25 Sep - 1 Oct 2015 #777

The Great National Unraveling (GNU)

Foreign Hand
SHYAM GUPTA


In the same spirit as the politics that inspires it, the Collateral Damage series follows no logic or order of importance. Except now, when it’s impossible to ignore the Pointless War’s single most toxic consequence as it threatens to spins out of control.

Ethnic Federalism as a concept is a Maoist creation, used to whip up Janajati and Madhesi communities to fight the Maoist war. The on-going riots, bandas and murders in the Tarai are a direct result of this misguided idea, so fraught with danger it’s since been abandoned by most everyone, including its creators. This is the war’s nastiest hangover, from a potion so poisonous and divisive it may haunt the country for years to come.

In late January 2007 your correspondent filed Federalism or Death, subtitled ‘If you hated the war you’ll despise the justification’. Many suspected this newly trumpeted Federalist policy was merely a lame excuse for 10 years of carnage, a distraction from the wars’ real purpose of seizing power and getting rich. Was it really necessary to tear a democratic country apart just to establish a federal system of governance?

The Hand’s next column in early February 2007 was called GNU (Great National Unraveling), published immediately after Madhes blew up the first time. The fact much of that column could be re-printed verbatim today is troubling, made worse by the same old-face politicians being just as surprised by the recent violence, and equally inept at managing it, as they were then.

Throughout the conflict the Maoist leadership found it easy to convince Janajatis/Madhesis to rebel against a distant government that had always excluded them from power. Kathmandu’s neglect of the districts is legendary, and the Maoists cynically used divide and rule tactics to further their cause. Typically, it was these same poor villagers who suffered most, being on the frontline of every action and used as fodder in human wave attacks.

That was an early sign the Janajatis/Madhesis were being manipulated by those with an agenda, further confirmed when the Maoists dropped the cause once it no longer served their purpose. The festering resentment from these promises, made to be broken, has now become a serious liability for the entire country.

Much like communism, ethnic-based federalism is a great idea on paper. The central government’s abysmal record alone suggests devolving power to the districts can’t be much worse than what we already have. Despite the distressing detail it adds more layers of government and opportunities for corruption, empowering local ethnic groups to run their own affairs makes eminent sense, promoting a more inclusive state through wider participation.

This argument begins to break down when looking at the ethnic composition of the Maoist proposed states. The major community that the state is named after usually comprises only 20 to 30 per cent of the total, a sign that Nepal has become remarkably well integrated. Redrawing the map around historic homelands of the major ethnic groups is sure to create problems where none existed before, as the new set-up favours the dominant community at the expense of others.

Arguments over state boundaries and who gets what can easily escalate out of control, as we see from the rising death toll in the Tarai. Despite the cool names dreamt up by the Politburo for these mythical states (the Hand’s fave: Tamasaling, which sounds like the cocktail I could use right about now) anything that increases the very real danger of regional ethnic cleansing is a terrible mistake. In a land already over-run by demons, God forbid this particular rachesse ever emerges from the shadows.

That’s where Nepal finds itself now, at the mercy of opportunists (renegade Madhesi and Tharu ‘leaders’ stoking communal fever in the Tarai) who use the broken promises made by charlatans (Maoist luminaries under full VIP security in Kathmandu) to incite racial hatred for their own purposes, just like they were taught by their gang-bosses during the war.

If there was any doubt about spin-off effects, NHRC has confirmed Maoist ex-combatants were responsible for the brutal murders of police in Tikapur and elsewhere recently. If you find yourself wondering how these hapless cops could be murdered so heartlessly, ask the party that trained the perpetrators.

The post-earthquake, rushed-through constitution has obviously alienated the Madhesi and Tharu communities, among others, who feel cheated by promises that should never have been made. Their MP’s boycott of the final ratification bodes ill for the future, turning the whole exercise into a potential cause of more strife. That said, the sight of most MP’s raising their hand in long overdue agreement was a thrill, and whatever was ratified can always be amended.

At the risk of sounding like a rose-tinted eyeglass-wearing Orientalist, it must be mentioned one of this country’s true claims to fame has always been the remarkable harmony displayed between the many castes, communities and languages. Despite deeply ingrained prejudices towards everyone on the periphery, incidents of racial hatred were very rare indeed.

Inter-caste marriage is gradually becoming less un-acceptable and the younger generation isn’t much interested in antiquated concepts of caste and ethnicity. These incremental achievements towards an inclusive, pluralist Nepal, the supposed goal of the last 20 years of turmoil, are now in danger of being swept away, collateral damage of a strategy that was nothing more than a ruse to gain power.

Read also:

Vicious cycle, Editorial

Costly constitution, Anurag Acharya

Federalism or death, Foreign Hand

GNU(Great National Unraveling), Foreign Hand

Anger at Kathmandu

A constitution, like it or not

Open and shut case, Editorial

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