Nepal: Federal state canít sustain on ethnic identity basis

Raj Kumar Siwakoti

Secretary General, FOHRID, Nepal

The Interim Constitution of Nepal, 2063 has vowed to "end centralized and unitary framework of the state" and to ensure inclusive, democratic and progressive restructuring of the state. After the 5th amendment of the constitution, Article 138(1ka) reads, "Accepting the aspirations of indigenous ethnic groups and the people of the backward and other regions, and the people of Madhes, for autonomous provinces, Nepal shall be a Federal Democratic Republic. The provinces shall be autonomous with full rights. The Constituent Assembly shall determine the number, boundaries, names and structures of autonomous provinces and distribution of power and resources, while maintaining the sovereignty, unity and integrity of Nepal."

We cannot refrain from federalism as the first meeting of the CA has declared Nepal as the Federal Democratic Republic. The CA has to determine state restructuring in which determining federal states is a daunting task. The political parties representing in the CA do not have uniform concept about state restructuring. The numbers of states proposed by various political parties and experts have put forth that ethnicity, natural means and resources, common psychology, language and culture, geography, demography and geo-cultural commonality should be the ground for federalism.

Five types of federalism including cooperative federalism (Ethiopia, Sudan, Venezuela), competitive federalism (Pakistan and Belgium), restricted federalism (Nigeria), pressurized federalism (Australia) and dual federalism (Switzerland) are being practiced in the present day world. State restructuring is felt necessary to end the controversy created by unitary ruling system. People have felt that unity of feelings was not attained in the physical unification of Nepal. Madhesi, indigenous, dalit, nationalities want salvation from discrimination against them. Federal Nepal has been envisioned to ensure economic prosperity of Nepal through strengthening unity in feelings.

Nepal is multiethnic, multilinguistic, multicultural country having broader diversity. There is no majority of a single ethnicity, language, culture at a single place. Determination of federalism on the basis of ethnicity can trigger ethnic violence and justice may transform into revenge. The majority populace may initiate agitation if a community with 17 percent or similar population is given a state. It stirs up existing social harmony. We must adopt federalism by securing identity of all. One ethnicity may feel neglected erased if another is given baseless priority. Federal states must be determined in the way that any community with certain ethnicity, language, religion should not feel suppressed. All should feel that they have ownership over the state. Otherwise, struggle for identity shall start right from the day of promulgation of new constitution.

Federalism should be based on identity addressing ethnic voice, strength, administrative access, access to means and resources. Protection of the identity of multiethnic and multilingual diversity, guarantee of identity of language and ethnicity, comparative advantage of economic and social strength etc. should be the ground for determination of federal states. We must establish confidence on the general people that federalism is not a means for power game, separation, dominance to each other, and revenge against the historical rulers. Federalism is a means for uniting and strengthening the nation instead a mean to divide it. The political parties must not be engaged in triggering conflict among ethnicities. We cannot get neighbors even for marriage and funeral processions, if we go for slogan of ethnicity and ethnic salvation by ignoring real situation of the country. Feudal lords ruled the country in the past 250 years. Feudal lords were existent in Madhes, Pahad and Karnali from the respective communities themselves. However, this fact is being neglected now to target a certain ethnicity or community in the name of exploitation. We have to lift ourselves from the narrow concept as every sector has the problem of identity. If only handful minority ethnicities are given identity, the rest will raise another round of violence for their identity. Therefore, we must seriously consider this issue while determining federalism.

There should not be confrontation between one and the other state in the federalism. The inhabitants of Terai must benefit from the resources of the hilly region, and the commodities and productions of the Terai must be consumed by the dwellers of the hilly region. Federal states must be formed to ensure congenial relationship and mutual benefit through economic and cultural relationship, instead of leading towards pressure and confrontation between provinces. General Nepalese people are seeking peace and development. Hence, there is no alternate of mutual collaboration and congenial relationship. Equitable inclusion and gender representation must be highly prioritized under federalism. Concerns are being raised that only males shall be Chief Minister of the provinces even after federalism.

While analyzing various concepts put forth by different political parties, all the political parties except Rastriya Jana Morcha are in favour of federalism. But they have not reached consensus about standard and point of departure for determination of federalism. Most of the political parties and the people agree that the political structure must be of 3 levels namely central, provincial and local. Some political parties have proposed 4 levels. The UCPN-Maoist has proposed 2 levels of governance. As most of the parties are in favour of 3 levels of governance, consensus can be reached in this perspective. However, the political parties have not initiated effective dialogue in this regard.

State restructuring is impossible without determining ground for federal division. None of the political parties have common understanding regarding ground for the federal division. The indigenous ethnic communities opine that the states should be divided on the ethnic ground. Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, Rastriya Prajatantra Party, Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party, Rastriya Janamorcha prefer geography, rivers, mountains as the ground for such division. The UCPN-Maoist and CPN-United have opined that the ethnicity, language and region should be the ground. In this way, the political parties do not have uniform idea about division of federalism. UCPN-Maoist seems to be clearer on the number and boundary of provinces. There is difference regarding number of provinces within the individual parties themselves. This has hindered from reaching a conclusion on this issue. The parties have proposed from 5 to 14 provinces, and it can be presumed that they may agree to divide the country into 8 to 9 federal units. But the journey of state restructuring seems a far cry as the major political parties have not taken any effective step in this regard. Therefore, people are compelled to suspect whether or not the political parties shall reach the real destination of federalism?

The parties have different views regarding whether to prioritize identity or strength as the ground for division of federation. Elements within identity are ethnicity, language, culture, historic and geographical continuity; and the elements within strength are availability of natural resources, financial interrelation, situation and potential of infrastructure development and administrative accessibility. While considering in this way, it is more practical and scientific to determine the number of federations on the basis of strength. Major question is how to make the division of federations more practical and scientific. For this, the parties must give up their own stand and adopt the way of scientific agreement. Otherwise the effort of state restructuring will be obstructed in the determination of numbers itself.

We have to consider the international experience also while dividing federations. We can take the reference of 3 types of international experience where federalism could not work despite theoretical agreement. The first group of countries including Poland, Lithuania, Commonwealth, Malaya Federation, West Indies, and Federation of Mali that could not go to federalism despite theoretical consensus. Secondly, Yugoslavia and Ethiopia faced division after entering into federalism. Thirdly, Cameroon and Uganda returned to unitary system after they could not work properly under federalism. Therefore, we have to be careful not to let any of these three situations happen in our country. But, we have the risk to face one of the above three situations if the political parties are not careful.

By this time, the world community has learnt that federalism is not the only solution for contradiction, inequality and inclusion. There is no guarantee that all the problems will be solved and the country will not face difficulty under federalism. Therefore, we have to go through careful homework while venturing towards federalism. The ground should not be one of the ethnicity, language, economy but a mixture of all these to ensure equity. Belgium was divided on the basis of 3 languages viz Dutch, French and German, and now the country is facing problems. Sudan is an example where the journey of ethnic rights started with 3 communities that ended up with 26 states. There are 597 indigenous communities and 400 language groups in Sudan which is facing daily violence. In our neighboring country India also, federalism has not proved fruitful. There, the first ground was religion and then language. Consequently, Pakistan was separated in 1947 and Bangladesh was created from Pakistan in 1971. There are still conflicts of Hindu, Muslim, Kashmir, Nagaland, Gorkhaland etc. in India. On the other hand, federalism has worked effectively in USA and Switzerland. Economic prosperity, justice and democracy have prospered in these countries. Therefore, this is the right time to think, initiate debate and engage in homework about which type of state restructuring is suitable for us. However, the political parties have not been accountable in this issue.

Several grounds have been proposed for federalism now. Indigenous people, dalit, ethnicity, Madhesi have their separate pleadings. They have not given due importance to the available natural resources as ground for federalism. Development of tomorrow is connected with natural resources. While going for federalism, we have to see whether the federal states can sustain economically or not. The state cannot sustain only on the basis of ethnic identity. A state cannot stand in the absence of adequate means and resources and their exploitation. There is controversy between availability of the natural resources and the structure of federalism proposed by political parties. Economic stability and exploitation of natural resources is difficult if we go for federalism as proposed by political parties. There will be more complexities in the future if we distribute provinces to certain ethnicities in the name of identity. We have to focus availability of natural resources if we truly want heal people from ethnic suppression. Therefore, federalism must be determined ensuring marriage between the natural resources and backwardness. ( For

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I agree


  • Posted on - 2012-05-25    by     maya nepal
  • Dear Rajkumarji, thanks a lot for well formatted article, these sorts of article are spread all over the media in7out of Nepal at present situation. Your article is not rather distinct and logical as other in view of setting prime goal for the multiethnic, multilingual country but i found, in my knowledge, your article is copy/paste of various article written i this course of timeframe for the same issue. Therefore, mind please write your own thought and plan a dissemination for the discourse in mainstream. this is not matter of ethnicity, but rude and violent discourse which is oriented by racism.
  • Posted on - 2012-02-02    by     Roshil
  • good artical, why note include author name and identification ?