New unity

  • One can disagree with the Maoists’ violent past but still agree with the legitimate issues they have raised
- Shreya Paudel
New unity

Mar 2, 2015-

Just a few days after the 20th anniversary of the Maoists’ People’s War on February 13, Bharat Kumar Rai, a former Maoist combatant, wrote in Himal magazine, “Those who encouraged poor kids to go to war have betrayed us.”

The most important context to the anniversary this year was the process of making (or rather unmaking) constitution. The saga of war, peace and betrayal currently unfolding, along with the talks of empowerment of the marginalised, has deeply moved and forced me to ask the following questions: Can people who absolutely loathe the Maoist tactics and its violent past be in favour of federalism which acknowledges the issue of identity? Can people who believe in democratic socialism still believe that class politics is not the silver bullet to end all kinds of oppression? Can a male Pahade Bahun support the idea of addressing the Madhesis’ and Janajatis’ demand of ensuring their respective identity in future federal states? My answer to these questions is, “Yes”. Attempting to address and reform the structural barrier is not / should not be equivalent to laying the blame for all historical wrongs on an individual Bahun/Chettri. In fact, it is a social process of reformation.

Split into two

Writing in Kantipur, Khagendra Sangraula mentioned that there were two kinds of people outside the Constituent Assembly (CA) building in Baneshwor on the day when Nepalis were promised the new constitution. The first type supported the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML and wanted to see a constitution drafted as soon as possible. The second group were angry and agitating for the recognition of identity-based federalism. They were linked to various Maoist and Madhesi parties. When one thinks about it, the priorities of both the groups do not seem wrong as such. The popular atmosphere is that people want to see a constitution soon, but a document as important as the constitution should not be drafted without the important ‘green signal’ from the Maoists-Madhesis and Janajatis. Clearly, the country is divided at this point. This is a tragedy.  

Deal with it

Class and identity are not opposed to each other. A Pahade Bahun in the Far-West could be struggling for his basic needs as a Madheshi in Madesh and a Limbu in the eastern hills. The issue of class is to be dealt with through economic growth and redistribution of wealth. However, this should not be a reason for overshadowing the issues raised by the historically marginalised ethnic communities. Let’s face it: Bahuns and Chettris are represented disproportionately in all dominant positions. There must be a structural reason for it. We cannot shrug off this historic responsibility to level the playing field. This is where the Congress and UML are shirking their responsibility. Calling the claims of the ethnic parties as simply wrong and accusing them of being “guided by India” will only do disservice to Nepali unity.

However, not all claims made by the Maoists, Madhesis and Janajatis strike a chord with many Nepalis. These parties want federal states to be named after a single-ethnic identity. There have now have been enough discussions on why these claims should not happen and on why ‘Ek Madhesh Ek Pradesh’ is not a promising model. Still, the NC-UML duo needs to acknowledge that ethnic identity is a legitimate issue. Nothing is more embarrassing than seeing pahade Bahun leaders infantilising and dismissing ethnic politics. For some Madhesi leaders, ethnic politics might indeed be a ladder to form zillions of parties. For a significant portion of Madhesi people, however, it is a genuine issue with genuine grievances.

Meeting point

For the country to move forward, there has to be a meeting point for the NC-UML and Maoists-Madhesis-Janajatis. The most recent proposal of six federal states, recognising multiple identities and geographic diversity seemed to be a reasonable proposal. This would have created consensus between the parties at loggerheads. The NC-UML voters would have been pleased as they do not want to see too many federal states for valid reasons of economic capacity, coupled with their love for a more centralised state. The Maoists-Madhesis-Janajatis voters would have been equally pleased to have ensured federation along the lines of identity. Most importantly, Nepal would have moved forward.

As Sudhir Sharma wrote on January 25 in the Kantipur, parties are only divided

over a few districts and their placement in the new federal structure. He noted

that there were ways to reach an agreement and the parties should indeed try to achieve it.

The first CA grappled with the same issue—the basis of federalism. The second CA is still struggling with the same question. Clearly, the political parties have not worked hard enough to solve the question. It is shameful to see the diagreement almost culminate with the thrashing of chairs and tables by the Maoists and their allies in the CA hall. The behaviour did not benefit anybody.

However, beyond the obviously repulsive but superficial ‘kursi kaanda’, it is refreshing to hear that members of Nepali intelligentsia like Sudhir Sharma and Amit Dhakal are focusing on the need for a consensus. In the middle of all the rhetoric, political parties need to make an effort to listen to the much needed voices for consensus—the consensus which the parties both in government and opposition will not disregarded the next day. The symbols of the ‘old unity’ formed on the centralised state’s terms can be replaced by the ‘new unity’ of consensus at this critical crossroads. One can definitely disagree with the Maoists’ violent past and still agree with the legitimate issues they have raised. The way forward lies in the middle ground—on consensus with the inclusion of major powers.

 

Paudel holds a degree in international politics from Middlesex University, the UK

Published: 03-03-2015 09:22

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