Writer’s block in Nepal

On May 27, the NC and CPN-UML betrayed the very principle of democracy, and they did so for the lowest possible reason: to preserve Nepal’s high-caste monopoly

What do you do if you’re the high-caste leader of a democratic party faced with a vote that will end your caste’s supremacy?
You avoid voting at all costs.
This is what the leaders of the Nepali Congress party and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) did in Kathmandu on May 27. Their refusal to compromise with the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and other parties led to the failure to pass a new Constitution and the dissolution of the country’s only democratically elected body, the 601-member Constituent Assembly.
This was an unforgivable betrayal of public trust: the citizenry had waited for four years for a new Constitution that would mark the birth of a “New Nepal”.
It also plunged Nepal into a constitutional crisis: the country now has a caretaker President, a caretaker Prime Minister, and a caretaker Cabinet, but no representative body. The judiciary, the bureaucracy and the security forces remain, of course. But no one is sure what is legitimate and illegitimate now. The Prime Minister has called for elections for another Constituent Assembly in six months. The President is mulling over his options, which are few. With no clear way forward, Nepal is, for now, a constitutional Neverneverland.
Was it worth it?
To the leaders of the NC and CPN-UML, it obviously was.
They threw everything away over the issue of federalism.
Nepal has over a hundred ethnic nationalities and nearly as many languages. But all government institutions, and most non-government ones as well, are monopolised by high-caste Hindus. Brahmins and Kshatriyas — called Bahuns and Chhetris in Nepal — occupy almost all national space. This is a glaring, undeniable fact and it holds true for all the political parties (including the Maoists), every media house, the entire private and NGO sectors, and the vast informal networks of power — including the well-heeled of Kathmandu who exert immense influence over confused donors and ambassadors.
During the 10-year-long “People’s War”, the Maoists promised the excluded (that is, the majority) autonomous federal states named after each area’s ethnic nationalities. This proved very popular. (Though the 2011 census data is not out yet, it’s safe to say that Nepal’s population comprises 15 per cent Chhetris and 12 per cent Bahun. The Madhesis, Janajatis and other excluded groups amount to over 60 per cent.)
Once the peace process was underway, the issue of federalism got another boost from the newly formed parties of the Madhes, or the south-eastern plains. In 2007, they separated from the Maoists and other parties, demanding an autonomous Madhesi state.
In 2008, the Maoists won almost 39 per cent of the vote in the election for the Constituent Assembly, becoming Nepal’s largest party. The Constitution that resulted was bound to reflect their agenda.
For the NC and CPN-UML, the challenge on the political front was to ensure that the future polity remained democratic. Their vision was firm: they wanted the Westminster model.
On the social front, they had no vision at all. Out of social conservatism or perhaps sheer apathy, they had over the past two decades resisted Nepal’s multiple civil rights movements, consistently delaying or opposing the rights of women, dalits and ethnic nationalities, though these are all important votebanks. Indeed, the women, dalit and ethnic members of the NC and CPN-UML have had to defy their party leaders several times to pass socially progressive legislation. Their leaders have in turn tried to rein them in by issuing whips.
For NC and CPN-UML Assembly members from various ethnic nationalities, federalism became a core part of the civil rights movement: only by decentralising power would they be able to end the monopoly of high-caste Hindus.
After much debate, and a two-year delay, the Assembly finally proposed two alternatives on federalism: to create either 14 or 10 “ethnic states”.
Flouting democratic procedure, the NC and CPN-UML leadership refused to entertain these proposals, by turns opposing federalism altogether, or proposing six or eight states named after geographic features.
As lines hardened along caste and ethnic lines, a bloc of over 320 Assembly members across party lines declared they would vote in favour of ethnic federalism. The NC and UML leadership began to threaten its defiant members with a whip and with expulsion.
Terrified of putting the issue to a vote, the leaders of all the parties decided to shunt aside the Assembly and to meet, instead, in closed-door sessions, to seek a consensus. The plan was for the Assembly to rubber-stamp their decision at the end. The demoralised Assembly cooperated with this.
Serious doubts are now emerging as to how sincere the party leaders were about seeking consensus.
Till the last, they holed away from the public, meeting sometimes at the Prime Minister’s residence, sometimes in his office, and sometimes in holiday resorts. All to no avail. Whatever agreements they reached one day were invariably broken the next day after meeting with fierce public opposition.
The exact events of May 27 — now known as a “black day” — are only slowly emerging.
The party leaders spent the entire day in closed-door meetings, refusing to come to the Assembly. At five o’clock word leaked that they had come to an agreement after the Maoists, Madhesis and ethnic nationalities had compromised. An agreement had been reached. Then, mysteriously, the agreement broke apart. Those covering events from up-close claim that the NC and the CPN-UML backtracked at the very last minute, demanding that the Constitution hold off on the subject of federalism altogether. This was unacceptable to all the others.
At the Assembly, members picketed, demanding that a meeting begin; but the Speaker never came to the Assembly to do so.
At midnight the Assembly expired. Everyone who had trusted the leaders was left feeling grief-struck and gutted, and very disillusioned.
The NC and CPN-UML leaders had betrayed the very principle of democracy. And they had done so for the lowest possible reason: they wanted to preserve Nepal’s high-caste monopoly.
With democrats like these, who needs autocrats?
It is not tenable to shut out the majority. It will also not be accepted: the demand for inclusion is too strong in Nepal.
Unless a democratic Constitution-drafting process can be salvaged, the caste and ethnic polarisation is only set to sharpen from here on. The future looks very bleak.

Manjushree Thapa is a Nepal-based writer. Her latest book is The Lives We Have Lost: Essays and Opinions
on Nepal.


I highly value all the

I highly value all the thoughts kept herewith by every personnel. Can somebody explain me the meaning of getting to the better resolution of the current situation? I am still a scholar and don't really have a lot ideas about the level of political negotiations that are being carried these days. What the most youngsters (I guess like I do) desire is to get the solution of the current situation in such a way that we won't have any adverse impact in the future (social/ethnic/political/level or category).

What I understand is for sustainable development of anything (either it is process or project) there should be strong understanding of the topic or situation. Here I trust that for the ever-modernizing world, something desirable is getting together putting the views but to be noted it should be in equitable manner.....I mean the thought of equal level people. May be for you seniors I am incapable to put my thoughts on...likewise for political negotiations people who aren't eligible (educationally or socially) to get it can't be able to make their good contributions or thoughts.

I hope with mixture of thoughts some result has to come which could develop the nation.....not dragging back and/or putting in some troublesome conditions. All the way it’s your nation....and it’s my nation....

Please value other's opinion too and before you express your thoughts please be out of everything like ethnicity, religion and bla bla..... think broader and speak truely....Please don't have influence of any of such principles or ideas.....Be true .... and have good image on those who listen and follow you......

Mr. Pandey, Kadel and Rimal,

Mr. Pandey, Kadel and Rimal, after all you are all Bahuns or Chhetris. Your views clearly shows that you still want to hold the grip. Bahuns and Chhetris have done everything to ruin the country. Since 1990 Nepal has been ruled by Bahun and Chhetri leaders. But what have we got? All the corrupt leaders are either Bahuns or Chhetris. All the high administrative posts are occupied by Bahuns and Chhetris. For us, Mongolians or Janjatis, even to register a company we have to use either a Bahun or Chhetri solicitor otherwise you guys in the administrative positions will never even give us a clue how things work. Can you tell me why is there a Bahun CDO in a Tamang district? You purposely do that to show your superiority. The time has come for the change now. I totally agree with Mrs. Thapa. You talk about state level government, security, bla bla. This is nothing but your greedy intention of keeping the power in one place (Centralized in Kathmandu) and amass wealth and property by depriving rights to the rural Janjati folks. We will keep on pressing for Ethnic Federalism so more than 65% of other marginalised population can kick your ass you 25% Bahuns and Chhetris.

Your statement & comment is

Your statement & comment is nothing more than a populist tone. You are talking about janjatis & dalits let me remind you FYI that every higher level of education services or government services there is now strictly followed quota system where all most all the so called on your tongue brahmin & chhetris are vandalized.
It was due in practice since long time but the so called your backward community never looked up for the education & without education there is no possibility to run the system or to be part of it @least in my democratic opinion. Neither you go for education nor you do any services provided according to the law but what you all need is everything just by doing nothing.??? I don't know about you extreme communist view because you guyz always find exception in every law or practice to make it yourself usable.
If you won't get chairs your country is in trouble your nationality will be in trouble & as you get it F*** to country n F**** to people, these things are not new if we look back to all the so called communist & in my term populist history around the globe.

Manjushree has hit the bulls

Manjushree has hit the bulls eye here. It is sad and unfortunate that it is taking Nepal so long to see the effects of the government sponsored ethnic cleansing program that has been going on in this country. Letting it go is taking it's toll in the inability of the Constitution being promulgated. Clinging on to their privileges, the minority few are desperately trying to hang on to something that the entire world has started to condemn. All men are not born equal here because before the humans come in to the picture there are the Vedas. Despite Nepal being declared a secular state, there still is a deep ingrained sentiment and belief that the caste hierarchy is the way of life. It will take some time for that to change and I realize that. It is only with persistence and labor that this evil can be erased. When a nation fails to even remotely guarantee food, shelter and clothing to it's people it loses it's significance and hence is prone to conflict. As far as the sustainability of the ethnic provinces are concerned, it is a matter of trail and error. If the provinces fail to function properly they can easily join later. But, the freedom of autonomous government to each is the first step in making right the wrong that has been done. Recognizing ethnic nomenclature is another payment by the Nation to it's people to gain back respect for having so openly practiced such a heinous crime as racism.

I have simple suggestions M

I have simple suggestions M Thapa:
1. Just write you are party member other than NC and UML on the first line of your article.
2. After reading your article, looks like you are in maoist zone.
3. Why you want to devied Nepal into different Ethnic Zone.
4. Do you think, Nepal can handle all these expenses ( each ethnic zone need own goverment, army, police etc etc).
5. maoist are terrorist, have you heard about Ugandian KONY? Yes, Prachanda is Nepalese KONY.
6. we need Ex King like Prithivi Narayan Shah not KONY, common.
7. Nepalese need education, good health system, road , electricty and beside all this , all the leaders need to retired. 601 should be punished, fined. if some one want to be leader then HE/SHE must have graduate degree and , He/SHE can be a memeber of the parlament but cant be a ministers but only Prime Minister. Ministers are elected by PM and from civilain zone. For example health minister will be from health sector not from guy who donate money to party or killed 100s of people or looted bank before.
8. last not least, Nepal simply need Army rule for 2 years with UN support for now.
So , M Thapa, please stop thinking of dividing NEPAL.

Jay Desh Nepal.

I do not subscribe to your

I do not subscribe to your views because it is very populist in tone, superficial in treatment, lop-sided and parochial in approach.

Ethnic federalism is not the solution to Nepal's economic ills. We need only decentralization of power to the state, districts and the village level to bring the real changes in the life of ordinary people. If Bahuns and Chettries are to be replaced by a few elite people of so-called Janjatis in the proposed ethnic federal states, then it is a meaningless repetition of history in the name of revenge. The elite group of any caste be it Bahuns and Chettries or so-called Janjatis do not represent their entire caste and they are only the cream of their respective caste enjoying affluence and economic prosperity.

Regarding the proper representation of more so-called Janjatis, we can make the exams more so-called Janjatis friendly by providing quota for them and arranging scholarships and not just promote mediocrities.

When you say that the Bahun and Chettries have dominant place in beaurocracy, please do not forget the fact that the Sherpas are getting a larger share in the operation of Everest tourism. Similary the Gurung enjoy a sizeable return in Annapurna tourism and the Tamang eke out a bigger pie of tourism of in Langtang. The Madhesis are also having a larger share in medical and engineering fields and the Lahures are making a good fortune abroad.

Let us not be so cruel to deprive our future generation of justice and equality and put them into endless cycle of conflict and hatred. Let us play more constructive role rather than igniting sedition and communal hatred.

Be more responsible and fair in your treatment of the subject and please contribute to creation of more equitable and just society based on the principle of justice and objectivity.

I totally do not agree with

I totally do not agree with the points raise by the writer because it would take her long time to understand Nepal and the Aryan Khas Communities of Nepal. The space has and will always be given by us. But one has to take it also not feed them but educate them for their rights.

Manjushree has essayed the

Manjushree has essayed the situation in a very clear and concise manner.

I would like to ask the

I would like to ask the writer ; can u suggest me list of democratic countries where people are divided into different caste & treated as upper caste n lower caste or Ethnicity?
Moreover, As per this article i am bit suspicious on the definition & foundation of DEMOCRACY as from writer's point of view.
What i know is "DEMOCRACY is the system by the people, to the people & for the people"; i don't find any caste or religion discrimination in its definition. But according to the writer's way i can assume it some thing like "to the selective so called lower caste/Ethnics, for the selective so called lower caste/Ethnics & by the e selective so called lower caste/Ethnics". Yes there might be issue of some harassment or less opportunity but even those can be adjusted by giving some privileges to the deserving castes or Ethnics.
As per writer i can see the content supporting to the UCPN(Maoist), no doubt greater party chosen by we Nepalese. Is writer aware about the DEMOCRACY that is supposed to be given by UCPN(M)? What were their manifesto & proposal at Constitutional Assembly (CA).
As far as i know it goes as below which is question to writer:
1. House (CA) appoints the Supreme Court's Chief; that is how democracy is brought & that is called free or independent judiciary system?
2. HOS(President) is supreme & can enforce any law as per his knowledge, and this can't impact the civil rights?
More over let me ask you that; Nepal is a country whose internal costs are hardly manageable to run the government & system, how can u run state government & their expenses, by increasing TAX, VAT, ST, SC etc? and that what is called new Nepal & democracy?

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