Dispute On Federalism Capability Or Identity?

The issue of federalism has made the political situation tense<br>A CORRESSPONDENT

May 22, 2012, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 05 No.-21 May .18-2012 (Jestha 05,2069)<BR>

Two groups in the far-western region have been demanding their states. It is reported that over 60 percent people living in Kailali and Kanchanpur districts want their districts to be part of the undivided far west. Similarly, the minority Tharu community wants the two districts of far west to be Tharuhat.

Bahun, Chetri, Dashnami,Thakuri and Dalit communities called two days of general strike last week demanding  state restructuring on the basis of geography. Mass meetings were organized throughout the country to protest against state restructuring based on ethnicity.

Tharu and other ethnic groups including Maithali, Bhojpura and Madheshi have also called general strikes in various parts of Nepal demanding states based on ethnicity and identity with their right to self determination.

Nepali Congress and CPN-UML have proposed the middle way, naming the states on the basis of ethnicity and geography. However, Maoist leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and Mohan Baidhya, with their supporters in the party, have backed states based on ethnicity.

“Regressive forces are capturing the state, opposing federalism. We will have to retaliate against them. I am a lonely fighter for ethnic-based provinces,” said Prachanda, addressing the meeting of the Janajati Cacaus of the CA.

“Nepali Congress will never accept an ethnic-based federalism. This federalism will ruin Nepal’s unity and stability,” said NC president Sushil Koirala.

Although a Madheshi alliance of present coalition is pursuing the idea of division in Madhesh, other smaller alliances are pushing the single Madhesh agenda.

Federalism has emerged as a key dispute in writing the new constitution. Although political parties are close to finding consensus on the form of government, judiciary and election process, the dispute in the number of provinces is creating hurdles in the constitution writing. With the request from the leaders of three major political parties, the tenure of Dispute Settlement Committee of Constitutional Committee was extended for two days (till Wednesday evening). One of the major disputes among the parties is over the number of provinces and their boundaries.

With support from three major political parties-- Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist, a group of local people have shut down the far-western region for the last two week. Similarly, a bomb blast last week in a peaceful rally at Janakpurdham killed six people. The rally was organized to demand the Mithila State and Janakpur as the capital of that province. After the bomb blast, the group has called an indefinite strike in Janakpur. Likewise, Tharu, Koche and Dhanuk-- the three ethnic groups in eastern region-- have also called a general strike in five districts of the eastern region.  In Biratnagar, another group of people has demanded a separate province with Biratnagar as its capital. A meeting of indigenous communities is demanding a Tamu State. Along with majority groups, many minority groups have also been organizing general strikes.

Origin of Federalism

Although the slogan of ethnic federalism was first raised during the Maoist insurgency, the country’s journey to federalism began after the second amendment of the Interim Constitution in 2007. This was one of the key demands of Madhesh Andolan.  The process of formalization of the federal structure took place during the constitution making process in Constituent Assembly. After long discussions and debates, the State Restructuring Committee voted for 14 provinces as proposed by UCPN-Maoist, CPN-UML and Madheshi Janadhikar Forum against 6 provinces proposed by Nepali Congress.

CA Restructuring Committee

The proposers of 14 provinces have claimed that their proposal was based on ethnic identity, economic capability and geography as per the provision of Interim Constitution.  However, Nepali Congress holds the view that Nepal cannot economically sustain 14 provinces and has defended its 6-province model as an appropriate and economically viable option. Other controversial provision of the CA’s State Restructuring Committee proposal is the agenda of ‘Priority Rights’ to ethnic and indigenous communities living in various provinces.

Despite passing the report on the basis of majority, the proposal of State Restructuring became a major contentious issue in constitution writing. Along with growing disputes, the government constituted a high level State Restructuring Commission. However, it too failed to sort out the differences. The commission again made two different proposals with 12 provinces by majority and 6 provinces by minority groups.

The main debate now is to decide whether to go on federalism on the basis of ethnicity, identity, geography or economic capability.

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