Nepali Times
This Is It
Beware of the future


FINAL WORDS: Theatre actor and Mithila cultural activist, Ranju Jha signing her name on a campaign organised by Mithila State Struggle Committee. She was killed during a bomb blast in Janakpur on Monday along with three others while taking part in a peaceful protest.

A debate is raging in the Nepali media between supporters and opponents of ethnicity-based federalism. But instead of being a vibrant discussion on how the country should be restructured, it has turned into an ugly confrontation between those for and against.

One side is not willing to accept anything less than federalism structured along ethnic lines. An otherwise insignificant Janamukti Party stole headlines last week by openly declaring that anti-federalists would be hanged. NEFIN members threatened an armed struggle. On the other side, rigidly orthodox status quoists are needlessly antagonising indigenous groups and minorities by making paranoid ethno-centric remarks.

This has polarised the debate to such an extent that no Bahun-Chettri can critique the 14-state ethnic federalism model without being blamed for trying to "protect their privileges". Few Janajatis or Madhesis can speak about social harmony and national unity without being branded a "surrenderist" and a "traitor". The us-vs-them narrative is now so firmly established that there is no place for moderate, sane and rational voices.

Nepal's ethnic minorities have valid grievances which need to be redressed but fracturing the country into warring ethnic provinces is not the solution. If recent protests by groups demanding and denouncing states are anything to go by, we have opened up a pandora's box of regional and communal fanaticism.The Far West has been shut down for a week now by those for and opposed to a unified province. Tharus have demanded the whole Tarai as their own province and are in no mood to accept Akhanda Sudur Pashchim, and the Madhesis are against the Tharu demand. There is a mirror image of this contestation in eastern Tarai as well.

Four Mithila activists taking part in a peaceful protest in Janakpur were killed in a terrorist attack supposedly carried out by a rival Madhesi group on Monday. Muslims are on a warpath demanding a separate "non-territorial" province for their community, and frankly why shouldn't they? Every minority group fears that without a state, their rights will not be protected.

The feeble political leadership is swayed by those within their parties who shout the loudest. What the future holds is much worse than a caste confrontation between Bahun-Chettris and Janajatis, Pahadis vs Madhesis. We are now heading towards a full-fledged multi-ethnic strife. How exactly do the leaders hope to resolve disputes between the overlapping territorial claims of Newa Pradesh and Tamsaling, Limbuwan and Khumbuwan, Tamuwan and Magarat, and balance the demands for one Madhes against one Tharuhat? These are complex issues and the parties are faced with a fait accompli on a three-week deadline. Forming a new government before May 27 was part of a package deal on power. The future of the country is too important to be consigned to give-and-take between short-term politicians.

We have seen from Sri Lanka, Bosnia and former Czechoslovakia how political accommodation can lead to ethno-separatism and multi-pronged ethnic wars. It is easy to dismiss anyone who talks about a greater national identity as being an elitist, a follower of "Mahendra Path", or a royalist. But ethnic politics is a dead ideology and has been long discarded. How many lives should be lost before we finally accept that there is an easier way to mainstream marginalised communities and ensure greater representation?

Such extremism is the work of a few loudmouth hotheads and goes against popular sentiment. The Himalmedia Poll last year showed that even among Madhesis and ethnic communities, there is little support for ethnicity-based federalism. This year's poll, the results of which will be released next week confirm this. The loudest advocates of ethnic states in Nepal are intellectuals of the elite class who suffer from a guilt complex. They want to wash away their shame with the slogan of ethnic federalism but have forgotten to recognise that it is possible for all communities in Nepal to thrive, prosper, celebrate their uniqueness and enjoy equal rights and opportunities without setting up artificial borders. Experts and policy makers would have done the country a great service if they had worked to reinforce this message instead of fanning the flames of ethnic discord.

Last week after completing the Great Himalayan Trail trek across Nepal, Apa Sherpa and his team reaffirmed to journalists what many Nepalis already knew. That despite differences, there is a great deal of acceptance and goodwill among people of different communities. As Saurav Dhakal poignantly noted: "The mountain people are not warm until the plain people make quilts for them." Any political arrangement that overlooks this heterogeneous harmony and interdependence among Nepalis will lead us to tragedy.

1. Leviathan
Terrific, sensible piece.

2. who cares
i support your views but still:

i dont think its about intellectuals (from ethnic) or simple minded. it is all between those who are paid and those who are not paid by white trash and trash from south. 

just look into this: those white trash have been telling ethnic community that they are backward cause they have been pushed back......... and these same trash visit karnali (where mostly are bahun, chettery) and tell them they are backward cause their region is neglected, they dont talk about ethnicity there. 

is their only agenda ethnic violence?

and most of the individuals they have hired as their agents are somewhat educated, mostly younger- 20s to 40s who want to get rich soon, easy money, easily corruptible, ill tempered, dumb....

3. Mr. Poudel
It's kind of a catch22 situation.

If Nepal is not carved out along ethnic lines, there is imminent danger of civil unrest (violent but possibly short-lived). If Nepal is divided along ethnic lines, there is a greater danger of a prolonged civil unrest. 

Divide and Rule...

4. Bhumika Ghimire
Overall message of the column is good, we have to be united and stand up against mindless vitriol and divisive politics. But I do find this assertion, "We have seen from Sri Lanka, Bosnia and former Czechoslovakia how political accommodation can lead to ethno-separatism and multi-pronged ethnic wars." hard to accept.

Rigid political structures suffocate democracy. Flexibility and accommodation, without compromising on corner stones of the country is still the best way forward.

5. mohan baidhya
#4 to me the author seems to be suggesting that disregard to principles, values and long-term problems in exchange for short-term convenience can be harmful. acceptance of dissident views is how democracy should be, but blanket inclusion of every voice will derail the process in the long run. after all, there has to be something called procedure, right? complex issues ask for serious debates and thought. accommodating everything for the sake appearing to be agreeing is of course dangerous. take for example, the case of "right to self-determination."

6. KiranL
Sri Lanka's tragedy was that the majority community felt it was a minority among the Tamils of south India and had a seige mentality which they expressed through political exclusion, until grievances grew so much that it erupted into civil war. Bosnia was the result of the collape of a monolithic communist superstructure that had kept ethno-religious aspirations suppressed instead of redressed. Czechoslovakia was the case of a nation state made up of two nationalities that decided to bifurcate peacefully to accommodate short-term political rifts during a messy post-communist transition. All three were preventable if leaders had shown statesmanship and a long-term vision, traits lacking sorely in Nepal's leaders today. Thank you Rubeena Mahato for bringing up these examples as lessons, but I doubt if anyone is going to learn them in Kathmandu in the next two weeks.

7. ushaft
I like the point about the guilt complex. I have observed that the section of BCN (bahun-chhetri-newar) people who enjoyed the cream in the past is also the one with the loudest voice in these regards. Not only BCNs, but also some cream-eaters from other sections: eg Janajatis and Madhesis.

Why else would Mahendra Lawoti find it hard to compose an article without starting every sentence with "Bahun Chhetri"? Don't forget that his father was involved in one of the biggest corruption scams in the post-1990 period and also enjoyed power during the Panchayat. Why else would some Madheshi Bahuns feel itchy all of a sudden when they are the ones with the highest human development index in this country? Why else would some new-generation members of Thapas, Pandeys and other purohits/kaaji saheb families feel so urgent to blame every wrong on the undefined "bahun-chhetri elites who ruled this country for this-and-this years"? Who are they pointing fingers at?

True: some ethnicity have had less share of the cream than others. But by and large, it was enjoyed by a lot of people from different ethnicities. Some in the form of business monopolies, some in the form of bureaucratic/governmental positions, some in the form of monopoly in the military, some in the form of land-ownership-monopoly and education.

If some Bahun-Chettri participates in the debate of federalism, why does he have to be called "hegemonist khas-ruler"? Maybe he does not suffer from the guilt of having looted this country. Even newars like Bihari Krishna Shrestha, Madheshi like Jainendra Jeevan and Janajati like Bhim Bahadur Tamang and Narayan Man Bijjuchhe are speaking out against such madness. Maybe he is simply interested in safeguarding his rights because he doesn't feel the need to wash his hands in the federalism-Ganga?

8. KiranL

In my comment above, #6, the second line shoould read "which they expressed through political exclusion" and not "inclusion". Sorry.


9. Bipin lamichane
Nepali times has clearly become a propaganda machine for bahuns. The op eds consistently support non ethnic based federalism. How about some balanced reporting for a change? Where has the ideals of journalism disappeared? Have the Dixits sold their soul to the devil?

10. Nameless but honest

#9 "Have the Dixits sold their soul to the devil?"

Ans. Long time ago, you didn't know? Devil named India.

11. Nick

Fedralism - great, ethnic fedralism - disaster.

There is so much truth in this article.

Nepal is being forced down the wrong road by ill thought out ideology that makes sense on one level but that creates far greater problems.

It's like watching a car crash.

12. surbir
I agree with your view, we have grown up with all the ethnic with veriety of culture and custum accepted and acknowleged even enjoyed together, unified us with heart to heart and soul to soul. But now this seperation and conflict for identity make hole our unity. We all have to fight for the identity of being Nepali in this world.

13. FunkyMonkey
Author wrote: "The us-vs-them narrative is now so firmly established that there is no place for moderate, sane and rational voices"

And then we have #9.

If you have any intelligent thing to add to the discussion and present your case for ethnic-federalism, please do so. Calling the op-eds biased because they differ with your views is retarded.

14. Anonymous
Great article!!!

15. Bipin
1. Unless you are ignorant like Ms Mahato here, the only section of the Nepalese community that are dead against ethnic/identity based Federalism are the Bahuns. That itself speaks volumes if think a little. 

2. Bahuns pretty much control more than 90% of the media in Nepal which are now filled with opinions only on non ethnic based Federalism and yet they cry foul and say that supporters of ethnic based Federalism are drowning the conversation 

3. Seriously we should stop mixing Chettries with Bahuns. Those poor souls are forever being used and abused by Bahuns ever since they got entangled in "janai"

16. Arun Chaudhary
this is 21st century,and you all Nepalese are barbaric backwards 100 years  from other part of the world,i think Tharu and Madeshi should united,and fight with corrupt goverment and other ethenic group,who think they are superior than Tharus.LET'S fight and make way for better life and equal opportunities for THARU.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)