Ethnic Assertion, Constituent Assembly Elections and Defensive Maoists

By Siddhartha Thapa
Comment of the Moment (Originally posted here.)

Even as the Terai starts to breathe again, various ethnic groups across the country have renewed their calls for further protests. The latest turmoil in the Terai is a direct consequence of the murky politics envisioned by the Maoists; the same ideologies that provided the base for the Maoist revolution – inciting of minority groups on the thesis of “self determination.”

Despite the successful conclusion of the April revolution, ethnicity has been (and remains) an unrealized but gargantuan niche in Nepalese politics. While political pundits belonging to various political systems have ignored the sentiments of ethnic minorities, the Maoists on the other hand had (till recently), masterfully exploited the niche as a catalyst to storm into power.

The nucleus of the political crisis in Nepal is the continued neglect of minority rights, primarily of the socio-cultural variety. If Nepal’s politicians continue to ignore the rights of minority groups, the ethnic issue has the potential to lead to the disintegration of the nation-state. Up to now the challenges of ethnic equality have only received moral acknowledgement. The government’s procedures to tackle these challenges are short on substantive ideology, concrete policy and as always, big on rhetoric.

The tear in Nepal’s fraternal fabric is primarily a result of Maoist policies. To begin with, the Maoists espoused the policy of ’self determination’ that proposed autonomy for minority groups (based on ethnic dimensions). As a result, the overwhelming majority of Maoist combatants hail from ethnic minorities.

But herein lies the paradox – the ethnic combatants have fought for the Maoists for equality along social, cultural, political and economic lines. This they expect to achieve through the medium of democratic dispensation which eventually will prove contradictory to the Maoist school of thought – radical communism. A classic mismanagement of expectations versus delivery capacity – the Maoists radicalization of the Nepali population has finally caught up with them.

Even after the conclusion of the April revolution, the Maoists have failed to retract from the path of violence and the Maoists remain wed to their cause of establishing one party communist republic, thereby defying the norms of multi-party democracy.

In hindsight, the political parties’ commitment to ensuring and institutionalizing an inclusive political structure remains questionable. This is mainly due to the construct of the existing internal social structure of the major political parties.
First, the ethnic representatives in the major political parties are on average, old enough to be grand parents for the newest additions to the voting population. These leaders have been completely absorbed into the Kathmandu bourgeoisie. The passion and determination to impact changes is dormant.

It is also worth noting that the majority of the ethnic leaders that belong to major political parties have for long stayed away from their home constituencies and are thus, out of touch with rural and ethnic issues. But the crux of the problem is that the leadership remains overwhelmingly caste conscious with Hindu male domination and with Brahminisation as the most distinctive feature of the entire political sphere. These leaders fear that revamping the social structure within their parties (and within the larger political context), could eventually lead to the waning of their influence, power and their future in politics.

What is also foreboding is the fact that the prelude to Constituent Assembly elections will be marred with violence. It is also predictable that elections will be fought along ethnic, geographical and religious lines, contradicting principles of secularism, ethnic integration and national harmony. Determined tongue lashers of various ideological backgrounds will stress on theocratic values that will eventually dominate the election manifestos of major political parties. But if the problem of ethnic minorities remains unaddressed (prior to the elections), the eventual outcome will be a discontented mass, no matter which party wins.

It is a foregone conclusion that the Maoists’ will keep their true intentions closely to their chest prior to attaining an electoral victory. It is by design that the Maoists will fight the elections promoting equality for minorities and promising autonomies. But the election promises contravene the principles of Maoist communism. In their bid to promote equality, Maoists like Pol-Pot in Cambodia, Chairman Mao in China and CCCP in Russia and finally, the Maoists in Nepal will also cut a swathe through social and cultural structures in effort to usher egalitarianism among the masses.

However, Maoist aspirations for equality could get compounded if the minorities fear that they are losing their cultural and social identity. The minorities will revolt to protect their religious rights, right to private property and human rights. These issues could form the basis for a new revolution. The gravity of the problem could mean that the country would have to witness a cycle of anarchy and face the threat of possible disintegration, prior to an eventual mass-based revolution against the Maoists. If the Maoists are true to their cause and are able achieve an electoral victory; it is doubtful that the radicals within their rank and file, will resist pursuing their radical ideology.

On the other hand if the political parties win, namely the Nepali Congress, the domination of the high caste Hindu male elite will continue. All state tools that can invariably affect the election results are disproportionately Chetri, Brahmin and Newar dominated – more so Brahmans. But Brahmanisation in itself is only a part of the problem. The fulcrum of the problem is the reluctance of political leaders to diversify; the fear of being displaced.

Therefore, the move towards inclusiveness will progress sluggishly causing concern to many. This lethargy heralds a scenario of further unrest. Ethnic minorities will battle hard to be heard and to preserve their social and cultural identity. And increasingly, the political direction will move towards an inclusive Nepal. However the social, cultural and more importantly the human cost of impacting changes, in an inclusive democratic Nepal will be dear.

Either way, in hindsight, it becomes abundantly clear that the April uprising was only the beginning to a long, drawn out process, intended to bring about a “new” Nepal. The uprising was just the beginning to a series of mini-revolutions and counter-revolutions that have no discernable end in sight.

Another Nepal Banda Tomorrow: Depressing Scenario

Protest, protest everywhere, how can we get out of this mess?

Janajatis or indigenous people have called for a general strike in Nepal tomorrow. Economically that would be yet another blow to already depressing situation. That will be yet another day of walking for hours to reach offices, yet another day people wasting their time in walking instead of doing things in office, yet another day of confining buses in garages and loosing income. Yet another Nepal Banda! “This banda sucks man,” I was talking to Ang Tshiring Sherpa, a reporter friend of mine at Kantipur who reached at the top of Everest four years ago, as we were getting out of office tonight. “This is totally unnecessary and come at a really bad time.” I knew how he would respond.

“What?” he said. “No, it’s absolutely necessary.”
“No, it’s not.” I protested. “What’s the demand of janajatis? They want amendment in constitution and the government has already announced and decided that they are going to amend.”
“No, they are not,” he said. “We want things done at once.” Then suddenly he added: “The government is doing things in kistabandi (installment).”

Oh…boy, you have started speaking the language of Pasang (Sherpa of Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities),” I said as we departed from the office.

Yes, in this transition everyone wants to have their say. Everyone wants to be empowered. Even the Chepangs have joined in the fray. The Chepang community, eKantipur reports, has announced a transport strike in four different districts in central and western development regions, demanding a Chepang autonomous region. Of course, I there is a Madhesi autonomous region, if there is Limbuwan, Khumbuan, Magarat, why not Chepang? Why not Raute? Why not Poudels? Why not Pokharels? And how many autonomous region we will have to create? As I was typing these lines, I saw a comment from our own “Kirat” in UWB. He says:

“An intelligent person would think…why are these janjatis and madeshis protesting? Perhaps they have genuine grievances perhaps they don’t. But it would be the duty of every educated Nepali…let alone so called political leaders of the Congress, UML and Maoists to look into their demands properly and address it in the best way possible.”

Right. But the solution, it seems, will not satisfy all. There will be another person or faction that would say, well, what about us, we don’t agree. As Kirat rightly points out in another comment that we are going through very depressing situation:

“It’s a pretty depressing scenario right now in Nepal. Strikes and protests by all sorts of groups asking for a say in the new Nepal… Creating mayhem, hammering the economy and giving endless misery to the ordinary people. What does the [Seven Party Alliance government] do? Nothing. They are like a disinterested bystander acting as if this is none of their problem/business. That is so wrong. ….The fact that the govt. has failed in this simple exercise demonstrates the vastness of the problems that this country is yet to encounter.”

It is indeed so depressing that everyone is capable enough to create mayhem in Nepal these days. If you have a family dispute, go and stop the traffic. I don’t want to blame the government because they are in a difficult situation. It seems almost certain that we will be missing the deadline for the election of Constituent Assembly. No doubt some people are hell bent on making this government a failure there by giving the impression the people that democracy can never sustain in Nepal. Knowing this very well, some people are taking their responsibility lightly and this really makes me wonder. Even an utterly optimistic people like me become disappointed sometime thinking about the state of affair. Economy is going down, inflation is soaring, everything is at standstill (except the Nepal Telecom that is introducing on new service after another. Just today it launched GPRS service.) Feels like where the hell I am living? What the hell I am doing? Where is my future heading? What I will be doing, if anything, ten years down the line? “I read news about fascinating economic growth in China and India,” a friend of mine recently confided. “And suddenly this feeling comes into mind: ‘Damn I am a Nepali, why I am not in Ghanjau or Beijing.”

There must be a solution, of course, but what is that?-by Wagle

Disappointing Headlines:

MPRF strike continues in eastern Nepal; now Chepangs join the fray (Life continued to be affected in the eastern regions due to the transport strike and customs check post strike announced the agitating Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (JTMM) which has steadfastly refusing parley offers until Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula resigns. Due to the strike, vehicular movement on the roads on the highway remains nil while the check post completely shut.)

Traffic in Lalitpur obstructed over torn 10 Rs note

Martin calls into question CA polls unless political consensus reached soon

Posing as JTMM cadres group abducts teacher from Kalaiya

Nepal’s constitutional process must be more inclusive: ICG report (“Nepal’s constitution-making process has two tough targets to meet. It must conclusively end the conflict and also shape more representative and responsive state structures. Balancing these concerns is far from straight-forward, but broader public participation can only help.”)