Newar body stresses on ethnic autonomy

Kathmandu, May 11:

The demand for ethnic autonomy - once considered a “weird” agenda of the Maoists when they launched the ‘People’s War’,has now become a common demand of all indigenous and ethnic organisations. However, it is still unclear whether a Constituent Assembly (CA) can pave the way for such autonomy.

The political parties have agreed on restructuring the state through elections to a CA, but they are still tight-lipped on the issue of granting autonomy to the Janajatis.

The Maoist and other ethnic leaders fear that elections to a CA will in no way meet their demands.

“We will not give up our revolution if ethnic autonomy is not guaranteed,” said Prabesh Man Shrestha, the general-secretary of the Newar National Liberation Front, a Kathmandu-based ethnic wing of the Maoists.

THe told THT that the revolution would end only if the government announced ethnic autonomous regions clearly, as, according to him, the present centralised political system only allows a group of people to remain in power.

“The issue of constituent assembly itself is abstract, which is not enough to ensure that all the people will have the right to political participation in all spheres,” he said. According to him, not assuring ethnic autonomy would be labelled an anti-revolutionary step and would invite a bigger revolution.

Dr Om Gurung, the general-secretary of the Nepalese Federation of Indigenous People and Nationalities (NEFIN) - the federal body of all 59 ethnic communities - said the Janajatis are not happy with the commitment currently shown by the parties on the issue of Constituent Assembly .

“The decision to hold election to a constituent assembly is welcome, but we are not happy with this alone. We also do not expect them to take up our agenda easily as all the parties are led by upper-class Hindus who have been ruling for centuries,” he said.

“The state should be restructured as the old feudal system has not incorporated everyone’s voice. But restructuring could also mean regional autonomy, which is meaningless for us,” he said.

However, UML leader Shankar Pokhrel said restructuring of the state would automatically solve the problems of ethnic communities. “We are heading for a proportional election system. In this way we don’t even need to set up constituencies. All parties will provide their lists with representation of all sectors and it will come up with inclusive results,” he said.