Long-term returns

  • Govt is rightly keen to maintain state’s autonomy but must guard against majoritarian overreach

Mar 26, 2018-

The European Union Election Observation Mission’s (EUEOM’s) final report on Nepal’s provincial and federal elections has stirred up a storm in Kathmandu. There has been one provision in particular that has been controversial: the one where the EUEOM recommended against providing reservations for the Khas Arya group. A long list of agencies and individuals strongly criticised the report, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), the Election Commission, and many of the most influential politicians in the country today. 

This is not the first time that the government has reacted strongly against external organisations that have spoken up about issues in Nepal. In recent years, successive governments have become increasingly sensitive regarding any comment on Nepali affairs. And this sensitivity, very rightly, is reflected among large sections of the Nepali population. Through the years of the peace process, there was an increasing sense that outsiders were too involved in the country’s internal affairs. This was evident through a range of events. First, there was the strong reaction against UNMIN, especially after the 2008 elections, then there were reactions against calls for greater inclusion in Nepal’s political sphere. The anger and resentment towards foreign actors reached a climax during the 2015 Madhesi protests, when India imposed a border blockade because it was not happy with the new constitution. 

Nepali officials’ desire to keep external actors at bay is reasonable. Any country that is beholden to foreigners is a weak one. Any government that seeks the best for its people has to ensure that it is not misled by other countries. The new government in fact has stated that it is intent on maintaining the state’s autonomy and is strongly supported by public opinion in Nepal. 

Nonetheless, there are times in Nepal when a desire for autonomy has stretched to xenophobia. The reaction to the EUEOM’s report was an indication of this. Such strong and continued reactions to an election observation mission that the government had itself invited reveals intolerance on the part of state officials. 

And were the EUEOM’s comments so unreasonable? It said that the Khas Arya group should not be given quotas under the Proportional Representation (PR) category since it is already overrepresented in state institutions. No one can doubt that this statement is fundamentally correct. The new parliament and provincial assemblies are dominated by Bahun and Chhetri men. So are the leaderships of all the major political parties. The Cabinet too consists mainly of men from these castes. 

In fact, there is resentment towards these provisions among a section of Nepali society. Statements from organisations like the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) have supported the EUEOM’s report. What we are currently seeing in Nepal is the establishment of a majoritarian system of governance and there are fears that the voices of minorities could get gradually side-lined. The government (and most certainly we in the media) would do well to keep an open and tolerant attitude towards dissenting voices for the sake of long-term harmony and democratic evolution of our polity.

Published: 26-03-2018 07:44

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