24 - 30 October 2014 #729

Off the people, for the people

NC’s insecurities have pushed it to the conservative fringe, making it a part of the problem
Anurag Acharya
ROUNDTABLE: (l-r) Krishna Prasad Sitaula, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Baburam Bhattarai, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Narayan Kaji Shestha, KP Oli, and Ishwar Pokhrel at a meeting of the HLPC at Gokarna on Wednesday.
‘A true democrat never lays exclusive claim to the truth, but sees a part of itself in the opposition’s argument as well.’ These immortal words were penned by leader of Nepal’s democratic movement and Nepali Congress founding figure BP Koirala in his Jail Journal in the winter of 1963 after a royal coup ousted him.

Last month, NC leaders travelled around the country preaching BP’s political ideology to commemorate the centennial of his birth. But they seem to have learned little from the man’s broad and tolerant democratic outlook.

Last week, amid a continuing impasse over contentious issues including that of federalism, the NC came out with not one but two alternative proposals on the number of proposed states, their structures and names. While both proposals understandably reflect NC’s consistent concern about limiting the number of federal units to make them economically viable, there is a larger mentality that shape its arguments on proposed structure of the federal provinces.

In both the models, one cannot help but notice that the three districts of Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari in the east and Kailali and Kanchanpur in the far west, have been erased from the proposed two provinces in the Tarai. Large swathes of territory in these districts are flatlands with demographical dominance of people belonging to various Madhesi communities.

So, one stops to ponder the rationale behind lumping these districts, in their entirety, with the hill provinces. The NC could be making an electoral calculation of securing traditional NC strongholds including Morang, where it won five out of nine seats, and Kanchanpur where it swept all four. It could also be a well-thought out plan to weaken Madhesi politics by isolating flashpoints like Duhabi and Biratnagar in the east, and separating the Tharu movement of Kailali and Kanchanpur from the western districts of Nawalparasi and Rupandehi. But the most likely is that the NC remains suspicious of Madhesi loyalty and fears an embargo of Kathmandu by the Madhes in case inter-provincial rivalries in a federal Nepal get bad.

No honest NC leader will even try to answer in plain yes or no which one of these is the real reason for their formula of federalism, probably because the explanation lies in ‘all of the above’ or ‘somewhere in between’.

Despite being the largest party that has led Nepal’s democratic movement three times, the NC has always been insecure about its own legacy. The reason being its undemocratic and feudal leadership style since the days of Girija Prasad Koirala that has given the party a bad public image, especially amid marginalised communities whose representation within party structure and in the governments have remained dismal. This explains the absence of any Dalit persona in its current cabinet and a single one representing both Madhesis and women.

So, when an insecure lot of hill male Brahmins sit together to carve out their own map of the nation, it is not hard to imagine where the borders will be drawn. If the NC’s supposed fear of being weakened in Madhes is in anyway responsible for its bizarre proposal, it should do the fact checking.

In the 19 districts of Madhes from Jhapa to Kanchanpur, the NC has secured 51 seats out of total 101, which makes it the largest party there. Even if we look at the last CA election results, it has not done too badly. No matter how the districts are aligned, the NC will remain an influential party in the Madhes, unless it decides to unnecessarily antagonise local sentiments.

It will be more difficult for the NC to find a consensus on number of provinces in the hills, but it is not impossible. To begin with, it should stop treating the issue as a Maoist agenda and see it as an opportunity to address grievances of the genuinely marginalised.

Yes, there are clearly identifiable territories in Nepal where certain ethnic groups dominate. But these areas may be big enough to be autonomous areas, not an entire state province. However, if one considers demographic settlement of two or more ethnic groups (Taplejung, Panchthar, Ilam, Sankhuwasabha, Bhojpur, Khotang, Terhathum, Dhankuta, Udaipur, Okhaldhunga and areas of Sunsari and Solukhumbu) both Rais and Limbus dominate. So it makes sense to carve out a province that acknowledges and protects both of their identity and rights, while safeguarding rights of other communities living there.

Similarly, in the case of smaller ethnic groups like Dhimals of Jhapa and Sherpas in Solukhumbu, a clearly defined autonomous area safeguarding and promoting their culture and recognising their rights can be an amiable solution. It should be a matter of healthy debate whether Kathmandu can be a union territory and the national capital with autonomous Newa region protecting rights and culture of this unique community, or a Newa region which hosts capital of the country. There is no reason why both propositions can’t be made workable.

However, while carving out proposed provinces, the names are best left for the local elected provincial assemblies to decide democratically.

Democracy is about celebrating and protecting diversity. As the party that has won the confidence of Nepal’s diverse population, NC should not shy away from addressing the colourful aspirations of its electorate.

@Anurag_Acharya

Read also:

The tarai is tinder dry, Navin Jha

Tharu autonomy, Rajkumar Lekhi

The Tharu thrust, Prashant Jha

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