When the Commission was formed in November, there were already serious doubts about a group of political appointees delivering a fair solution to the vexed issue of federalism that would be acceptable to all. The partisan winner-takes-all attitude of some commission members, extended deadlines and failure to produce a joint proposal did little to appease people's skepticism. Now the public seems to have accepted the futility and the short shelf life of the reports. They will make the headlines for a week, NGOs will publish glossy pamphlets in English for the benefit of their benefactors and there still won't be a compromise consensus on state restructuring.
There is no point going into who dominated the proceedings in the commission. The ones who are crying foul wouldn't have done anything differently if they had the majority in the group. What is of bigger concern is that even after squandering two months and precious resources on hotel and conference bills, we are back to where we began.
The political leadership is once again the main culprit. The Maoists who were the first to use identity politics to mobilise fighters during the war, must acknowledge that ethnic autonomy is not a viable option in a diverse society like ours. Privately they already do, but they can't say so publicly for fear of a backlash and losing face. Similarly, the Madhesi parties ratcheted up the rhetoric of One Madhes so much that they can't back down now. The demarcation of the boundaries are going to be so complicated that appeasing one janajati group is sure to anger another (see map).
Dalits, Madhesis and Janjatis are not marginalised only due to their ethnic identity. Poverty, illiteracy and exclusion from the national mainstream reinforced the fatalistic outlook with which the powerful class looked down upon them for centuries. Just as high caste groups in remote areas are also marginalised and underprivileged, this 'brahminical' mentality is not exclusive to Brahmin and Chettri leaders alone.
The way upper caste Newars treat 'lower caste' Newars, the way upper caste Madhesis treat Madhesi Dalits, the way Tamangs in Rasuwa exclude other poor sub-groups in their own community prove that feudalism is not just the character of the dominant group. Then there are unaddressed questions of gender and sexual minorities. Will the ethnic practices of the state impinge upon the rights of women and the sexual minorities in the name of culture and traditions?
We have repeatedly argued in this page that exclusive enclaves cannot make an inclusive state. Ethnic federalism is not the answer to the historical exclusion faced by millions of Nepalis. Rather, what we need are policy interventions at various levels of governance with a strong democratic base. Nominating Madan Pariyar to the SRC was fine, but what about policies to educate thousands of Dalit children in the hills and Madhes, ensuring their rightful stake in nation building?
Federalism based on population, geography and resources along with policies of positive discrimination including reservation and quotas for the marginalised are the best ways to level the playing field in the long run, provided the state invests on quality education, health care and employment. The NC and UML must overcome their fear of 'losing out' to the Maoists and support radical changes in state policies that address social imbalances.
The parties must remember that offering ethnic lollipops to appease their vote banks will only lead to multiple exclusions in the future. Why should a Newar in Dharan be forced to live in a Kirat state? And does it mean all Newars should seek refuge in Kathmandu while the non-Newars of the capital head towards their respective states? What about the ones without a state? Do they no longer belong in Nepal?
Those who are adamant that an ethnically divided state is still the best solution for Nepal should look to our southern neighbour for answers. Ask a Bihari in Maharastra or a Manipuri in Delhi why they are unable to register their complaints at a police station about abuses they face in public buses and workplaces. Let's learn from the mistakes of others, it's not too late to stop ourselves from making hasty, populist decisions based on identity politics that we will rue for generations to come.
The ball is back in the court of the parties. Instead of running after the Supreme Court for another CA extension beyond 28 May, if the parties honestly engage on points of contention, the constitution can be drafted in a matter of weeks if not days. They can begin by asking the right questions.
Caucus chaos, ANURAG ACHARYA
A political caucus is not a tool for political blackmailing
Unfinished business,RUBEENA MAHATO
The problems of a nation are too complex and entrenched to be corrected by fait accompli decision-making