Nepali Times
Guest Column
Together we stand


This week saw the release of Chimpanzee, a fascinating documentary about the life of a three-year-old chimp named Oscar which revealed how emotionally similar human and primate behaviour can be. The chimps in the Disney film understood the meaning of cooperation, the value of their diverse resource base, and remarkably, they also had a sense of empathy towards each other.

They built tools to harvest food, and passed on this knowledge to the younger generation. A healthy eco-system thrives on this principle of cooperation and biological diversity. This is how a community becomes resilient and builds coping capacity. The chimpanzee community knew how to make rational decisions not only to survive, but to thrive.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of higher primates, especially in present-day Nepal where political leaders show a lack of enlightened self-interest that comes from cooperation. Chimps evolved to favour genes that promoted cooperation because the ones who worked together survived better than those who behaved selfishly.

The federal structure models promoted by the three main parties show how short-sighted and narrow-minded Nepal's political leadership continues to be. The NC's seven state model, the UML's seven or 12 state model (they have left it undetermined in classic flip-flop style) and the Maoists' ten-state model are all outcomes of closed door meetings. The past three years of consultations, suggestions from public hearings, and the advice of experts have all been ignored.

None of the three proposals take into account the emerging regional economic and geopolitical realities and the comparative advantages of our landscape, people, and resources. The separation of the Tarai from its natural watershed is unwise and counterproductive for the Madhesis themselves.

The Tarai just has one resource base: agriculture, whereas the hills and mountains have diverse cash crops, tourism, hydropower and water. The hills and plains also suffer from soil erosion and flooding, and if these two regions are together they will improve their bargaining position vis-ŗ-vis the downstream Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The clamour for identity is a result of the historical marginalisation of Nepal's diverse ethnicities, but in addressing this grievance the proponents of ethnicity-based federalism are proposing to carve up the country into entities that will be economically unsustainable and lay the seeds for long-term inter-ethnic discord.

Nepal's multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-ethnic mosaic is overlapped to such an extent that it is impossible to draw boundaries. If boundaries must be carved, they must reflect Nepal's bio-ecological watershed of the four main rivers as the basis of decentralisation.

When the lowest bargaining position seems to be the seven-state model, it may be absurd to push for a four-state model, but that is the only model that will actually satisfy everyone. And such an economic cooperative model is the only one that will be viable.

This proposal encompasses ethnic sentiment as well as our need for economic integration by incorporating diverse resource bases and their comparative advantages by demarcating Karnali, Gandaki, Koshi, and Bagmati as the capitals of Kathmandu Valley. Three or so ethnic provinces could be formed within each of these states. A complete separation of the Tarai strip from the hills in forming a stand-along province will have detrimental effects on the people of Tarai in the long run.

It makes very little sense to divide our resource base while the rest of the world is moving towards forming economic communities. The Tarai is already densely populated and has reached the limits of its agricultural and natural resources. In 20 years, with no other resource to harness, this strip of land will likely turn into a spatial poverty trap. A stand-alone hilly region, on the other hand, will struggle with food deficits. Inhabitants of the hills are migrating out in record numbers to the Tarai plains and abroad. In the short run, the hilly regions will continue to suffer. Add to that the claims about river systems and flooding problems, and we are looking at a protracted water conflict and ethnic disharmony.

An ecologically balanced larger Karnali state, on the other hand, can be a powerhouse in producing protein through animal husbandry, whereas its Tarai section can still be a bread basket. The potential of this hill-plain, considering its combined cash crops (coffee, olives, herbs, spices, and vegetables) is unlimited.

The same argument applies to the other two Tarai provinces (Lumbini sub-province within the larger Gandaki state, and Janakipur or Mithila province in the Koshi state). Dividing the Tarai into three sub-provinces and making each of them a part of the larger state entity is not the end of the world. An economic unit from the mountains down to the plains will be a force to reckon with. A Koshi state will have stronger bargaining power than a strip of Tarai province.

A governance unit comprising the three ecological regions need not be seen as anti-Pahad or anti-Madhes. Collectively, we can all be winners in the long-run, as Oscar the chimp instinctively came to learn.

Alok K Bohara, PhD is a professor at the University of New Mexico in the United States

Also by the author in Nepali Times:
Equal opportunity poverty, # 338

Cooperative federalism, #407

Win-win-win, # 515

: Trailer of Chimpanzee

1. sital
NC, UML, and CPN(M) have no clue what is stored in their versions of the ethno-federal Nepal.  It will neither advance any economic progress nor will it satisfy the ego of the ethno-tribal leaders.  Bombs exploding in Janakpur (by some Madhesi Morcha), and the shutting down of the far Western region are just the preview of our new Nepal.  Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true..  Brace for a roller coaster ride...

2. prakash
The leaders have no respect from the people. This is due to greed and hoarding of ill gotten wealth by netas of Nepal. Also trying to fix something that was not broken, the politicans want to divide the country for their petty and personal gains. Basatrds.  More bombs will explode, more people will die. Nepal is going downhill and fast. May 27th is such a long long time,  a lot will happen in between. You can take that to the bank.   

3. ramesh

Its more like divided we fall !  Or is it my way or the highway ! Nepal as a Nation and Nepalis as people are losing the battle of egos between the Communist and others, whoever they may be. Why explode a bomb in Janakpur and drench your hands in innocent blood. Like the Syrian dicators, did the Maoist themselves spill this blood of poor Nepalis. Is Prachanda so scared and backed in the corner from his own Maoist that he will go to any length to hang on to power. How can you trust a man that betrays his own party and changes spots. Division will destroy Nepal, so let sane minds prevail and unite the people and the country. Just learn to live in peace. Lets make love and not war. 

4. Bishesh
United we stand divided we fall , supporting your point about federalism nowadays in each and every context sustainability came first so in the case of  separating provinces all political parties should know either the provinces is economically viable, socially acceptable or environment friendly or not.  

5. Pramod
Any federal model that does not take into account the natural ecological landscape will be a failure. Ethnicity sentiment is fine, but it will not feed you, nor will it help you excel in technological advancement, export competitiveness (like what the author says --cash crop, agro-industries).  Ethnicity will clearly not tell you how to harness huge water resources.  A compromise may be feasible as the author has suggested...  Knowing Nepal, who is listening?  No one will be happy and there will be more bombs and bandhas...  Even Pashupatinath cannot save Nepal.

6. Scott MacLennan
well said sir. 

7. mahesh

Communist are the problems for Nepal.  Communist are known to divide and kill or loot. Communist cannot be trusted at all.  And look at the Nepali leaders, most of them are communist. There is deficit of trust in the leaders and govt. of Nepal. There is deficit in the economy of Nepal. There is defecit in visionary learders. So, when you combine communists with defecit, you get nothing, zero, nada. Where is the silver lining in Nepal's future. Brace yourself for more violence and senseless attacks leading upto 27th of May. There is no unity but only division in Nepal. Only Pashupati can save us.  


8. Abhinav
But how do we get people on-board? Ethnic-federalism seems to be what we are going to have to live with for now. Hopefully as more people get educated and people understand the logic of econmically viable models our boundries will also evolve.

9. Sonam Gurung
All this talk about federal structure models is you know, bull crap. The corrupted politicians that are miserables failures have no mandate to lead the people. The first item of order is Economy...let people have jobs and let businesses thrive... Nepal never moves ahead because its always mired in dirty and disguting politicis, a battle of egos. Provide the freaking basic needs of water, electricity, cooking gas, free education, law and order, screw this federal structure. The Bahuns are fighting for the chair of the PM. That is what they know and do. Just look at the stat. Madhav Nepal a Bahun, a failed PM, Dahal a Bahun, forced to resign PM, Khanal a Bahun, good for nothing PM, Bhattarai a Bahun, on the verge of no confidence and Poudel a Bahun, who wants the Chair of the PM next. I am sorry to say this, but Bahuns are destroying this country.   

10. Thomas
I feel like a bystander watching a train speed toward a washed-out bridge, wishing there was something I could do to stop the impending disaster, but knowing the train wreck is going to happen.

11. GG
'One can only pray for a cow that is already in a precipice but you can't shoulder it'.

12. sudha
Yes Tom, I also feel like being a passenger in a driverless bus, which is heading  down hill on a highway!

13. kale kisne
HOGWASH! the very idea is a product of a fly-brain. while the rest of the world are creating and joining economic blocks, beyoung nationalism, we are hoping to prosper by breaking-up the a already fragile state unable to stand on its own feet. sad, but it's only the begging bowl that'll get bigger and numerous.

14. Simms
I have never seen anything like what the current political leaders are doing in Nepal --bargaining over the number of provinces to create federalism completely outside the purview of the experts and constitutional scholars. 

In many countries, this is known as gerrymandering where political leaders haggle over geographic space to maximize their vote banks.  I am surprised that the people of Nepal are allowing such political bargains at the cost of everything else.

Federalism  once done, cannot be undone, and you will be stuck with it for many many decades.  Federalism debate in Nepal sounds very hallow, and you are better off postponing for a couple of years. 

15. Sitaram Dahal
Together we used to stand till GPK and the so called "civil society" decided obliging indian demands to join hands with the Maoists. That was the shortest possible way to bounce back to the power for GPK and remain in India's good book for the "civil society" crooks. Preaching now is of zero value. Can of worms are out. Those making demands for ethnic federalism are power hungry opportunist like the ones that decided to join hands with the Maoists rather than going for a long-haul peaceful struggle. Any or all suggestion regarding viable models will only be heard once ethnic federalism fails. By then the national geography might have changed. In life, actions have consequences, don't they?

16. BB

Spot on #15. One breed of opportunists (GPK and "civil society") have bred another litter of worse opportunists (ethinicists). Both are exploited by foreign power (India) to the detriment of the larger Nepali populace.

'Bhai fute gawar lutey'!

The split between the bhais has been brought about through these short-sighted opportunists. The glue that helped to keep us together, the monarchy, was conspired against and removed through these greedy and selfish opportunists.

I say no need for new constitution. Revive the 1990 Constitution and bring back the Monarchy!

17. wtf
#15 and#16,I couldn't agree more. Many people don't realize that Monarchy was an institution which was the 'glue' as mentioned by you, and also a force which balanced the ying yang of two giant neighbours around Nepal.

18. Vijaya
I have never see such a level of incompetence among the Nepali leaders.  Mistake #1: 11 or 14 ethno- tribal provinces in a country with 100 ethnicity.  No matter what they pass, 30/40 % Bahun and Chettris and perhaps 15/20% Dalitswill not sit quietly.  It is war, basically. Mistake #2:  Name to be determined later...  Are they on drug or something?  You are openly asking them to go to war over it on their own.  

Can someone put some senses to these idiot leaders?  What are they thinking?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)