Dr. Krishna B. Bhattachan
What is the Contribution of IPs Academics?
Pratyous Onta, reviewing the contribution of IPs academia in indigenous peoples' movement in his paper "Assessment of Policy and Institutional Framework for addressing Discrimination against Adivasi Janajatis (Indigenous nationalities) in Nepal and a Review of Public Discourse and Action of the Adivasi Janajati Social Movement", writes, "A quick survey of the works of academic institutions and intellectuals suggests that most of the academic production related to the janajati movement in Nepal is being done on an individual basis. That is not to say that there aren't some organizational efforts, but their numbers are small. Individual academics who have made important contributions to the movement include Harka Gurung, Krishna Bhattachan, Bairagi Kainla, Bal Krishna Mabuhang, Om Gurung, Chaitannya Subba, Sitaram Tamang, Parshuram Tamang, B.K. Rana, Ganesh M Gurung, Durgahang Yakha Rai, Yasso Kanti Bhattachan, Sumitra Manandhar Gurung, Suresh Ale Magar, Amrit Yonzan-Tamang, Mahendra Lawoti, Mukta Singh Lama-Tamang, T.B. Pun and others" (Onta 2005:37). Onta further writes, "Krishna Bhattachan has been the most visible and vocal academic amongst those raising issues related to the janajatis. He has been active in all types of face-to-face interactions and forums and has published widely, both in Nepali and English, on this theme in all kinds of media-mainstream, janajati print, academic-since 1993 …. More than anybody else in the academic community, he deserves the credit for putting 'ethnopolitics' squarely in the agenda of mainstream politics in post-1990 Nepal" (Onta 2005:38).
The NEFIN’s Shift from IPs Social Cultural to Political Issues?
In 2001, Gyanendra became more autocratic, yet political parties agitation and protests became insignificant. In the meantime, civil society and political actors were divided into for and against. The NEFIN had unanimously decided to respond King Gyanendra's move in a mild way – the King must address the political chaos without undermining democratic rights of people, and especially indigenous aspirations and issues. However, it was interpreted by the mainstream media that the NEFIN welcomed the King’s move and General Secretary, Balkrishna Mabuhang was accused as of being pro-king. Mabuhang, taking moral responsibility as the head of the organization, tried to clarify that the reason for responding to the King's moves was that the NEFIN needs to be proactive in lobbying against the state with IPs' own capacity and strength. Despite the King's move with his own vested autocratic interest, a political chaos was created after Deuba's unconstitutional proposal of extension of date of general election had left a political space for everybody.
When King Gyanendra dismantled the elected Parliament and took all the executive power in his hand, Gore Bahadur Khapangi was not only inducted as the Minister in the Council of Ministers but he accepted Tika from the King during the Dasain festival of the Hindus. Most of the indigenous peoples felt that his action was nothing but a betrayal against IPs legitimate cause. As a result, those indigenous peoples who had faith in monarchy were alienated and supported for democratic movement to eliminate the institution of the King for good, and those who had faith on IPs led political parties moved away to stick with the main political parties controlled by the Bahun-Chhetris.
With increasing pressure from the Maoist, the NEFIN leadership began to shift its thinking from confining its activities in social and cultural sphere to transforming itself by looking beyond it by campaigning for the elimination of the institution of the King. As the people’s movement and indigenous peoples’ movement gained momentum going against monarchy it became clear that IPs cannot preserve and protect not only rights to ancestral land but also cultural identity without securing first the IPs political rights. Democracy (Loktantra) is most important to IPs and we have to have active role. NEFIN leadership decided that IPs should not go as far as forming its own political party or parties.
Maoists talk about class war and not ethnicity. Parties do not want IPs to come out in the streets. However, for our political rights we have to come out in the streets otherwise our rights are not guaranteed. We need to warn the political parties and go ahead with mass protest.
We have to work together with sister organizations of political parties and move forward. We must warn the political parties and pressure them constantly. Seven political parties have to give their commitment to IPs cause. We have to hit the iron while it’s hot. Dr. Harka Gurung was the strong supporter of take advantage of the weak political parties.
In 2005-2006 movement our main issues were: proportional representation and re-structuring of the state. With these two slogans IPs movement was popularized. Media was censored before the IPs movement. The movement gave space IPs voices to put their issues on the mainstream media. IPs learned that without mass movement we cannot achieve anything. This increased IPs’ expectations and the NEFIN leaders did not know how to meet these high expectations. Today’s dialogue on IPs demands are based on the outcome of the IPs movement. By now, the NEFIN slowly moved from cultural issue to political right; not political party based, but right based politics. Everything is decided by the majority. But in majority decision, the number of IPs with small population is large; hence some times IPs with large population feel that their aspirations are ignored during the course of majority decisions.
Did the NEFIN Shift its Focus from Political Issues to Political Parties Pockets?
When Dr. Om Gurung became the General Secretary of the NEFIN, he pushed that it must go against autocratic steps of King Gyanendra while political parties were also seeking support of various groups of people. Dr. Om Gurung, the General Secretary of the NEFIN, was also the one of the cadres of Nepal Communist Party (Mashal) and had an active political responsibility. It was indeed keeping two legs on two boats. Though he had a responsibility to move IPs independent initiative, he could not convince that IPs can hold such a political movement. There was an urgent need to have independent move, different from SPA, to navigate IPs movement against autocratic rule of King Gyanendra. Instead, the NEFIN followed the Seven Party Alliance (SPA). It resulted in a confusion in IPs movement that whether it was an independent movement or of the SPA's. In fact, it became a hybrid, like 'Khacchad' i.e. the offspring of horse and donkey, of independent IPs married with the parties' cadres. Many of the NEFIN's decisions were influenced and taken away from IPO's to cadres, IPs wings/sister organizations of various political parties, including the NCP (UML), NCP (Mashal), and NC (Democratic). The NFEIN turned out to be a good spring board for IPs cadres associated with various political parties, so that whoever stepped in NEFIN's premise and became IPs leaders, (s)he would be granted either minister or state minister by the main political parties. Thus, IPs leaders fell pray of co-optation strategy used by the dominant caste group.
When Dr. Om Gurung became the General Secretary of the NEFIN, he pushed the idea that it must take political stance and not just go after social cause only. The thinking at that time was, i, it would not help to stay common because political parties have an ideological framework and the NEFIN was, at the time, issue based organization. The NEFIN never became the sister organization of any political party, the political party instead followed the NEFIN. IPs must give credit to everyone who brought and gave benefit to the IPs cause.
When Pasang Sherpa became the president of the NEFIN, political party became dominant and Indigenous People’s issues became less important within it. When sister organizations of political parties entered the NEFIN, that was the turning point for the NEFIN and the IPs movement in general. It’s looking like it is not possible to build a solid state anytime soon. Thus we are at a critical point where we can’t be just a lobbying group at this historical juncture of making of the new constitution and restructuring of the state. Historically, the NEFIN leaders have had a love-hate relationship with the NEFIN. While in power within the NEFIN, they have remained very close with it; once they leave their official leadership positions in it, on the one hand, they are alienated by their successors, and on the other, they begin to denounce the NEFIN and its leadership. It is indeed a very unfortunate reoccurrence in the NEFIN.
Did the IPOs including the NEFIN and IPs Movement turned into a NGO Movement?
IPOs including the umbrella organizations such as the NEFIN, the NIWF Nepal and their affiliated IPOs are neither traditional nor modern NGOs. However due to the government's rule that all non-profit organizations must be registered with the Nepal Government under the Social Organization Act enacted during the partyless Panchayat system, the structure and functioning of these IPOs resemble NGOs. Before the year 1996, all these IPOs, with a few exception, such as the Chepangs, were neither government dependent nor international donor dependent as both grossly ignored the IPs existence, identity and their issues. The Nepal Government recognized the existence and identity of indigenous peoples in the late nineties and provided nominal financial support with inclusion of IPs issues in the Ninth Five Year Plan. Later a few international donors, following the Government, began to provide financial support to the NEFIN and other IPOs. The Government's as well as donors' conditionality along with their "easy" money pampered leaders of the IPOs including the NEFIN and began to work like NGOs rather than a social movement. As a result individual passion, fire and a sense of voluntarism began to extinguish. The fate of IPs leaders has been suicidal like those insects who are attracted by bright lights during night time and get killed.
What is the Contribution of IPs-led Political Parties, namely, the Rastriya Jana-Mukti Party?: The Rastriya Jana-Mukti Party was registered with the Election Commission in 1991 and contested the General Election of May 1991. Though the party did not win any seats in the first-past-post-election, it received significant number of votes from different constituencies indicating that IPs issues are important for many at the grass roots level. The party, with leadership of its then charismatic leaders Gore Bahadur Khapangi, popularized IPs issues at the village levels and raised IPs sentiment against the Bahuns-Chettris and their Bahunbad. His life long investment went ashtray and betrayed the expectation of millions of Ips when he accepted the Ministerial poition in the cabinet formed by King Gyanendra in 2005 and accepted the tika (“red colored uncooked rice in the forehead”) from the King during the Dasain festival. Although the party had raised the issue of federalism it was more about administrative federalism than ethnic or linguistic or regional federalism.
(To be continued)