Dreams deferredThe country will one day belong to the marginalised anyway; it is only a matter of time
The Far-West, the Karnali region and the Madhes have begun to burn again, and the conflagration seems to be spreading all over the country. The leaders of the ruling coalition and their opinion makers blame the marginalised—especially the Madhesi leaders—for the current state of affairs. But the marginalised—the Madhesis, women, Tarai-Janajatis, Magars of the Karnali region, Limbus and Rais of the East, and the Dalits all over the country—blame the hill-caste leaders of the CPN-UML and Nepali Congress. They feel that they have been cheated of their rightful share in the political structure of the Nepali state, which is so far the monopoly of the hill-caste men. The only way the Madhesi leaders and the Janajatis think they can get a rightful share is through properly demarcated federal provinces that will politically empower them, and as a result, will allow them to preserve and promote their identity. On the other hand, the hill-caste, top-heavy UML and Congress leadership have not only refused to recognise identity-based federalism, but have edited commas, periods and a few words here and there in the draft that had already been agreed upon to extract their own identity and constituency advantage. At a time when those who should be generous have been and will remain self-seekers, profiteers and narcissistic, and those who have been dominated for more than two centuries refuse to accept the status quo, the consequence can be nothing else but conflagration.
But this conflagration is a repeat of events, especially of the Undivided Far-West and Tharuhat Movement of April and May 2013. Let us recall the fundamentals of that period. The Tharus of Kanchanpur and Kailali launched the Tharuhat movement, and it spread through Mid-West Tarai. The police used brutal tactics to suppress the movements. The hill-caste dominated human rights groups and journalists, not only blocked out the movement but also failed to report on and oppose police brutality. On the other hand, Lekhraj Bhatta of the UCPN (Maoist), Ramesh Lekhak of the Congress, and Bhim Rawal of the UML incited their constituencies of hill-caste men of the Far-West to stage their own Undivided Far-West movement. This movement went out of control, as it ransacked the Backward Society Education (BASE) headquarters in the west and burned down the Museum of the Tharus in the mid-west. In Kathmandu, the Congress, UML, UCPN (Maoist) and others were engaged in serious negotiations at the time. The spokesmen of the UML and the Congress, such as Arjun Narasingh KC, wrote op-ed pieces on the Undivided Far-West movement and the violence caused by it to argue that Madhesi and Janajati-empowered provinces would not be acceptable to the hill-caste groups. This pressure tactics worked, and the leaders have now proposed a federal structure without naming the provinces.
What was troubling about the whole thing was the complicity of the hill-caste dominated police, human rights organisations, and journalists overtly and covertly supporting the Far-West Movement and opposing the Tharuhat Movement. Also, the hill-caste politicians cashed in on the Far-West Movement to successfully influence the outcome of the negotiations for which the federalists could have mustered two-thirds majority. If a constitution acceptable to the marginalised could not materialise in the first Constituent Assembly (CA), what hopes are there of promulgating such a constitution through the second CA, where the Maoists, Madhesis and Janajati parties find their power greatly diminished?
Glimmer of hope
In a changed political landscape, I see two options—one less viable and effective than the other in the long run. The first, of course, is endless bandas; violence and counter-violence between the demonstrators and government forces; arson; looting of property; burning of vehicles; and so forth. In the past, this method worked to cower the government to come to the negotiating table to concede some demands. But those demands were piecemeal and they were met as promises. Now, it is a matter of the fundamental restructuring of the state in real terms to empower the marginalised. Of course, there are some Ostrich-like people who still believe and say that the core purpose of federalism in Nepal is to create prosperity. They conveniently forget the fundamental reason why the issue of federalism emerged in the first place. And the Congress and the UML—dominated as these parties are by parochial leaders raised in the ideology of male, hill-caste nationalism (which is basically Nepali nationalism as it exists in its dominant form right now)—will never concede identity-based federalism acceptable to the Janajatis and the Madhesis. Should the country, then, be turned into a wrecking yard? Should it be turned into Sudan before it split into Sudan and South Sudan? Look at what is happening in South Sudan right now, even after the split.
Those who lose hope resort to violence. I do not think that stage has come for the marginalised in Nepal—Dalits, Madhesis, Tarai and hill Janajatis and even women—to lose hope. Why? Look at the number of men who have been blocking the fundamental restructuring of the Nepali state. What is their percentage? Who votes for them? And how have they made themselves dominant in the Nepali political landscape? Study the structure and derive hope from it. These men would barely constitute 20 percent of the total population. If the Madhesis, Janajatis, women of all castes, and Dalits do not vote for them and their parties in the future, what would happen to them?
Wait and win
In the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (UP) of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Jhas, Mishras, Sinhas, Sahayas, Tiwaris, Pants—upper castes men—all dominated state politics. The Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) movement and Mandal Commission gave birth to parties of the so-called backward and Dalit castes, such as Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (United) of Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar in Bihar and Samajwadi and Bahujan Samaj parties of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati in UP. And since then, the dominant political leaders have never been the same. Nepal’s case may be slightly different, but I do not see why the marginalised cannot form an alliance, as they have been realising it now, and replace the Congress and the UML with their own parties in the future elections. So, as a consciousness-raising and awareness exercise, the current movements could be of great use but as scorched-earth campaigns to cower the intransigent, short-sighted current political leadership, they will not produce what the marginalised want. After all, the country will one day belong to the marginalised anyway; it is only a matter of time. What is the use of destroying it?