Partisan rift as search for new Nefin leadership begins

- ROSHAN SEDHAI, Kathmandu

Dec 18, 2016-

Ethnic organisations are divided into two camps as the search for new leadership begins at the ninth general convention of the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities that kicked off in Chitwan on Saturday.

A coalition of ethnic groups loyal to the CPN-UML and the Nepali Congress appears likely to win the top post at the cost of another camp close to the CPN (Maoist Centre) and the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum Nepal.

Though an autonomous non-partisan organisation, Nefin holds significance in national politics with its well-laid grassroots network across the country and huge influence on the ethnic communities at a time when the row deepens among the parties over the key issues including federalism.

The convention, which is scheduled to end on Monday, will elect a 13-member federal secretariat comprising a chairperson, five vice-chairpersons, a general secretary, five secretaries and a treasurer. Each of the Nefin’s 56 member organisations will have a single vote in the election process. More than 420 representatives from 71 district councils and 22 countries are participating in the convention.

As of Saturday evening, Surya Bhujel, Sarbadhan Rai, Sonam Sherpa and Nityananda Tajpuriya have presented themselves as the chairman candidates. Bhujel and Rai represent the camp loyal to the UML while Sherpa and Tajpuriya are close to the Maoist Centre and the SSFN respectively.

Nefin incumbent General Secretary Pemba Bhote, who is also a UML lawmaker in Parliament, said his camp would pick its chairman candidate by Sunday morning.

“We unanimously agreed to support NC candidate Jagat Baram for the position of general secretary. The NC will support our candidate for the chair in return, honouring an understanding reached during the last general convention,” said Bhote. The UML had supported NC-loyal incumbent Nefin Chairman Nagendra Kumal during the eight general convention.

Leaders close to the Maoist Centre look to the swing vote for a result in their favour. Of the 56 total votes, the UML, the Maoists, the NC and the SSPN wield 11, 8, 8 and 5 votes respectively. Senior Janajati leaders including Prithvi Subba Gurung of the UML, Barshaman Pun of the Maoist Centre, and Om Gurung and Ashok Rai of the SSFN are in Chitwan to lobby for their candidates.

Major parties are keenly watching the developments as the fate of the identity movement depends on which party dominates the Nefin leadership. Ethnic leaders said the UML is likely to push the pro-identity movement into oblivion if it gets the leadership. Ethic organisations close to Maoist Centre and the SSFN have spoken in favour of ethnic identity.

Notably, the Nefin has not completely owned up the new constitution. Since the Nefin chairman and the general secretary were nominated as lawmakers, they did not take strong position against the statute. Former chairman of the federation Om Gurung blames the incumbent leadership for the fading pro-identity movement.

PM Dahal for rights of Janajatis

Inaugurating the convention on Saturday, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said 

he would work to thwart any attempt against federalism while assuring the indigenous people of their rights.

“Some Brahmins are struggling to institutionalise the federal democratic republic in the country and are fighting for the rights of Janajatis. Some other Brahmins are against giving rights to the Janajatis,” said PM Dahal, arguing that it would be unfair to view all the Brahmins through the same lens. Nefin Chairman Nagendra Kumal clarified that the indigenous people only wanted their rights. “We do not seize anybody’s rights,” he said. 

(With inputs from our Chitwan correspondent)

Published: 18-12-2016 08:04

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