March 19, 2009
The following is an article co-authored by Gagan Thapa and Sumit Sharma Sameer. Kantipur Online published it today. Their discourse steps back from the wobbly Nepali peace process, takes a deep breath and refocuses at just the right moment in these groundbreaking times. The photographs were taken on Election Day 2008, while I covered Sunsari, Morang and Dhankuta districts as an international observer for the Election Committee.
Remaking of the world and the Nepali order seems to have begun at the same time. The global recession, global terrorism, global warming and global indigenization of politics have compelled world leaders to rethink and reinvent the ideas, ideals, principles and practices that dominated the global world order since the end of the Second World War. The present global threats force us to believe that all has not been well with the invention of knowledge that guided modern civilization.
The brutality of Nazism and Fascism may have come to an end; but the exploitation brought by unequal and unfair economies, unscientific interpretations of clashing civilizations, devastating exploitation of the environment and suppression of indigenous nationalities remain intact. Assumptions that the cruelty perpetuated by present-day systems and crises are comparatively lesser to that of Nazism and Fascism are far from the truth. Hitler created torture camps to eradicate millions of Jews. Modern inventions, knowledge and philosophic systems have devastated billions of lives in both the First and Third Worlds due to unequal economies, centralized politics and a devastated environment.
Human experimentations carried thus far have equally humanized humanity. Ideals that centred on the values of human freedom, justice and equality have created generations that will find it extremely difficult to fall back on the totalitarianism and dictatorship of the past. Hitler may rise, but Gandhi will triumph. Information technology and globalization are other innovations of the modern world. Globalization is both unique and faulty. In theory, globalization is a virtue. In practice, it is a vice. However, explosion in information technology and globalization has led to the birth of new powerful economic regimes. In Asia, India and China are such economies that are striding forward against all odds.
Global political, economic, environmental and cultural forces that are in the process of making and remaking themselves are already being felt in Nepal. Apart from global forces, Nepal faces various internal and specific issues and forces that have remained unresolved for centuries. Unlike the world, we are also in the process of remaking ourselves. Can Nepal sustain such massive global and local forces that are in operation today -- pulling, pushing and exerting pressures from various sides? With the growing weaknesses of the Nepali state, how can it be possible to handle both internal and external forces together?
Various social, ethnic and political movements that materialized in Nepal in the past 50 years have convinced us that Nepal is a nation of nations. We have multiple and contesting identities. We have competing nationalisms. With such a realization, Nepal entered the peace process and guaranteed its citizens a democratic federal system with equal rights and opportunities regardless of class, caste, religion, language, region, sex or ethnicity. It was the right choice made by the people of Nepal as the nationalism that remained a powerful weapon in tearing apart the forces of colonial empires and communism after the Second World War has today been torn apart by the indigenization of politics. There are many internal issues that will be addressed and institutionalized through the Nepalese peace process, and one such contentious issue is federalism.
In Nepal, federalism has been broadly categorized into and debated for and against ethnic and non-ethnic lines. There are certain components that have been agreed upon in principle by both ethnic and non-ethnic models while federating a state. Can proponents of ethnic and non-ethnic states differ on territory, geography, population, political rights and representation, democratic and inclusive institutions, natural resources and state languages as variables that are taken into account while federating a state?
Let's, for example, interpret Limbuwan along ethnic lines. A Limbuwan federal state will have a certain territory, a population consisting of both Limbus and non-Limbus, political rights and representation of the entire population within that territory, democratic and inclusive institutions, natural resources and infrastructure within the ownership of the federal state, and use of Limbu as an official state language while allowing people of other ethnic groups to use their own languages like Nepali, Newari or Maithili. With these variables intact, what's wrong with the ethnic federal model?
Now let's look at the same Limbuwan state from a non-ethnic lens. A non-ethnic interpretation will define Limbuwan as a state which has a certain territory, population, equal political rights and representation of people residing within that territory, democratic and inclusive institutions, natural resources and infrastructure and use of the official state language and other languages. The ethnic and non-ethnic camps could differ on whether the territory is based on ethnicity, language, geography or economy; but they do not differ on ensuring equal rights and opportunities for all the major and minor groups residing within that territory. So, in principle, the ethnic and non-ethnic federal models have more similarities then differences.
No Nepali minority group or ethnic community wants a division of Nepal. We have a single vision where we want to prosper as individuals, groups, communities, regions and as a nation. Advocates of the ethnic federal model claim that Nepal will disintegrate if the states are not federated along ethnic lines, whereas advocates of non-ethnic federalism claim that Nepal will disintegrate if the states are federated along ethnic lines. Clearly, what is common between the advocates of the two theories is their concern for Nepal. Neither wants this country to disintegrate. Yet our approaches, perspectives and strategies towards achieving a just society are different. Our differences compared to our similarities are fewer.
The need of the hour is management of the demands by agreeing on the larger framework that keeps the national interest at the centre. This seems to have been overshadowed due to our focus on our differences. Understandably, there are differences between Madheshis, Tharus, Pahadis and Limbus; but what are the agendas that are common to us, agreeable to us? While discussing our differences, could we start discussing our commonness as well? While trying to impose territorial autonomy and language preferences, could we accept the preferences of others as well? How can we demand dignity for ourselves while rejecting others' dignity?
Tharu Tarai can have no dignity if they don't stand for the dignity of Madhesh. Madheshi Madhesh will have no dignity if they don't support the dignity of Tharus or other minorities. Nepalese Nepal will have no dignity if they don't support the dignity of all national minorities and communities. Our dignity does not stand in isolation from each other or against each other. A single Nepali identity is rather a sum total of the entire Nepalese dignities. A Nepali identity can only reach its zenith when we respect the dignity of our entire population. Could a “space and respect” for each other be the variables while defining our new nationalism -- a new thread of unity among Nepalese?
Historically, Nepal has had few chances of reinventing herself. One such opportunity came after the expansion of Nepal by Prithvi Narayan Shah. Another such opportunity came after the movements of 1950 and 1990 and the April revolution of 2006. During all these moments, the common Nepali was elated with the hope that the lives of both individuals and the nation would be renewed. A Nepalese renaissance and reformation would transfer the lives of Nepalis. Unfortunately, the renewed convictions and elation of the Nepali people have been shattered. History is testimony that prices are paid if such elated convictions of the citizens are suppressed. And we stand today at such a moment when we will have to collectively pay the heaviest price if the citizens' conviction towards politics and nation erodes further. It's not only Madheshis, Pahadis, Limbus, Tharus or Janajatis who will lose -- we will lose collectively.
Given the present global and national context, it has become urgent to reflect on the framework or premise that led us to achieve federal democratic republic as our guiding political philosophy. Such political philosophy is based on the premise of empowering and ensuring the rights of individuals, groups, communities, ethnicities, regions and the nation. The time for remaking begins now. The national groups, communities and forces that exist in today's Nepal are the greatest strengths and resource any country would crave to have, and we are endowed with such resources. Let's capitalize on our resources in order to reinvent our country.
Gagan Thapa may be reached at: email@example.com
Sumit Sharma Sameer may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org