Whither Nepal State Restructuring

Anil Sigdel, University of Vienna

International Relations Research Student

The debate on state-restructuring resurfaced after the SRC submitted the majority’s and dissident’s reports. All along, the fundamental disagreement lied on the two opposite ideologies. One favors ethno-based restructuring and the other, adamantly opposes it. In other words, the issue of identity, inter alia, has come out as the crux of the controversy. The majority embraces the inevitable trajectory of ethno-politics or identity politics based on the “principles of modernity”.  Whereas the minority remains skeptical of “radical” or identity-driven restructuring. Thus, they stick to socio-economic developmental model. The latter perspective might still be good, but it is not apt to address the political aspirations that have emerged.

Besides, it is not inevitable that identity-based restructuring lead to violent conflict the way the dissidents and the realists argue. In any case, it is necessary to know on what situation such state leads to violence. The following observations on the state-restructuring’s problematic issues are based on social psychological explanations of conflict.

Both reports apparently expect three–tier-federal structure (the former envisages two-tier; local bodies under province), but are not agreed upon the power-sharing among the central, provincial and local governance. This issue can prepare the ground for violence. When the state’s/central authority is undermined, as it particularly does in political crisis, incompatible identities or groups fear the anticipated maneuvering of another. Uncertainty grows as the weak state loses its credibility for enforcing law and order, ethnic identity intensifies and groups feel the need of protecting themselves, which eventually leads to violence (Stein: 2010, Lake and Rotchild: 1996, Posen: 1993). For instance, the Dayton accord was able to end the violence in Bosnia. It planted the decentralized political system. The central authority became undermined insofar that the federation as whole now is dysfunctional, and Bosnia is at the brink of collapse and recurrence of violence( McMahon, Western: 2009). Having said that, centre’s full authority over important resources can make things worse by intensifying hostility in the provinces. As was the case in Croatia and Slovenia in ex-Yugoslavia, or it is now in Basque and Catalonia region in Spain to name a few. However, though Quebecois and English Canadian constitute incompatible groups in Canada, they have not resorted to violent conflict.

The tasks of mapping, naming, conferring priority rights etc. inherently constitute non-gratifying outcomes as they encompass the sensitive issue of identity, among others. International scholars argue that the conflicts of identity potentially cause violence “when others” got recognition, not “we”. “We” fear that “others” take pre-emptive actions for own benefits at their costs. They take it as an abdication of their own rights (Stein:2010). We can see that happening as the dissident voice are raised in far western Nepal regarding cut-out of Kailali from the region; the Madhesis in Birgunj resent Jankapur being the capital of the province, and many more other instances. In most of the provinces the population is mixed. No ethnicity in one province surpasses 35 percent.   When two or more identities have inhabited a territory for centuries, and suddenly only others’ identities are acknowledged, this will lead to existential conflict; think of conflict between Israel and Palestine. Thereby “ethno-political entrepreneurs” fuel individuals and groups to mentally construct a hostile imagery as mirror of their own collective identity, even though no real danger exists.  

When the identity formation labels one group with an identity other than the group itself opts, it becomes problematic. We have seen that in the case of Tharus; the dispute whether they were Madhesis or not. The social context where identity is transformed or reconstructed, conflict may escalate.  In recent speech Minister Gupta bashed the SRC report for dissolving Madhesi identity. Muslims in Bosnia identified themselves till the 1970s as Serbs or Croats. When Serbs, Croats started excluding Bosnian in the purview of their identities, they became Bosnian Muslims. Such reconstruction of identities and groups can potentially dismantle the “imagined community” of nation. Those Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs, who were harmonious neighbors, spoke the same language, and lived together for centuries, once the identities reconstructed, suddenly became the most savage killers and enemies of each other. Ask about their language to any Croatian, Bosnian or Serbian living abroad having conversation together through a common language, each one of them denies that their language is the same. It suggests that the identity is constructed, conflict is fabricated, not the material or universal truth out there.

Regarding the right to self-determination, the majority SRC report has interpreted the international principle (not law) as the rights of the peoples of the territory over its resources. Identity conflict rises over the control of resources. Given the scarcity of resources, identity conflict escalates. Even culturally and physically homogenous groups can end up fighting with each other when it comes to important resources. The relative deprivation constitutes the essential condition for participating in violence (Robert Gurr). As the gap increases between material expectations and assets, hostile imagery of those perceived as the malevolent groups are intensified. Nevertheless, the scarce resource does not inevitably cause conflict. After the disintegration of Czechoslovakia, the Czechs and Slovaks distributed the resources in a peaceful manner.

Finally, looking at the state-restructuring issue of Nepal through the lens of social psychological explanations of conflict, the majority report does not necessarily create violent conflict. We have already learnt from the world history that no scarce resources, identity and differentiation, ethnocentrism etc. are enough reasons to cause conflict. Prominent scholar Janice Stein claims that the violent conflict is only sparked by the exclusionary acts of politicians. They assume illegitimate control over the resources of the state against groups within their own societies, or claims against those within others. Political elites evoke threats to political identity, provoke stereotyping and fuel violence.

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