Nepali Times
Here And There
Keep it together


Among the dire warnings of doom bandied about by those afraid of Nepal's current ferment is that the nation will "break up" or will be "taken over" by India.

One of the things we know for sure it is that Nepal is here to stay. There will be no break up, so shattering into Janajatistan or Madhesia. We can also predict with absolute certainty that India is not going to take over. Ever. It won't happen.

Let's consider the break-up canard first. It's presented as a fear, or a criticism, by those who object to the demands of excluded groups for political autonomy. People in the tarai or Kathmandu Valley or the far west can't have a province or state with its own regional government because that will lead to the entire nation falling apart into ethnic and geographic units.

This is patent nonsense, in defiance of history, geography, and reality. Modern nation-states don't just disappear or break-up because of internal crises. Yugoslavia never made sense and its tragic demise was hugely mishandled by the international community. Iraq may shatter because of the sectarian madness unleashed by the botched US-led invasion but equally, it may not. The map of Africa is dotted with post-colonial concoctions that make no political or ethnic sense, and are frequently riven by strife and imbalances of power, yet borders are not redrawn and nation-states stagger on.

Czechoslovakia broke into two ethnically-based nations after the collapse of Soviet communism in the final years of the 20th century. But its people always maintained that theirs was an uneasy union, forced upon them by external forces and never a situation worth defending against aggression or foreign pressure.

Nepal is not some fragile ornament left to a squabbling family by a departing colonial power. It is a nation that has existed for nearly three centuries-as long as or longer than many of the world's leading countries today.

Devolution of power and federalism is far more likely to strengthen the bonds of nationhood. Federal units like states or provinces provide stability by giving people the means to address local grievances quickly through the ballot box and regional political process. Political talent is developed by the need to balance local demands and build consensus on complex issues. States compete with each other for investment, inward migration and attention from the national capital.

There are always challenges and grievances that never disappear. In fact, they multiply when the system opens up and provides opportunities for redressal.

That's the business of politics: governing and balancing. It's about more than distributing the fruits of power and enjoying the accompanying privileges. Nepal needs to be federal and the sooner the better.

As for an Indian takeover, that needs to be banished as a notion forever. India does not covet neighbouring countries as real estate, nor does it measure itself as a global player by its prowess as a colonising power. On the contrary, India takes a modern view of nationhood. New Delhi gets its influence through its booming economy, the Indian diaspora and by playing the international diplomatic game.

Multilateral institutions and trade earn you global influence, not gunboats. That's not to say that India doesn't want influence over its neighbours. Of course it does. All countries have national interests that are pushed in different ways.

Soft power-diplomacy, culture, business-is far and away the most effective of these and that's India's game in the 21st century. Nepal's task is to identify its own interests, build a consensus and use the same methods to advance the national cause.

There will be no takeovers or break-ups as this process of national redefinition goes on. Pitfalls lurk everywhere but none are fatal, so long as good will and common sense prevail. The Nepali people possess both in spades.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)