Oped

Knot again

  • If it comes down to it, identity proponents must follow due process without giving up their cause
- Pramod Mishra
Knot again

Oct 30, 2014-

Nepal has once again found itself in an unenviable knot about the number and nature of federalism. In the first Constituent Assembly (CA), identity proponents could muster a supermajority but the CPN-UML and Nepali Congress (NC) thwarted due process by fair (issuing whips to its CA members and getting their wishes for CA dissolution fulfilled through the Supreme Court) or foul (backroom threats and last-minute manipulations not to revive the CA, among others) means. Now in the second CA, identity opponents wield the threat of due process while proponents insist on consensus, threatening dire consequences if process trumps consensus. 

Blame could not be squarely placed on the UML and Congress for the first CA’s failure to produce a constitution, as the Maoists wasted time struggling unsuccessfully to forcefully take over the state and Madhesi leaders lost focus with their parties breaking into smaller factions and making alliances for unscrupulous power games. Similarly, now, the Maoist-Madhesi alliance is not to blame if the second CA fails in its mission, because the NC and UML, drunk on their newfound mandate, have gone back on agreements and understandings on federalism. The new mandate, they insist, ought to usher in a new reality. This new mandate, for them, is nothing else but an endorsement of the 30 percent ruling over the 70 percent. In a situation like this, the only way forward seems to be a headlong collision.

Stalemate continues

Because identity opponents have entrenched themselves in the organs of the state as a result of 250 years of variegated structural privileges (Hindu religion, Nepali language, hill high-caste ethnic privilege, blood and kinship, etc), they have been deploying these privileged groups to build public opinion in their favour and against identity-inclusive federalism. The free Nepali-language media, probably the most powerful organ of the state in shaping public opinion, has become a mouthpiece for entrenched stakeholders. To be sure, a Madhesi here, a Janajati there, a Nepali-speaking intellectual somewhere else barks and bleats but even the loudest barking lacks bite when faced with the cacophony of the entrenched elite.

During the last CA, arguments and counter-arguments played out endlessly in the print media without affecting the stalemate in the least. As one of the anonymous peer reviewers of my article for a scholarly publication said a couple years ago, can mere discourse make the privileged give up their long-enjoyed privileges for the sake of justice and equality in Nepal?  The reviewer was questioning my naiveté.

So, if the discourse is what it is, if the political parties are what they are and where they are, and the public is what it is and where it is—what is the way out? What are the dangers of this continuing stalemate?  

In the second CA election, fed up with the tantrums of the Maoists and opportunism of the Madhesis, even Janajati and Madhesi voters, who had looked up to the Maoists and the Madhesi parties to usher in a new era, put their trust in the UML and Congress. Maybe they thought that the UML and Congress, parties with weight and maturity, would do the right thing and strike a balance between the two extremes of single-identity states and identity-free Panchayat-model states.  

Irrevocable fissures

But the deep ideology and group interests of KP Oli, the UML chairman, and his comrades and the right wingers in the Congress may further deepen the ethnic divide, creating long-term enmity between the two communities. For fear of losing their structural privilege, Nepali speakers may get ready for violence and Janajatis and Madhesis in turn might vilify Nepali-speakers, all of them, for not yielding an inch without violence and mayhem. Who will be the loser if irrevocable fissures occur between communities? Not the linguistically and ethnically narrow chauvinists and extremists.

It is people like me who are inextricably grounded in multiple ethnicities who will suffer the most, because the multicultural and multiethnic life that we have built and nurtured through marital and other equally important bonds will be forever sundered. This has happened wherever ethnicities got divided due to the intransigence of the extremist, monocultural, monoethnic, and ethnocentric few—from Rwanda, Sri Lanka to Bosnia and the Middle East.  

In all this, the UCPN (Maoist) is the only saving grace and has been all along. But will the Maoist leadership be able to stem the weaknesses and ethnic loyalties of their own cadres? The Unified West movement of 2013, led by Lekhraj Bhatta [UCPN (Maoist)], Bhim Rawal (UML), Ramesh Lekhak (NC), does not offer room for hope.  

So, should we, who are both literally and ideologically multiethnic, multilingual and multicultural, allow extremists and the prejudiced to hold sway? I don’t think so.

Moderates, bark

Moderates and justice lovers from all communities must speak up. The bleating of former election commissioner Bhojraj Pokhrel is a beginning. Moderates need to bark from now on.

Identity proponents, despite their right cause, must use only legitimate means to seek justice. By legitimate, I mean democratic—both on the streets and in the Constituent Assembly. They should fan out throughout the country, educating people, convince lawmakers of all ethnicities, especially those from marginalised groups, and persuade the UML and Congress by offering reasonable compromises without fundamentally surrendering the cause.  

But by no means should they follow the Mohan Baidya line and abandon the route of democracy. And if consensus doesn’t work, they should follow due process without surrendering their cause.  They should point out the flaws and perfidy of the identity opponents’ mechanisms and wait until the next election. And if the status quo continues after the constitution is implemented, then they should prepare the groundwork for another revolution to effect justice through peaceful means.  

Following due process will ultimately do two things. First, it will establish a precedence of the democratic process, which will come in handy when identity proponents have the majority. Second, it will expose the betrayal, ultra-nationalism, ethnocentrism, and casteism of the identity opponents. But Baburam Bhattarai and Prachanda, the two leaders of the UCPN (Maoist), must not lead this compromise if they fail to achieve identity-based multiethnic federalism. Instead, they should let the leaders of the Janajati and Madhesi parties take the lead. This will prevent essentialising ethnicities in Nepal, which is the most dangerous possibility towards which we seem to be heading right now.

Published: 30-10-2014 07:43

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