There is no doubt that the issue of federalism must take into account both capacity and identity. But of late there seems to be widespread disagreements on the identity issue. The Janajati lawmakers who met Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Friday made it clear that they wanted demarcations to be based on “identity of individual ethnic community and not on a common identity of all ethnic communities”. This is a tricky issue. If individual ethnic communities are to be recognized, the opponents of ethnicity-based federalism argue, not even 100 provinces will suffice. For instance, it makes no economic sense to them to have separate Limbuwan and Khumbuwan instead of a single Kirat province. A large number of ethnic states are unviable, they argue, as the center will struggle to meet the huge expenses incurred in the establishment of new institutions and such a demarcation, they posit, also risks Nepal’s territorial integrity.
Interestingly, the Janajati caucus in the CA has been arguing precisely the opposite: that a larger number of states (say 14 or more) will ensure that the country stays united. Their logic is that smaller states will have less political and economic clout vis-à-vis the center, which makes it easier for the center to administer them. Again, it goes without saying that a proper balance has to be struck between the questions of sustainability and identity. But the devil will again be in the detail. How does the legitimate viability argument for a small number of states be balanced against the no less legitimate concern of various ethnic and indigenous communities that their aspirations for recognition and equity might once again be overlooked?
In the wake of the Hattiban gathering, leaders involved in negotiations let it be known that there had been an informal agreement on 8-9 states. Janjati leaders wasted no time in alleging collusion between the ‘traditional elites’ to deprive them of their legitimate rights; that they would not accept any climb-down from the 14 state model proposed by the CA committee on state restructuring. Madhesi leaders for their part have come out strongly against any north-south division. We believe a workable formula can yet be worked out if all sides engage in deliberations in a spirit of compromise. For instance, it appears the Janajati caucus (which could potentially block any model that it believes does not address its concerns) feels left out of vital negotiations.
For a viable constitution it will be important to take all actors—Madhesis, Dalits, Janajatis and indigenous communities—into confidence. We agree with the disgruntled forces that a document that emerges from within the confines of a room without taking the marginalized communities into confidence, is unlikely to succeed. It is important that the scope of the debate is widened so that meaningful compromises may yet be struck on time