Ethnic federalism – ‘NO’

Three-fourths of 4,000 people polled two weeks ago thought ethnic
federalism is a bad idea
J B PUN MAGAR

20 MAY 2011 – 26 MAY 2011

During the war, the Maoists used the grievances of Nepal’s marginalised ethnic communities to recruit fighters. Then, during the 2008 elections, the party used an ethnic platform to garner votes.

However, it is now apparent that the Maoists seriously miscalculated the risks of politicising the ethnic sentiments of the people. While fully appreciating the socio-economic disparity in the remote districts, the party failed to take into account Nepal’s ethnic and religious diversity. The country is a mosaic of ethnicities and castes, a heterogenous mix where no single ethnic group commands a demographic majority even over what would be considered their “homeland”. Exploiting ethnic exclusivity in a country’s with Nepal’s ethnic fabric had the
inherent danger of tearing that fabric apart.

The Himalmedia public opinion survey shows that the public is wary about the politicization of ethnicity. Nearly 90 per cent of the respondents said social harmony was deteriorating and most of those polled blamed the government. Since the Maoists are now in government, they bear a share of the blame. The rise of militant ethnic movements in the Madhes and hills, and the growing involvement of mainstream parties in sectarian politics feeds into what the Maoists have been doing over the years.

The leaders of ethnic pressure groups and their cadre continue to paralyse the country with strikes demanding autonomy, but most ethnic groups are against the idea of ethnicity-based federalism. They have responded with a resounding “No” to the division of federal Nepal into ethnic states. Some 76 per cent of respondents all over the country thought ethnic federalaism was a bad idea. Even in eastern Nepal, where the demand for ethnic autonomy is said to be strongest, three-fourths of the people voted against ethnicity-based provinces.

For those who argue that the opponents of ethnic federalism don’t understand its concept, the survey provides an interesting insight. While more than half of those who can’t read or write opposed the idea of ethnic federalism, 71.5 per cent of literate respondents opposed.Even more surprising, is that 79 per cent of school graduates, and 90
per cent of college graduates and 93 per cent post graduates among the respondents say ethnic federalism is against the common interest.

Disaggregating the data further, among the 13 per cent who supported ethnicity-based federalism only one in five want special privileges (agraadhikar) for the ethnic group after which the province is proposed to be named. Even those that support ethnic states are wary of its potential impact on communal harmony.

Nearly one-third of the respondents were even unaware of the nature of the ethnic states proposed in the CA. What this seems to prove is that the demand for ethnicity-based federalism is just a political bargaining chip for the Maoists, and the leaders of various ethnic lobby groups. Moreover, the people seem to have understood this very well. Even in the case of Madhesi respondents only seven per cent supported the “Ek Madhes Ek Pradesh” demand.

Most respondents preferred federal boundaries based on fairer resource distribution and equal access to all the communities, ensuring proportional representation in all levels of the state. However, most did not seem impressed by government’s affirmative action policy aimed at uplifting underprivileged communities. Barely eight per cent of
respondents supported reservation, and special rights proposal out of which 15 per cent were Dalits and 10 per cent were Muslims.

The major political parties and their leaders are so preoccupied with the power struggle in Kathmandu that they seem to have lost track of the nation’s pulse. What they say and do in the name of “the people” is far removed from what an ordinary citizen of this nation feels or needs.

Original version : http://nepalitimes.com/news.php?id=18228#.UY2mA4JMY5s
Read also:
जातीय राज्य बहुसङ्ख्यक जातिलाई मतलब छैन, J B PUN MAGAR, Himal Khabarpatrika

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