INTERDISCIPLINARY ANALYSTS, SAMPLE SIZE: 3,000
When the first sitting of the CA declared Nepal a secular republic on 28 May 2008, it had vowed to draft a constitution to ensure an inclusive¬ state by May 2010. We are nearing two years of the extended period, and the Supreme Court has ruled there will be no more extensions after 28 May.
The newly formed State Restructuring Committee has been given the task of proposing a viable federal structure, but its mandate is being dictated by a caucus of CA members from indigenous groups who all want their ethnic fiefdoms.¬
Recent public opinion polls by this newspaper and others have shown that a majority of respondents from indigenous communities themselves have misgivings about carving out provinces along ethnic lines. A poll in June 2011 by Interdisciplinary Analysts shows that the number of people who want to define their identity as 'Nepali' first and their ethnicity second has risen to 71 per cent.
We are trying to correct past mistakes by making an even bigger blunder on state restructuring. The way to address marginalisation and discrimination is by inclusion not by whipping up ethnic exclusion. We protect our national unity by recognising our diversity, not by fragmenting an already fractious state. By taking the path of ethnically demarcated federalism we will reinforce the same divisions in society that we have fought so hard against. Some super intellectuals see ethnic federalism as a viable and scientific move towards inclusion, but it is a case of an overdose of the wrong medicine.
Looking at the historical marginalisation in Nepal only through the prism of caste and ethnicity¬ is a failure of imagination. There are other forms of exploitation, including the plight of the religious minorities, dalits and women who are not separate identities but disempowered sections within all ethnic groups.
We don't have to go too far to see the perils of a culturally divided society. After India's independence in 1947, the country adopted a linguistic federal structure taking into account demography of language. Sixty years later, states have failed to protect minorities within their territories. The slaughtering of Muslims in Gujarat, dalits in Orissa and the prosecution of Biharis in Maharastra by the 'maraathi maanus' (a crony title given to invoke a linguistic identity) are only a few examples of what linguistic federalism has done to India.
The purpose of having a political caucus is to ensure effective bargaining, it is not a tool for political blackmailing. The indigenous caucus in Nepal's CA, generously supported by well-meaning but naÔve donor groups, is using the cross platform to hold the nation hostage to irrational demands. Even more worrying is that these pressure groups are now out of control of parties, the organized elected entities supposed to find political solutions to the country's problems.
Yes, particular sections of Nepali society prospered more than others in the past due to their¬ access to political centers of power, education and opportunities. But, geographical remoteness of the¬ country coupled with feudal governance that sustained illiteracy and¬ socio-economic backwardness are the main reasons why Janajatis, Dalits, Chettris and even Brahmins, in the remote areas of the country were historically wronged.
Affirmative action policies are needed for the underprivileged, but such policies have to be forward looking and embrace inclusive identity, not create new, multiple barriers in society.
It is no more just the Maoists, who originally brought in the ethnic debate as a mobilisation tactic during the years of war, the entire political landscape has been dominated by issues of ethnicity and¬ identity.
In the last few years, the identity debate made people more aware, they have shed the traditional fatalistic mindset and started asserting themselves. To see women, Dalits, Madhesis and indigenous communities celebrate their diversity and help in nation building is an¬ achievement of the 2006 movement. But using identity politics to drive a wedge in society for divisive politics is short-sighted and self-destructive.
Forming a government of national unity may be just the right opportunity to bring in clean technocrats