|| WEAKENING SOCIAL HARMONY
The indigenous people of Nepal were categorized as being ‘marginal’ since the time of integration of modern Nepal by King Prithvi Narayan Shah, and were further deprived during the Panchayat era through the monarchist slogan ‘hamro raja hamro desh- autai bhasa autai bhesh’. This changed partially from the second Jana Andolan of 1990 and thereafter, from the popular uprising of 2006. The first endeavor to ensure inclusiveness in the political system started with the adoption of the Indigenous Act, 2001. This was the outcome of the effort made by the Indigenous Development Committee which was formed in 1997.
The Carter Centre was the first to vocalize the demands of the indigenous and marginalized groups in Nepal. British minister, Alan Duncan of DFID, clarified in a press conference held at the British Embassy on June 27, 2012 that his country intends to support its commitment to inclusion. On the comment by the Nepali media of DFID being ‘biased’, he said that DFID is maintaining it ‘neutral’ policy. He categorically denied that it was supporting the ongoing campaigns for federalism based on ethnic lines. Further, he said ‘it is untenable and unacceptable that any society can have second class citizens in a truly inclusive society’, but he did not elaborate how some Nepalis are indeed being treated as second class citizens.
However, it is clear that DFID’s role has come under cloud due to NEFIN’s political activities and the association between the two. Duncan’s indication that some Nepalis are still treated as second class citizens in the country and justification for funding NEFIN for politically motivated ethnic based federalism may not be acceptable to all Nepalis.
Due to the inherent flexibility of the mainstream political leaders, the movements and interactions of ambassadors and diplomats of the NORDIC countries to support ethno-based groups have provoked all the stakeholders, including neighboring India and China, to intervene and play power-games in the internal affairs of Nepal. Such activities at a time the country is on the verge of political transition have complicated the settlement of peace. Political leaders ought to be cautious in dealing with international communities, especially in matters affecting our national interest.
The fact came to light when NEFIN decided it would form a political party on August 9 this year in order to mark the ‘International Day of the world’s indigenous people’. As per their stand, Nepal’s major political parties are controlled by Brahmins and upper-caste hill elites who do not represent the interests of the entire nation. Further, their party will be ‘responsible for safe-guarding’ the values and norms of human rights, social justice, equality and indigenous customs of Nepal.
Some within the academic circle believe that as both ‘mangol’ and ‘aryan’ tribes migrated from outside, there are no tribes original to Nepal. The integration campaign by King Prithvi Narayan Shah has been considered as an aggressive move, which witnessed bloodless annexation with a promissory note to grant special status to some tribes in eastern Nepal. Also, before the rule of Newars in Kathmandu valley was established, there were Kirat, Lichhabi, Mahishpal, and Gopal dynasties. It is amazing how those who migrated within the last 50 years to Nepal are also claiming indigenous status, those who do not even have a separate language, script or history.
The current political deadlock is an outcome of multiple factors. The lack of consensus among political parties, tendency to seek outside support and guidance to manage internal problems as well as lack of self confidence and faith in fellow political leaders has destroyed the national unity of Nepal. During the royal regime, monarchy was over-emphasized as a symbol of national unity. People were just considered as raiti or praja - mere tools on disposal to please the royalty who were considered as god’s incarnation. It was the second popular revolution of 1990 which empowered the people of Nepal with actual sovereignty through a new constitution.
The revolution of 1990 not only offered huge opportunities through an open multiparty system but also posed tremendous challenges to political leaders for restructuring political institutions in Nepal, in order to respond to or fully contain the new pluralist, centrifugal forces fuelled by structural adjustment and a rapidly expanding civil society. It was like a ‘pressure cooker without a safety valve’, where intolerable pressure was built up that resulted in the declaration of war by the Maoists. They addressed most of the weaknesses, thus dismantling the monarchial state and pursuing a phased strategy for attacking the key functions of the state to capture it systematically.
Lack of consensus, tendency to seek outside support to manage even internal problems and lack of faith in fellow political leaders has destroyed national unity.
The Madhesis are the first to have introduced ethnicity-based political parties that split from the Nepali Congress and the Maoists after the Madhes uprising in 2007. Meanwhile, Brahmins and Chhetries have also been organized and listed as an indigenous group in Nepal. This group has opposed ethnic federalism per se. The formation of ethnic-based political parties is a challenge for other mainstream political leaders who claim that they are the real patrons of the nation.
An inclusive character is the basic trait of a leader. Democracy can only flourish where transparency is guaranteed. A majority of political parties have duality in their policy regarding democracy and inclusiveness. As long as their words and deeds are contradictory, such challenges may arise even more frequently in our society. There is a strong possibility that Brahmins and Chhetries will also feel encouraged to form a similar party, splitting from mainstream political parties, in order to counter the ethnicity-based political party. If this happens, the entire fabric of our society is likely to be torn to pieces and we may enter a phase of a new ethnic conflict like in Sudan and Ethiopia.
The author is a Ph D scholar in Conflict Management