potent reminders of just how exclusionary the Nepali state and society remains. A list of senior civil servants, politicians at the village and district level, and movers and shakers within each of the big parties continue to be dominated by the traditionally privileged caste groups.

The Constituent Assembly may be the most inclusive legislature in Nepal's history, but just look at who is calling the shots there. Who are the ones who are quarrelling or doing the most talking? Not too many women or members from marginalised communities getting up to speak on the floor of the House. Even on Facebook, where the number of Nepalis with accounts has now crossed 1.1 million, it is the men and the 'high' castes who dominate.

This is natural, and the result of some sections of society having better access to education and opportunities than others in the past. It will take time to change, and will change only if the skewed balance of social justice in Nepal is redressed, there is a more equitable distribution of education, and prospects for progress are equalised. Past exclusion has to be addressed with a systematic change in state policy and an accelerated mechanism to allow the traditionally disadvantaged to catch up through affirmative action.

But in trying to address these imbalances, there are the twin dangers of: a) adopting too simplistic an approach to who constitutes the 'disadvantaged', and b) replacing one form of exclusion with another. A supposedly 'high' caste person living in Bajhang, for instance, is more historically marginalised and economically disadvantaged than a person from an 'indigenous' community in Kaski or Khumbu. The other trap is to try to correct past wrongs with the future blunder of identity politics and ethno-territorial fragmentation.

This is fraught with consequences because it is not just going to be about the hill-plains divide, not even about reducing the dominance of the caste elite, but multiple cleavages among hill ethnicities. It is sad, but not surprising, that the State Restructuring Committee's disputed report is being greeted by protests from janjati and Tarai-based communities who feel excluded. We are sure to see increasingly rancorous disputes about the territorial boundaries of future ethnically-demarcated provinces.

This is what happens when you set up a commission with political appointees, most of whom are made up of NGO founders accountable to no one else but their donors. The absurdities of a 'Narayani' province, a non-territorial 'Dalit' province, and arbitrary boundary-setting show sloppy gerrymandering that are going to create huge problems in the future.

Of Nepal's nearly 4,000 VDCs, not a single one is mono-ethnic. No single ethnic group is numerically dominant in any of the proposed future federal provinces, even in the ones that are named after those dominant there. Since the last census, Nepalis have become even more mobile, living cheek to jowl with each other. Migration, urbanisation and inter-ethnic marriages are integrating Nepal like never before. Some mountain districts have lost up to one-third of their original population.

It could be potentially catastrophic to decide on these complex matters at a time of such political volatility as now. We can't trust such sensitive provisions in the new constitution with potentially far-reaching, long-term consequences on populist leaders who have exhibited a short-sighted and single-minded obsession with power and greed. A new constitution can't be written to suit the personal ambition of one man, or to accommodate the competing claims of those who define themselves through identity politics. Future state structure is too important to be left to politicians.

The experience of other countries that have tried to accommodate identity aspirations through ethno-federalist structures has not been a happy one. Nepal's interim constitution gave us the fait accompli of a federal state, we may therefore have to work within that parameter to make such a structure least harmful to this country.

It may be prudent to remind ourselves why we want to recraft the political order in the first place: for true devolution and self-governance at the grassroots. We are not re-inventing the wheel here, political decentralisation through local elections was a working model in the 1990s, we just need to tweak it so that it is more representative and addresses the genuine concerns of those left out of political decision-making in the past.

All signs point to the ethnic demarcation debate getting even more heated and unpredictable in the months before 28 May. It would be best to put state structure in deep freeze and tackle it when the politics becomes more stable.

Whatever we do, the bottom line should be the unity of the Nepali state. Fortunately still, there is much more holding us together than tearing us apart.

Read also:
Asking the right questions, ANURAG ACHARYA
Exclusive enclaves cannot make an inclusive state

1. who cares
looks like fire will start from chitwan. 

2. Bhairav Nepal
The Nepali leadership knows only how to quarrel among each other and the result is Nepal and Nepali populace end up being the losers. Why is no one raising the issue of writing the Constitution.  This is the most important task at hand. BUT, since the senile and corrupt leaders of N C, UML and Maoist, who by the way are servile to India, in order to please their master in Delhi, cannot accomplish anything. INDIA is the biggest problem for Nepal. INDIA has always been a problem in Nepal's devlopement. We Nepalis deserve this sorry state of affairs because we cannot STAND up to the Indians, we Nepalis deserve this because we have not produced a real leader for Nepal. We, Nepalis need to revolt against the Indian high handness and intrusion, we Nepalis need to revolt against the NC, UML and the Maoist. We Nepalis need vigilante justice and need to take matters in our own hands. Enough bull shit.

3. Kris Bhatta
 Narayani looks like a Squid or a Jellyfish .The evil brains in the SRC must be exposed . The people of Nepal have aright to know who are the flowers and who are the weeds?
The worst example of  crystal clear gerrymandering by the racist ,donor fed (bhate in Nepali) communal elements  in the guise of   activists.

4. Danny


Kraken isa sea-monster octopus found in the Noway sea-coast.
 Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote a poem on its demise. It is a polyp.
 Iam waiting for its demise.
 Readers can search for this  Monster found in Norway.

5. Rabi

 The key to developing a community and the country is to ensure that people have the financial means to sustain themselves,and  have  access to education .A single good high-school  teacher potentially can be more beneficial for a community than a hundred ministers,if he can light the spark of learning in his students.A single industry or factory that can provide thousands of jobs to the local people is preferable to having a hundred bureaucrats in Kathmandu.

 Having ministers and powerful politicians in Kathmandu  from the same ethnicity has not done a hoot for the Brahmins and Chettris of Bajhang and the same is true for other communities like the ordinary Madhesis  and others. But having the means for economic wherewithal  and a  good education  can make all the difference for the people.

Instead of counting the numbers of ministers being nominated in Kathmandu,it would be more worthwhile to count how many good schools and teachers are there in the districts?And  to count how many jobs can be created in the districts for the people to sustain themselves so as to prevent the thousands leaving the country everyday to look for jobs in other countries? 

When was the last time the politicians have debated these questions in the CA or in ministerial meetings?This article just goes to show how shallow the debate among the politicians in Kathmandu has become,that has nothing to do with the day to day problems faced by the people of the country.What the country needs is visionary and capable leaders irrelevant of ethnicity, that can put interests of the people and the country first.

6. K.K. Sharma
United Nepal was a gift of Goraknath to the Shahs for only 11 th generation. 

That being over, Nepal as we had known, does not have to remain as such. In fact, it would be a surprise if it does remain so.

Federating this country, was agreed upon in the Delhi Agreement of 2005. What is the point of making an issue of this only after 6 years, except to show that those who are raving about this only now, have very slow brains.

7. Vox populi
Will you please publish a large  size map of Nepal now showing , so that all the details are readable? Please do that as a centre-fold.

8. Prakash C Joshi

Well said......''Future federal structure is too important to left to politicians''.As it has become our fait accompli,we must find out a way of least damage.In my opinion if left to 'elected districts asaemblies' (elections should be held asap for this) to sort out the issue by themselves.Recent events in Chitwan and protest in FW against SRC proposal show the best apporach is to leave the decision to carve out  different states to the district people themselves. As federalism is a process of  coming to-gether and not going apart,it is the people of 75 districts who should decide how they want to form the states of their liking..


9. Bhumi Limbu
Everyone is 50% right and 50% wrong. I know its meaningless to tell anyone here what is right or wrong. Whatever that can bear fruit for the marginalized populace and future of the country will be good. World around us has changed so much and we act as if we know nothing. We throw our waste on the street and expect others to clean it. We are embarrassed to clean our gutters and if we do clean it, we deposit it in our neighbors premises.That is what today's civilized educated we Neaplis are.This is witnessed everyday in our lives. We have stopped caring. We only talk behind. We only have words but no action. Corruption is rife, high handedness is everywhere. Like KK Sharma said, we are wasting our time by arguing here. Nobody listens to general public in Nepal. Only the muscle and barrel is heard.

10. Daniel Gajaraj
The best solution for the Gandaki -Narayani region is to amalgamate   Tamuwan and Magarat into one unit. Then add Western part of Narayani into it.
 This will do good to the Gurungs , Magars and Bahun-Chhetris alsoas they are mixed as well as they are concentrated into.their units.. Magars are concentrated in two distnct blocks; in between are Bahun- Chhetris. ( see Map). Kaski is Bahun - Chhetri majority district and Pokhara is in it; it has to be  continuous with Syangja, Parbat ,Gulmi together. .So Gorkha- Nawalparasi west should be incorporated in this lans mass. This will be economically robust region and can retain its indivisible character.

The region East of this Gorkha- Nawalparari Linethen gas to be incorporated to the Tamsaling proposed area, which is a natural one. It creates also another robust economic strategic region; all for the best.
 Kathmandu Valley is the Jewel in the Crown of Nepal and as such it should be declared a federal District; as Washington D C, Canberra or Ottawa 
The odd looking creature that is spreading its tentacles to go. IT HAS NO RIGHT OF EXISTENCE It is the brain child of gerrymanders with bad taste and intentions. Please note it for posterity's sake also.

11. DG
                                                                                                                                                           Preamble of our constitution must not miss to mention:
Fraternity or brotherhood, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.
Despite  of the racial,linguistic,religious and others diversities of many sorts.,we are the sons/daughters of mother Nepal , Nepali First..with  Common citizenship.

Dignity of the Individual is also of supreme importance.
Common brotherhood is essential in a pluralistic and heterogenous society.Without unity ,we cannot develop economically.
It is thus the duty of every citizen to uphold and protect  the sovereignty, unity and integrity  of Nepal ;and also promote harmony and brotherhood.


12. Rita Shrestha
Thank you for pointing out the negligent number of women speaking on the floor of the House or having discussions on facebook. Even on NT's website I am always disappointed to see the complete lack of female participation. It's always the boys doing the big important talk. But neither the media nor the leaders seem to care that a large portion of the population is completely silent on matters of national interest. Perhaps it's not such a bad idea to have a women's province or "Stristan" like the Ass called it.

13. jange

12. Rita Shrestha

Is anyone preventing women CA members from speaking? If they have particiapted infrequently or chosen not to participate then it is because they have chosen not to participate. What more do you want? Force them to speak?

14. hange
Very well-written piece.  At this rate, we should simply stick with our fourteen anchals in our "federation".  We have more urgent matters to attend to: job creation, law & order, infrastructure development, and education among many many others.

15. Anon

The end of all this discussing and debating will be arriving at the conclusion that the monarchy arrived at long ago - 'Nepal is a garden of many castes and ethnicities' - we are Nepali first, then other ethnicity/caste. Therefore, best division is geographical one - 5 development regions or similar.

Monarchy never really was against egalitarianism. It's the politicians who made it seem like it was, mainly the Maoists, and mainly beause there was no other way they could grab power. The so-called 'intelligentsia' followed suit. Ethnicity is the last recourse of the scoundrel (read Prachanda, Baburam and their followers). 

All that these 'New Nepal' walas are doing is destroying the sacrifice and hardwork with which Nepal was created in the first place and taking us back to pre-Prithvi Narayan Shah times. New Nepal really = No Nepal. Enough of this crap. As someone pointed out above, all those waking up to the problems of ethnicity-based Nepal are nothing but "slow brains", including the editors of this paper.

Mahendra understood much better in 1950s what the best structure for Nepal would be. The best 're-structuring' of Nepal will be to recognize that!

16. Shrij
Just look to Rwanda ... What ethnic gerrymandering can lead to! 

17. Vikash Lama
Our identity is Nepali, other than this is fraud. Some crazy people want extra power for being tribal folk, but they forgot that they are Mongols not Nepali.

18. Sharada Sharma
It saddens me to see that the country is being carved up along ethnic boundaries, disjointing people and creating a mistrust amongst all others. That was the way India and Pakistan were separated and let us not follow their footpaths, see where it has gotten them.

I belong to the so-called "brahmins" of nepal but I never was allotted special privileges, nor am I being given special rights. There are plenty of my so called "janjati" friends who have hitched the "caste-ism" bandwagon while they were more privileged than me while growing up. They fare a lot better than most of my bahun-chhetri friends, and still they lament that they are the under-privileged! They have done nothing but seed hatred and distrust and rouge the common man into a frenzy that would have been better channeled to education and human resource development.

Let us not say this region belongs to e.g. "kirats" and thereby by virtue of labeling a region belonging to subjugate others being foreign and "second class" citizens of that region. I fear greater calamities will befall us once the demarcation along castes and religion is implemented.

19. Sharma
The Maoists are to blame for the destruction of Nepal. Federalism on Enthinicity will ruin Nepal and will be worst than the fighting in Afganistan/Pakistan.

Lord Pasupatinath please save Nepal from the clutches of Baburam and Prachandra who are useless Brahmins!

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)