Ethnic Groups and Race Based Federalism: A Recipe for Disaster for Nepal
By Khagendra Thapa
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” It seems that Nepal has no leader who can speak out the truth and not just repeat like a parrot what the Maoists comrades have been saying ever since the SPA came to power with the blessings from the Comrades as well as our friendly neighbor to the south.
With the untimely death of the 1990 constitution, the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and their comrades the Maoists together code named as SPAM have claimed to represent all the people of Nepal and the interest of the Nepalese people whether the people like it or not. SPAs claim to represent the people because they were elected more than seven years ago. The Maoists comrades claim to represent the people because they have been able to coerce the people to support them by intimidation, extortion, armed kidnapping, and cheap slogans. Together the SPAs and the Maoists, the so called SPAM have become the most powerful political force or so they claim. With the mighty Prime Minister Mr. Girija Koirala in the driving seat and his Comrade Prachanda in the front seat together with all the heroes of Janandolan II and eleven years old insurgency veterans, the bus carrying the Interim Constitution was in motion. Unfortunately, the arrogance of SPAM was challenged by both the Terai residents (Madhesi Group) and the Janajatis. The Interim constitution also made provision to form an interim parliament with the addition of 83 Maoists and 48 other members who are part of SPAM. After all, the scrapping of the old constitution may not have been an excellent idea.
Lack of Patriotic and Visionary Leadership
It is indeed very sad for the people of Nepal that there is not a single national level patriotic and visionary leader with clean image. Right now, Mr. Girija Koirala is the leader of SPAM. However, Mr. Koirala is not accepted by all the people. First of all, he is the leader of the half Congress party. The other half of the Congress party is led by Mr. Deuba. Mr. Koirala’s behavior during the Tanakpur Treaty with India and his lack of interest to safeguard the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country puts a question mark on his patriotism. In addition, Mr. Koirala as a Head of State and Head of Government failed to express his opposition to the encroachment of Nepalese territory in various border areas by India including in Kalapani, Susta, Illam, Jhapa. Saptari, Banke and Bardia. In fact, even the Ranas who ruled the country for 104 years were more patriotic than any of the SPAM leadership. For example, during the British Rule of India, Nepal maintained all even numbered borders and the Brirish maintained all the odd numbered pillars every year. That kind of border maintenance was abandoned both by multiparty rulers and Panchayati rulers.
Secondly, Mr. Koirala does not have a clean image. His involvement in various scandals during the time he was prime minister for the major part of multiparty government from 1990 to 2001. In fact, Mr. Koirala refused to present himself to the court when he was summoned by the court on corruption charges.
Thirdly, Mr. Koirala does not have any vision or any other plan to develop and help the country and the people. He is a happy camper as long as he is in power.
Fourthly, majority of the leaders of all political parties do not have clean image. Many of them have been involved with corruption, nepotism, favoritism, and influence peddling. Some of them even have criminal records including murder.
How about the Maoists Comrades? What kind of credibility do they have? Well, as we all know 13,000 Nepalese people lost their lives as a direct result of the so called people’s war started by the Maoists insurgents. Another 26,000 committed suicide because they could not bear the pain and suffering caused by the war. Over a million people were internally displaced. Many more people left the country in total despair without any hope for themselves and for their children. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of Nepalese people working as laborers (often doing the most dangerous and life threatening jobs which nobody else would do) in many Gulf countries as well as in Malaysia and South Korea.
Several millions if not billions of dollars of worth infrastructure including government offices, schools, transmission towers, bridges, roads, etc have been destroyed. All this happened because of the people’s war. The comrades must take the responsibility for the injustices done to the people. So these Maoists leaders whose hands are stained with the blood of the people are also intoxicated with the blood of the 13,000 Nepalese people. Therefore, it would be an exercise in futility to expect any thing good from these self proclaimed leaders who got where they are today with the use of guns and bombs and also with a little bit of help from the extremely friendly neighbor in the south.
According to Sobhakar Parajuli (Kathmandu Post, Feb,. 28, 2007) “The Maoists spread a reign of terrorism in villages and urban areas. They have yet to return the property of innocent people seized during their so-called people’s war. They continue to extort money and threaten the villagers. Madi ambush is still fresh among the relatives of those killed. Now Prachanda regrets that it was their mistake when he was aware of the fact that traveling in the bus were innocent passengers. Such regretting words do not convince the people. Rather, Prachanda appears cruel and inhumane in the eyes of the common people.”
Well then, are there any other leaders in the SPAM or any other political parties who have long term plan to lift the nation out of poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease, and outdated caste system? Do any of them have a way to stop the exploitation of the poor and destitute people from the clutches of feudal landlords and crooked business man? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
All these leaders are chanting the same Mantra as the Maoists Comrades. For example, the comrades have been chanting the mantra of Federalism and Constituency Assembly (CA) elections and every one of the leaders both inside and outside SPAM chant the same mantra without even understanding what does constituency assembly or Federalism mean? What are the long term implications of these activities? Does Federalism lead us to a better future? Or it would lead to the fragmentation of the nation thereby multiplying the interethnic conflicts. Would it help us to provide better education to our children? Would it help us to provide better health care to our people? Would it help us to improve the well being of our people? Would it improve the standard of living our people? Would it help us to maintain the peaceful relationship among our multiethnic and multi linguistic people? If so please tell us exactly how it would happen. Is it magical in nature? Does it mean that as soon as the King is exiled or executed and CA elections held and Federalism established, Nepal will turn into another heaven?
People want to know what your plan for economic development is. What are the SPAM plans for education, healthcare, environmental issues, and exploitation of the poor people? Every dissident group is in a destructive mood right now. The infrastructure that was built by donations or borrowed money has been destroyed by our comrades as well as others who think they deserve a bigger piece of existing pie. No one wants to work to increase the size of the pie so that every one will have enough.
What kind of Leader Do Nepalese People Want?
Unfortunately, Nepal never had a visionary leader who puts personal interests above political party interests and national interests above political party interests. None have shown any vision for the future of the nation. No leader has been acceptable to all ethnic groups and people of different political affiliations. If we are to build our nation strong and prosperous we need to have political leader who has the following characteristics:
1. Since Nepal is a multi-ethnic nation where no group is in majority, we need a leader who is completely unbiased and can get along with people of all regions and ethnic backgrounds irrespective of their culture, language, political affiliations and caste. In other words, the leader must be able to live and work with Kamis, or Sarkis, or Sherpas, or Tharus, or Danuwar, or Satars, or Limbus, etc. This can only happen if the leader has the interests of the people and the nation above his/her personal interests.
2. People need a leader who has high moral and ethical standards and as such s/he has the ability to tell others to follow high ethical and moral values.
3. The leader must also be motivating and charismatic so that s/he can influence the people and motivate them to work hard to improve their own livelihood and neighborhood.
4. The leader must also possess a clear sense of purpose (or mission) – clear goals – focus – commitment.
5. The leader must also be able to work with others and be highly optimistic and results oriented
6. Ability to encourage and nurture others so that s/he can make a difference in the lives of the people.
7. Ability to understand what others say, rather than listening to how they say things. One could partly sum this quality up as “ability to walk in someone else’s shoes” Or know where the shoe pinches.
8. The leader must be able to display a passion for, and have a strong conviction of, what they regard as the moral correctness of their vision. They engage in outstanding or extraordinary behavior and make extraordinary self-sacrifices in the interest of their vision and mission.
9. The leader must be inspirational and communicate with people in an understandable way and live by example. S/he must have high self confidence, determination and persistence.
10. The leader must have ability to delegate authority to reliable and competent people.
The question is do we have any leaders who display even five of the above qualities? You be the judge.
Culture of Death, Destruction, and Violence
It is no secret that Maoists got where they are today using ruthless violence, destruction, murder, looting, kidnapping, intimidation, and extortion. They also used cheap and unrealistic slogans to attract people to their line of thinking. For example, Comrade Prachanda when he first showed up in public promised to turn Nepal into another Switzerland. It seems he was repeating the rhetoric of another great leader Mr. Krishna Prasad Bhattarai who proclaimed that he was going to make Nepal as developed as Singapore within five years when he was the prime minister.
Comrade Prachanda even went to the extent of claiming that he can make greater Nepal by declaring the Sugauli Treaty signed with the British in 1816 null and void. This comes from the same leader who wants to give the right to self determination to all those ethnic groups who are demanding for it. Comrade Prachanda! Tell us the truth do you want to break the country into smaller countries or build a greater Nepal? Your statements are conflicting and confusing.
Now the Maoists comrades are in power with the successful use of force, destruction of public and private property, extortion, and intimidation. The success of Maoists is now being copied by other groups. They have learned that it pays to be violent and act of violent crimes can get results. With the lessons learned from the Comrades, other groups whether they are Terai residents, Khambuwans, Tamurats, Magarats and many others are using the time tested Maoists tactics to get what they want. There is a culture of violence, death and destruction in Nepal now. Every one wants to stop the movement of vehicles and burn tires causing great amount of financial loss to the working class.
One of the dangerous promises that the comrades used was to turn Nepal into a Federal Republic where each indigenous group of people will have an autonomous republic. For example, they promised different autonomous regions for such ethnic groups as Gurungs, Magars, Newars, Tamangs, Tharus, and many others.
How Can an Autonomous Regions be Achieved?
According the 2001 Census of Nepal, the population of Nepal consists of the following categories in terms of percentage:
Population of Nepal in Percentage (Source: Central Bureau of Statistics, Nepal Government)
1 CHHETRI 15.80
2 BRAHMAN – HILL 12.74
3 MAGAR 7.14
4 THARU 6.75
5 TAMANG 5.64
6 NEWAR 5.48
7 MUSLIM 4.27
8 KAMI 3.94
9 YADAV 3.94
10 RAI 2.79
11 GURUNG 2.39
12 DAMAI/DHOLI 1.72
13 LIMBU 1.58
14 THAKURI 1.47
15 SARKI 1.40
16 TELI 1.34
17 CHAMAR, HARIJAN, RAM 1.19
18 KOIRI 1.11
19 KURMI 0.94
20 SANYASI 0.88
21 DHANUK 0.83
22 MUSAHAR 0.76
23 DUSADH/PASWAN/PASI 0.70
24 SHERPA 0.68
25 SONAR 0.64
26 KEWAT 0.60
27 BRAHMAN – TARAI 0.59
28 BANIYA 0.56
29 GHARTI/BHUJEL 0.52
30 MALLAH 0.51
31 KALWAR 0.51
There are 72 other categories of people in Nepal which are not listed in the above table. The criteria used to cut off was any groups which are less than 0.5% of the total population are not quoted as these would not be needed to make the point clear.
Let us say, for example, as promised by Maoists Comrades that we all agree that Limbuwan and Khambuwan are given an autonomous region in the eastern Nepal. From the above table one can see that they constitute a population of 4.37% when both groups are combined. Now, the problem is the region where they want their autonomous region also have many other ethnic groups including Magars, Gurungs, Bahuns, Chhetries, Kamis, Damais, Sarkis, Newars, Tamangs, and the list goes on and on. If they are given autonomy in the area then what are the other people who have been living there for hundreds of years going to do? Do they have to move to somewhere else? If so where would they go? Let us forget about the Bahuns and Chettris who are supposedly the exploiters and let them go to hell. However, what is a poor Kami or a poor Damai is going to do. Where would they go? Kamis and Damais like Newars, Bahuns, Sarkis, and Chettris are spread all over Nepal.
Representation of Ethnic Groups
The recent revolts by the Terai residents and the various ethnic groups from the mountains have been claiming the fair representation in administration, army, police, etc. There is no question that their demands are appropriate and justified. However, these demands cannot be addressed by CA election or the introduction of Federalism.
Empowerment of Local Governments and not Federalism is the Answer
According to the 2001 census of Nepal, there are 103 different ethnic groups in Nepal. They speak at least 90 different languages. Some of the ethnic groups are as small as 164 people. For example, according to the 2001 census of Nepal there are only 164 Kusundas in Nepal and these people are no where else in the world. Different groups of people especially the ones demanding the autonomy are spread out through out the nation. Therefore, introduction of Federalism or declaration of self governing regions based on ethnic groups will spell disaster for the whole country. It would not even benefit the group that is claiming autonomy. The ethnic groups such as Magars, Tharus, Tamangs, Newars, only constitute 7.14%, 6.75%, 5.64%, and 5.48% respectively. Moreover, these groups are not living in a particular locality. They are pretty much spread out through out the country except the Tharus who mainly reside in the Terai belt.
Therefore, the best way to kill the snake without breaking the stick would be to empower the local governments. It will be a true democratic way of resolving the demands of terai residents as well as the various ethnic groups of the hill areas.
What Kind of Power would the Local Government Have?
The ultimate objective should be to give the power to raise tax, be responsible for taking care of school education, primary health care, local self governance including public safety (hiring local police), passing the rules and regulations on the local governance, and judiciary. Well, that gives the local elected bodies complete authority. It will all be democratic because the people will elect not only the local government officials but also the judges and the chief of the police. People must be alert and ask for transparency, accountability, and rule of law. This will be the ultimate democracy which will satisfy the demands of all ethnic groups no matter how small or how large they are.
Khagendra Thapa is a professor at Ferris State University. UWB received this article in email and views expressed in the article are his own and we do not necessarily agree with the writer.