The decision of ethnic leaders and activists to form a new party which was made public at the end of a two-day gathering held under the banner of Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), has put a question mark over the major parties’ ability and willingness to address the issues of indigenous and other marginalized communities. To its credit, NEFIN’s latest endeavor might further encourage those fighting to end age-old discrimination against marginalized communities. But the gathering’s other decision—to urge indigenous communities to socially boycott political parties and leaders who oppose single identity-based federalism—comes in a bad taste.
Interestingly, as hundreds of ethnic leaders and activists were deciding to form their own political party to fight for identity-based federalism, CPN-UML, one of the country’s major parties, decided to seek clarifications from its ethnic leaders for their “factional activities”. A group of dissident UML leaders including party vice-chairman Ashok Rai and leaders Ram Chandra Jha, Prithvi Subba Gurung, Bijay Subba and Rajendra Shrestha had been boycotting party’s meetings demanding that the party leadership adopt a policy of delineating and naming provinces based on single-ethnic identities. The party, however, termed it as running an intra-party faction against party policy and decided to seek clarifications. This has created a major (and potentially divisive) rift in UML.
The NEFIN gathering has set August 9, the International Day of Indigenous Nationalities, for the launch of the party. Though the initiative has been taken by non-governmental activists, the participation of ethnic leaders from various political parties, including UML, UCPN (Maoist) and Nepali Congress, and independent intellectuals has further boosted the morale of the activists. One should remember that Nepal’s Madhesi movement started with the initiative of a non-governmental organization called Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF) which managed to emerge as a major political force in the 2008 CA polls.
With MJF’s evolution as a political force (though it has now broken into many splinter groups) and with NEFIN opting to open a new outfit, the major parties have been put under pressure to re-think their stances on modalities of federal system. There is no doubt that Nepal needs a major overhaul of the society that has deprived the marginalized communities of their rights. Finding a workable solution to the current political crisis would not be possible without addressing the grievances of these marginalized communities which include not only indigenous groups but also Dalits, Madhesis and women, among many others. But this definitely would not come by boycotting any particular party or group based on its political stand.
The ideal situation would be for the parties to accommodate the views of the marginalized communities. They need to see impending changes as the natural course of action in building a new Nepal that guarantees social justice, equality and human rights. The parties need to understand that the situation could worsen if the Dalits, women and other smaller groups contemplated their own political outfits. Therefore, instead of seeking clarifications from their dissidents or trying to pacify them temporarily, major parties like NC and UML need to give up their traditional mindset and start addressing the grievances and demands raised by the marginalized communities before it is too late