NEPAL: Anti-federalism will lead to confrontation

The way in which the states will be carved, the rights to be allocated to various levels of governance and groups, on the issue of state restructuring, have created heated debates among many sectors. After the State Restructuring Commission’s report failed to bring parties together on the issue, and rather intensify the polarisation, the debates—inside parliament and out—on federalism continue. As Chairman of the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, Raj Kumar Lekhi has been at the forefront of the debate, speaking on behalf of marginalised communities. Also the Chairman of Tharu Kalyankarini Sabha, Lekhi spoke with Bidushi Dhungel and Gyanu Adhikari about the demands of the marginalised on state-restructuring, the Tharu perspective and the parties’ inability to explain adequately the need for federalism to the people. Excerpts:

You just came back from travelling around 54 districts, what did you find about the people’s wants regarding federalism?

The Nepali people and the Janajatis and Adivasis want federalism at the grassroots, not federalism at the top or federalism in name only. The Nepali people do not wish to see 14 Singa Durbars in states in place of one. This will not give rights to the people. So federalism isn’t just about carving states. What needs to be discussed is how much rights the local has.

You’ve said that the political parties have backed down from earlier positions. On which issues have they backed down and which parties have done so?

All political parties, aside from one or two, had agreed on federalism, inclusion, secularism and the right to self determination. But all the leaders now are speaking against this. This means the leaders are now conspiring, not working to draft a constitution. If they were working on the constitution for the last four and a half years, there would already be one written. Instead, they have been conspiring on how to cheat the people, not give them their rights and make fools out of them. By not giving the local level power and the states power in a federal setup, the leaders are just finding ways to stay in power.

How does NEFIN evaluate the various reports on federalism that have surfaced—including that of the State Restructuring Commission, Constitutional Committee’s report and the UML proposals? 

NEFIN sees the Commission’s report and UML’s maps as derived from the ideas of king Mahendra. Taking the centre’s power and bringing it to the village level is not what these reports are about. The Constitutional Committee’s report in terms of ideology is fine, but this also hasn’t given an apt definition of capability. In the 21st century, capability cannot be defined by stones, earth, pebbles and sand. This is not enough because we have had all these for thousands of years, but why

haven’t we been capable for so long? This is because of the lack of attention to human resources. Without a developed human society, a country cannot be developed.

What alternative does NEFIN propose?

We have said ethnicity, language, culture, geography, historical identity and population should be the basis for restructuring the state. The parties had agreed on this in 2006, but when it came down to doing it, they just

talk about identity and capability and claim it’s possible to create states along these two lines. They’ve backtracked. For example, Jhala Nath Khanal

now goes to Mahendranagar or Ilam and says that ethnicity-based federalism isn’t possible.

You said that an atmosphere of anti-federalism is brewing in parts of the country. Who is causing this and where is it taking the country?

This is being caused by regressive and reactionary forces. Leaders with authoritarian tendencies are bringing about this kind of atmosphere. They are against peace. If federalism isn’t fulfilled well and carefully, no one can stop confrontation from developing in the country.

What kind of confrontation are you referring to?

The confrontation and revolt that is to come will grant people their rights. Until now, Loktantra is just been a show piece that has given 40-50 people power and have taken some to the position of Prime Minister. The people haven’t been given their full rights. The kind of freedom we have now, where we can go and speak publicly and organise gatherings, we have had that for over 20 years. But the rights we need are yet to come. That’s why it looks like the leaders are causing the country to go towards confrontation again. The constitution to be drafted now, if it doesn’t empower the dalits, muslims, janajatis, adivasis and those who live in the Karnali region, and if it doesn’t bring the central power to the villages, then confrontation and revolt are certain. The leaders are taking the country in that direction.

What should the parties do to avoid this confrontation you’re predicting?

Peace is possible only if the aspirations behind the federalism demand are met. What the leaders are saying is that by integrating the ex-Maoist fighters in the Army, peace is possible. This is completely wrong. Peace is only possible when all ethnicities and groups and regions have their demands met. This is because the awareness of the village level is no more what it used to be—people have demands for rights and they must be met.

Are you saying that the models proposed so far are inadequate in meeting the demands of the people?

When we talk about federalism, politicians talk about a three-tier system in the CA—the centre, the state, and the local. But the discussions are only taking place around the states and the centre. We don’t hear the discussions surrounding the rights at the local level. What rights do we give the local level? So what the leaders are trying to enforce is that federalism merely means the creation of states. But that is not it, and it will not be enough.

So in the discussions, what rights have been left out?

For example, the issuing of passports or citizenship cards. We want it so that the local level should be able to issue these documents without having to go to the centre. These kinds of services need to be available in the villages. A person now spends Rs 20,000 to get a passport or citizenship card and 9-10 days in the centre—but this shouldn’t be necessary. Also, a wrong message that has been propagated is that if federalism comes, it’s only for the Janajatis and Adivasis. That’s not true. Federalism isn’t just for the Janajatis, the sky isn’t going to fall down and the Bahuns and Chhetris are not going to lose all their rights. This is how the leaders have explained federalism to the people, and that’s why we have all become divided. The enemies are not the Bahuns or Chhetris, the enemies are the rulers of the country.  But the Bahun and Chhetri leaders have been igniting the flames for ethnic division, saying that the Janajatis are the enemy of all Bahuns and Chhetris.

Some claim that the Maoist leaders took forward the Jana-jati and Adivasi movement.

No, this agenda was stolen by the Maoists. The Janajati Adivasi movement dates back some 70 years ago. They killed 7,000 Tharus and sacrifice 7,000 Magars, and for what? To become the PM, that’s why they put on this bloody drama. Whatever rights we have now, it is because of our movement, not the Maoist movement. The Maoists imitated the Janajati Adivasi movement, used the communities’ youth and profited for themselves.

What is your say on the one-Madhes one-state demand made by Madhesis?

The demand for one Madhes, one state, is drawn from the ideas of king Mahendra. Those leaders that see themselves today as the Messiahs of the Madhesis, they are trying to become new avatars of king Mahendra. I call the leaders of the Madhesis parties’ wannabe Mahendras. They talk about rights for the Madhesis, but they are traitors of the Madhesi people. They are being dishonest with the Madhesis and are disrespecting the martyrs that lost

their lives for the Madhesi cause. They are using the slogan to make people emotional and tap their sentiments for personal gain and retain vote

banks. This is not possible. In the same way that there is diversity in the Hills, there is diversity in the Tarai as well. The ones calling for One-Madhes are ignoring this diversity.

Tharus in particular have been protesting against one-Madhes state.

This is because the Tharu identity outdates that of the Madhesis. The Tharus have a written history of thousands of years. They are not going to carry another identity, culture, language—a Tharu doesn’t want to be a Madhesi and cannot be proud of that identity. The Tarai needs to be plural, just like the Hill regions.

There is news of another Tharuhat movement starting in about two weeks—what’s the reason behind it?

The Inclusion Bill which has come from the Cabinet, we cannot accept it. We will tear it apart and set it on fire. There needs to be a classification in terms of who accounts for Madhesi in the Tarai. The government needs to make a list of these before an Inclusion Bill can be passed. We cannot call the four dozen ethnicities in the Tarai Madhesis. We are not Madhesis, neither are Muslims, Dalits or Rajbanshis nor a handful of other groups in the Tarai. That’s why we are starting a movement.

Source: Ekantipur

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