In a report released recently, The Carter Center notes that identity-based political activity in Nepal has decreased since May 2012, providing space for much-needed civic dialogue on federalism and social inclusion. The long-term observation focused on the growing tendency toward identity-based political movements in Nepal since 2006, particularly movements focused on federalism, and those which increased around the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in May 2012.
The report explores findings on how identity-based political activity has influenced perceptions of federalism among Nepali citizens and its subsequent effect upon communal relations. The Carter Center’s observations and findings are based on approximately 3,000 interviews conducted across the country by its observers between September 2011 and December 2012.
“Even though identity politics and federalism are politically sensitive topics to discuss, the role of identity in Nepali politics is an important part of the current political debate and should be discussed openly in order to move the constitutional process forward, and to avoid a repetition of the tensions seen in April and May 2012,” said David Hamilton, field office director for The Carter Center in Nepal.
The Center’s observers found that identity-based mobilizations in April and May 2012 did not spark widespread communal tensions across the country, although relations did worsen in some areas such as the Far Western and Western regions. In general, relations soon improved after the Constituent Assembly was dissolved, although local conflict mediation measures reportedly had some effect in helping to diffuse tension.
One key finding is that there is a lack of information and understanding about federalism among average citizens, most likely because political parties, civil society, and the government have failed to successfully disseminate accurate information on the topic.
In the absence of an effective dialogue, there are fears about federalism and a widespread belief that disputes about it could trigger future communal tensions. However, many citizens believe that the Nepali state should be decentralized in some form and do more to protect cultural and linguistic traditions.
The report notes that relations between Nepal’s three largest political parties (Nepali Congress, UCPN (Maoist), and CPN-UML) and Janajati-Adivasi organizations have become increasingly tense, in large part because of recent debates on federalism.
Observers also found that lower-level political party cadres and affiliated ethnic sister wings have increasingly expressed frustration with their respective leadership for not actively engaging in dialogue on the topic.
Finally, the observation noted that although identity-based political activity has decreased in general since May 2012, some identity-based actors have reportedly been active in boosting membership and expanding their presence at the local level.