Over last few weeks, political parleys have become hectic. Dominant parties have put their cards on contested issues of governance and federalism on the table. Bargaining between prominent players of pressure groups is underway. It appears likely that an acceptable compromise over the statute would be reached within the self-set deadline of the Constituent Assembly. However, whatever pact is reached between the vanguards would have to be sold to constituencies that have antagonistic expectations from the new constitution.
It sounds somewhat sacrilegious at the moment, but the term of the CA may warrant yet another extension for few weeks or months to streamline political understanding that is currently being negotiated. A symbolic extension, even if only for few days, is also necessary to reassert the sovereignty of the people expressed through the supremacy of the legislature.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal needs a grace period in order to defend himself against charges of ‘sell-out’. Sushil Koirala has to maintain an appearance of firmness a little longer to project the image of being an inflexible defender of democracy. An interregnum before the formation of a consensus government to promulgate a new charter can help worthies of UML save face and appear like architects of whatever compromise is finally reached between stalwarts of NC and Maoists. Madheshbadis have to sell the idea of multiple provinces in Tarai-Madhesh to their constituency as the most practicable option.
The Janjati caucus probably knows that all its claims can never be entertained. No matter in which way delineation of federal units is done, some indigenous groups would have to learn to live with their ‘other’ neighbors. Campaigners of indigenous rights are fully aware of limitations of their assertions but require a cooling off period so that they can make pragmatic compromises without inviting violent backlash from highly charged community activists.
The women caucus in the Constituent Assembly would be happy to have an interval before the promulgation of a new constitution so that it can consolidate its gains and chart strategies for the first republican election of the country. It is quite natural for votaries of gender justice to eye the position of the first directly elected chief executive of the country. In case parliamentary system is retained, voting across party lines may become necessary to actuate the first female prime minister in the history of the country.
Religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims too have got their act together. Christians seem to have more faith in backroom maneuvering. Lately Muslims have been quite active in expressing their dissatisfaction with the process of constitution building. Both religious communities have international guarantees of their vital interests. Christian missionaries and the Islamic Ummah are unfailingly supportive of their coreligionists everywhere in the world.
The one sizable community (Estimates vary between 14 to 25 percent of national population) missing from the action of claims, counter-claims and frenzied negotiations have been the last, the least and the most deprived of Hindu society: The Dalits. They are still almost exactly where they were in political settlements of 1950s—accidental beneficiaries rather than active participants in decisive negotiations.
Dalits have carried the weight of oppressive Hindu culture upon their frail shoulders for centuries. Jang Bahadur Kunwar merely codified existing practices in the Muluki Ain (Laws of the nation) in 1854 when he grouped castes from whom “water was not acceptable and any contact required purification” at the lowest rung of society. Influenced by Gandhian beliefs, the leadership of NC made half-hearted attempts after the Shah Restoration in 1951 to ameliorate the condition of Dalit community. But just as experiences in neighboring India have since shown, liberation can never be received in charity.
A coup too is a revolution since it induces fundamental changes in society and polity over a short period of time. King Mahendra attempted to sideline main beneficiaries of anti-Rana movement—the Brahmins and their upper-caste cohorts—with his royal-military coup in 1960 and restored the primacy of the throne in Nepali politics. Suspicious of Chhetris and Brahmins—he perceived them to be possible challengers—the wily Shah created a new elite from among docile sections of what Jang had declared to be “un-enslavable liquor-drinking tribes” of hills and mountains in the Muluki Ain.
Emergence of ultra-conservative Panchayat hardcore in 1970s and formation of faux-liberal groups within the ruling class in 1980s were preparatory steps of preventing a genuine revolution. The groundwork that King Birendra’s Bright Boys in politics and administration had done over two decades paid rich dividends as the planned revolution of 1990s petered out into tepid reformation. Brahmins and their Sanskritized brethren were back in the saddle with a vengeance. Aggressive donor support (Marxist scholar Tariq Ali terms NGOs as WGOs—Western-Government Organizations) did try to redeem the post-1990 order with cooption of educated members of marginalized communities, but activism even at its best can never be a substitute of politics. Maoists were the first to spot the lacunae in the system and came up with an explosive mix of class war and community mobilization.
The Maoist strategy took its inspiration from Mahendra’s strategy, but it paid close attention to Jang’s “enslavable liquor-drinking tribes” while firmly maintaining the control of the insurgency in Brahmin hands. If it were not for the Maoists, most Gharti, Tamang and Tharu activists would still be languishing in the politics of uniformity being practiced in the Stalinist party headquartered at Balkhu.
The April Uprising of 2006 could have ushered in an egalitarian Rhododendron Revolution, but it was undermined severely by the obduracy of the permanent establishment that was determined not to lose its monopoly over the state apparatus. Participants of all revolutions since 1950s, but invariably externalized at every power-sharing deals, Madheshis rose up for their rights in 2006-07 and changed the game of political negotiations in an irreversible manner.
Other than being loyal cadres in democratic movements and cannon fodder of violent conflicts, Dalits have been missing from all these pictures of political upheavals. It’s about time descendents of Bise Nagarchi woke up from their centuries of slumber and got mad, madder than the way Shrawan Mukarung has portrayed them to be in his widely acclaimed anthem Bise Nagarchi Ko Bayan, and claimed their rightful place in national polity.
Identity politics begin with voices for recognition and end with community rights, which may turn out to be zero-sum game where gains of a group has to be balanced by losses of others. There is nothing wrong per se with such a formulation: Entrenched interests have to be brought down a step or two to make them feel the pain of subjugation. The method may, however, invite violent backlash from those at the upper echelons of society enjoying strategic advantages.
Dalits have to prepare for next confrontation. In this, the prescription of BR Ambedkar is still valid in Nepal: Educate, organise and agitate.
Examples of Dalit awakening have to be drawn from Indian experiences as Nepal’s own Bishwendra Paswans are still struggling to show their presence through disrupting techniques in the Constituent Assembly. Risks of reactions made BR Ambedkar (1891-1956) rescind his rightful claims over separate electorate when Mahatma Gandhi went on an indefinite fast to force the Dalit constitutionalist revoke his demand prior to Indian independence.
Babu Jagjivan Ram (1908-1986) adopted the method of subversion to assert Dalit dignity: It is said that he made it a point to make Brahmin favor-seekers touch his feet. The strategy may not have produced spectacular results, but it helped create confidence among competent Dalit youths. The self-assurance would mature into aggressive sloganeering of Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh who thundered unapologetically: “Tilak, Taraju aur Trawar; inko maro jute chaar”. Literal translation would be considered politically incorrect in polite societies, but her defiant challenge to “twice-born” Brahmins, Kshetriyas and Vaishya castes have shaken traditional politics to its very roots in the Indian heartland.
“People sometimes ask the idle question, why the Pope does not introduce this or that reform? The true answer is that a revolutionist is not the kind of man who becomes a Pope and that a man who becomes a Pope has no wish to be a revolutionist," wrote British constitutionalist Albert Venn Dicey. Political settlements throw up leaders adept at engineering compromises. Dalits of Nepal have to begin preparing for the next confrontation. The prescription of BR Ambedkar is still valid in what was until quite recently the only Hindu kingdom of the world: Educate, organise and agitate.