30 Jan-5 Feb 2015 #743

Federalism revisited

Chaitanya Mishra in setopati.com, 27 January

There is now a debate over whether the CA can pass the new constitution through a two-thirds majority. Obviously, that is not the best option. It would be much better if a new constitution is passed by consensus. If that can’t be done, there should be unanimous agreement on as many key issues as possible. But we can’t wait forever if a consensus is impossible.

The opposition alliance led by the UCPN (Maoist) reject idea of using a two-thirds majority, saying this is not a numbers game. But the question arises: why then was a majority vote written into our Interim Constitution 2007? A two-thirds majority is an adequate mandate to write a constitution, and if the opposition wins a future election it can use a two-thirds to amend any article it deems to be against people’s aspirations. It is a democratic process, and we should embrace it.

The political parties say federalism is holding up the constitution. We need to understand that federalism is meant to create a just and equal society, not for the sake of emphasising our differnces. A democratic state is always expected to ensure equality of all its citizens. The notion that a person is unequal just because he is born to a ‘low-caste’ is not acceptable in a democracy. If the state cannot immediately eliminate this inequality, it must come up with a timeframe to do it.

It is true that some castes in Nepal are underprivileged. Are they seeking federalism to eliminate this caste-based inequality? Are they demanding ethnicity-based federal states because they think we used to be different, are different, and will always be different? Then why do they not demand prior rights in their ethnicity-based federal states? Why do they not demand rights for only their people to become Chief Minister for the first two consecutive terms? If we all are fundamentally different from each other, we will never co-exist in one state and may need separate ones.

If we had looked deeper into national security, we would have gone for north-south federal units. We cannot expect our two giant neighbours to always be friends as they are now. If our federal units will have threats from any one, it will be from neighbours and north-south units would provide a degree of security.

The State Restructuring Committee suggested that federal states be created on the basis of ethnicity, language, culture, geography and history. But, ethnicity means language, culture, geography and history and if it is separated it will be regressive and undemocratic. Issues of language, culture, geography and history can be addressed in district or local level of future federal units. We should honour the rich linguistic characteristics of the Nepali society, but not divisive ethnicity.

It is true that the Hill people have suppressed the Madhesi, and the high-caste has dominated Nepal’s politics but we do not need to create federal units along ethnic lines to address these issues. If federal states are named after ethnic groups, there will only be more demands and complications.