Nepal: Identity Politics and Federalism Reply

An interesting article that may well be relevant to the future of American politics.
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Federal restructuring of the state has emerged as a major demand of ethnic and regional activists in Nepal. The debate about it is extremely politicised. Federalism is not simply the decentralisation of political power; it has become a powerful symbol for a wider agenda of inclusion, which encompasses other institutional reforms to guarantee ethnic proportional representation and a redefinition of Nepali nationalism to recognise the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity.

Activists demand the introduction of reservations to guarantee proportional representation of marginalised groups in government and administration. They want provinces to be named after the most numerous ethnic and regional groups and boundaries drawn to make them dominant minorities. Some claim to be indigenous to these regions and demand preferential rights to natural resources and agradhikar – priority entitlement to political leadership positions in the future provinces.

Ethnic and regional demands were important parts of the Maoist agenda during the civil war; in eastern Nepal, much of their support depended on it. State restructuring became a central component of the 2006 peace deal. After violent protests in the Tarai in 2007, federalism was included in the interim constitution as a binding principle for the Constituent Assembly.

But of the three major parties, the Maoists are the only one to give full-throated support to federalism and the establishment of ethnic provinces. Identity politics may sit uneasily with their class-based ideological framework but federalism is of great importance for them. Now that the former Hindu kingdom is a secular republic, it is the most important point left on their short-term transformative agenda. Much grassroots support, the loyalty of ethnic and regionalist activists within the party and their wider credibility as a force for change depend on them following through.

Figure 1: Distribution of caste and ethnic groups in Nepal
Pie graph showing caste and ethnic distribution in Nepal

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