Ethnopolitics in Nepal Some challenging portents

Ethnopolitics has moved to centre stage of Nepal’s political discourse. Political parties are vying to win over the ethnic groups to widen and entrench their support base. CPN (Maoist) has built a strong following among the ethnic groups. The ethnic groups known as Adibasi Janajatis are about sixty as per the government report. But, they are said to be over hundred of them if the criteria applied for the identification and classification of the groups are used .The last Constituent Assembly polls has indicated that CPN (Maoist) hold is not limited to the indigenous groups only but cuts across all sections of the society. CPN (Maoist) has undoubtedly maintained and nurtured its hold, especially among the ethnic groups, because of its focused stratagem to construct their issues and mobilize the groups around them. CPN (Maoist) has formulated the design of federalism with special focus on ethnic and cultural exclusivity .

It is evidenced in the proposal it has submitted to the Constituent Assembly recently. Most of the federal units, according to the CPN (M) proposal, are grounded in ethnicity and cultural attributes. Moreover, it constructed the case of the ethnic groups (janjatis) as discriminated, subjugated and oppressed peoples and mobilized them to rally under its banner and fight against the alleged oppressive regime and groups. The ten-year-long people’s war waged under the leadership of the CPN (M) did consolidate and indoctrinate the ethnic groups . They swelled the ranks of the Maoists and joined to fight the people’s war from the rebel side. All this made the Maoists bank upon the ethnic groups as its major support bastion and vice versa. Besides , the CPN (Maoist), CPN (UML) and Nepali Congress too have accelerated the pace to win the support of the ethnic groups, but these moderate parties are no where near the CPN (Maoist) in this respect. When it comes to the context of state restructuring, these two parties differ from the CPN (Maoist) on many counts. Nepali Congress and UML do not seem to reconcile to the idea of carving out federal units recognizing and honoring ethnicity and language factors alone. The parties are inclined to give weightage to geographical and territorial attributes as referent to the creation of the provinces. Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala faced the ire from the Madhesi and ethnic leaders when he blurted recently that the federal units need to be created along the longitudinal axes- from north to south- involving mountains, hills and plains together. CPN (Maoist) has so far safeguarded its position as the natural ally of the ethnic groups because of its commitments to raise and support the latter in their quest for realization of ethnicity ( Jatiyata) as the basis to create federal units.

However, going by modifications and changes seen in the stances of CPN (Maoist) on-off, the party may moderate its pro-ethnicity bias and align with other parties, especially UML and NC, to ensure that the contentious issues

involved in the restructuring of the state are

resolved without hostile confrontations.

The understanding that is likely and is also a necessity among the big three parties — CPN (Maoist), CPN(UML)and Nepali Congress — on resolving the contentious and inflammatory issues involved in restructuring of the state can certainly muster enough majority votes required to ratify the constitutional provision to write the new constitution.

But, the ethnicity and national factors have become so pronounced and prominent that any compact among the three major parties diluting the ethnic content by rooting for geographical, administrative and resource endowment factors for creation of the federal units may not be acceptable to the various ethnic groups and indigenous peoples’ organizations. What is interesting to note is that such indigenous ethnic groups such as the Limbus , Tamangs and then Tharus have already created parallel structures and enforced certain extractive measures as if they have been legally created and legitimized autonomous federal units upheld by the new constitutional order and arrangements .

It will not be easy to dismiss and write off the demand for ethnicity based federal units as the groups have been mobilized politically and centrifugal tendencies have acquired more strength, basis and support. Even some groups of Chhetris and Brahmins have voiced that they be included in the category of janjatis since, as they contend, they meet the standards set by the government for janjati identification. There is thus a barrage of challenge posed to the Constituent Assembly, whether to go for fulfilling the demand for creation of the cultural state based on ethnicity and similar primordial identity or take decision in favour of political state where civic and democratic values, instead of ethnic and cultural values, take precedence.

The CA should face this challenge and negotiate with different social forces to ensure that decisions are taken democratically without neglecting the issues and concerns of various social groups.