Can of worms  



India has all along been a reliable development partner but a far from honest political and security partner of Nepal. It has supported Nepal’s development activities by financing various projects and providing scholarships to Nepali students. At the same time, it has also consistently interfered in Nepal’s internal affairs and frequently treated Nepal unequally and unfairly. 

Newspapers have recently reported one such interference quoting Nepali Congress and UML leaders that an Indian diplomat called the Madheshi leaders from the central Tarai region to a meeting in Birgunj and instigated them to protest for Madhesh. Imagine how New Delhi would have reacted if a Nepali diplomat had advised Indian minority politicians to protest against the government. Our diplomat would have been kicked out immediately.

India’s undue interference in Nepal’s internal affairs is not new. An Indian civil servant who worked as King Tribhuvan’s secretary used to meddle in the work of the Rana-Nepali Congress coalition government. BP Koirala, then-home minister, asked the Indian government to withdraw him but New Delhi refused. When Nepal imported Chinese weapons in 1989-90, India imposed economic blockade. India prevented Prachanda from becoming prime minister for the second time for criticizing it.

Partly our leaders are to blame for this state. A friend of mine who has now migrated to the United Kingdom told me that many political leaders are on the Indian embassy’s payroll. He used to work with a joint venture Indian bank in Kathmandu from where the embassy used to withdraw millions in cash to dole out to Nepali leaders who made patriotic statements during the day and collected their cash from the embassy at night. 

While India has been frequently helpful, it has been far from honest while dealing with its neighbors. It helped the Tamil separatist movement in Sri Lanka and unsuccessfully tried to prevent President Rajpakshe from crushing the Tamil Tigers there. The Nepalis have a long list of grievances with India, including the unequal 1950 treaty, unfair agreements on Gandak and Koshi projects, unilateral construction of bunds on rivers at the border to inundate Nepali territories, etc. 

India also helped Bhutanese refugees come to Nepal from Bhutan but prevented them returning home and refused to help Nepal to resolve the refugee problem. It allowed Nepali Maoists to plan and execute attacks in Nepal against the spirit of the Panchasheel, the 1950 treaty and various other understandings. When Nepal objected, the Indian authorities asked for the names and addresses of Maoist leaders—Maoist terrorists in those days—promising to take action. But every time, they informed us that they could not find these leaders, while our agents subsequently found them in those very addresses.

Either the Indian security and spy agencies were too incompetent and corrupt to locate these Maoist leaders or they provided them safe haven in India. I leave that judgment to the readers. In sharp contrast, Nepal has handed over many Indian fugitives at the border without the due process of extradition.

Even the high-level panel appointed by the Indian government has criticized India for its wrong foreign policy and diplomatic orientation at a time when India is seeking the permanent membership of the UN Security Council and the status of a major regional and global power. 

But that has not deterred India from trying to make the Nepali constitution a stillborn baby. Before delivery, India has tried to abort the baby by asking its diplomat to encourage and support those forces that, as India hopes, would advance its interest at the cost of Nepal. I applaud those leaders who put Nepal’s interest above India’s and shared the Indian diplomat’s instructions with the Nepali media and people. 

As instructed, some members prevented the Constituent Assembly from taking up the business of expediting the new constitution’s approval by the May 27 deadline. They have said they would not allow the house to function until the agreement on 11 multiethnic states is revoked, the states are created based on ethnicity, and the Tarai is made just one state and two at most. 

The demands are inconsistent with public opinion and demographic realities. According to a recent Himal Survey, more than 70 percent of the Nepalis are opposed to ethnic states. Even if all hill Caucasians—Brahmins, Chhetris, Sanyasis, Dashnamis and Dalits—who constitute nearly 50 percent of the population, opposed ethnic states, at least 20 percent minorities were also against them. 

Foreign experts with no vested interest in Nepal—including the British Nepal expert David Sheddon, American Professor Darlene Budd, and Indian strategist Ashok Mehta—have argued against ethnic federalism in Nepal in view of its demographic characteristics. Most Nepali experts have said the same thing. Out of 14 minority groups vocally demanding ethnic states, only two constitute the largest, though not majority, population in their area. Elsewhere, the hill Caucasian ethnic group outnumbers other minority groups. 

If the minority imposes its rule, language, and culture in the ethnic state, the majority will certainly revolt, unleashing a cycle of violence. It will be naïve to assume that, if the minorities want freedom from the majority, the majority would not seek freedom from minority rule as well. Unfortunately in Nepal, barring very few exceptions, those who rule do not read; and those who read, do not rule. So statistics and expert opinions do not reach Nepali rulers. And those who read mistakenly think that they are omniscient, because no one is.

The other equally important aspect is economic viability of states. Experts have asserted that more than four or five states would not be viable. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world with a per capita income of US $480 and a narrow revenue base. Currently, 80 percent of its revenue goes into regular expenditures such as salaries, allowances, and administrative expenses, leaving only 20 percent for development expenditure. 

The revenue could barely cover the regular expenses of central and four to five state governments. The country will need foreign aid and debt for regular and development expenditures if more than five states are created. Minority leaders have been telling us that when they have their own states, they would finance their activities themselves. But money will not grow in trees in ethnic states. 

While politicians in general have been reluctant to admit and address these political and financial challenges for the fear of losing votes, the Maoists have, as it seems, been promoting ethnic division and violence hoping that it would allow them to capture the state and impose proletariat dictatorship, a goal they have not abandoned. Two points trigger this suspicion. 

First, Maoist leader Prachanda, the head of the ruling party, instructed his party cadres in the Far West Region (FWR) to repulse and punish the supporters of the United FWR campaign that is demanding that Kailali and Kanchanpur should not be separated from hill districts. Unless he wanted violence to break out between the pro- and anti-UFWR, Prachanda would not have issued such an incendiary instruction. 

It will be naïve to assume that if the minorities want freedom from the majority the majority would not seek freedom from minority rule as well.

Second, the Maoist leaders deployed duplicity once again to cheat other parties. They struck a deal with the Nepali Congress and UML in a package to get the executive president in which Prachanda is deeply interested. In return, they showed flexibility for multi-ethnic 11 states. Once they bagged what they wanted, the Maoist leaders asked Prabhu Sah and other CA members from their party to oppose multi-ethnic federalism and block the house proceedings. 

Maoist and Indian instigations may lead Nepal to the kind of genocide Rwanda and Yugoslavia have been through, in a sequence. If the minorities prompted by the Maoists or a foreign power perpetrate violence against the majority, the majority will retaliate, as the Hutu did by killing 800,000 minority Tutsis in Rwanda. In the next phase, the majority will try to control the situation using force and the minorities will have casus belli to fight and secede from Nepal, as it happened in Yugoslavia. 
Both the majority and minority groups will lose. So they need to step back from the brink and sort out the overlapping territorial claims for peaceful transition to federalism. If it takes more time, so be it. Next parliament can finish the task on this issue. I hope and pray that politicians from both groups would show wisdom to save Nepal from the fate of Rwanda and Yugoslavia. 

When the can of ethnic federalism is opened without sorting out competitive territorial claims, you never know how dangerous the worms coming out of it would be.


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