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.