Thursday, 7 December, 2023

Composite Unity In Federalism

Mukti Rijal


The Nepal Communist Party high command has decided and sent an implicit instruction to the authority in Pradesh-3 to name it as Bagmati Pradesh and retain Hetauda as its capital. Accordingly Pradesh Chief Minister Dormani Poudel has assured that the Pradesh Sabha will endorse the name and capital shortly mustering the required support from the legislative assembly ending all confusions and uncertainty in the matter. Though the issue was disputed and meted with controversy with the ruling party legislators themselves indulged in bickering presenting obstacles in finding consensus on it for long, it was absolutely a matter falling within the jurisdiction of the respective Pradesh Sabha. The decision of the ruling party does not fit in with the constitutional provision and spirit of federalism.
Moreover, the choice of Bagmati as the name of Pradesh sounds definitely neutral and reflects the composite character of Nepal’s social demography. But it may not go well with those who had advocated for identity and ethnic referencing nomenclatures like Tamsaling and Nepa Mandap. It may also be criticised on the ground that it repeats and rehabilitates the name given to the zone based administrative organisation during the discredited and disbanded party less Panchayat polity. However, for Bagmati apologist it sounds appropriate since it is evocative of the much adored historic Bagmati river civilisation acceptable to the diverse groups of the people inhabiting in the Pradesh. Needless to say, Pradesh- 4 has been already named as Gandaki Pradesh and Pradesh-6 as Karnali to evocate the major rivers of Nepal. It is possible that Pradesh-1 that is also struggling to forge consensus among the Pradesh law makers to give acceptable name may follow the suit and elect Koshi as the best alternative.
In fact, Nepal's social geography and cultural composition is unique and special. No groups of people hold majority in any of the country's territorial enclaves and clusters. It is very interesting to note that no groups of peoples in Nepal count more than twenty per cent of the total population. It indicates that the country is made of a mosaic of people characterised by heterogeneous ethnicity and diverse cultures. And it has been for long time that different communities have been living together irrespective of religious, racial and cultural differences even though some communities might have faced insubordination in such a social setting.
No delineation is possible even if one attempts to design and carve out the provinces consciously and deliberately to allocate territorial clusters to suit the numerical strength and homogeneity of one particular community. There is no other way and means than to have comprehensive, composite and holistic outlook in province delineation due to the composite nature of the demographic constellation. Moreover, if the communities keep respecting and appreciating the culture and traditions of others it can serve the broader interests and aspirations of all the peoples in the long run. Moreover, a firm foundation for federal nation building could be laid. No segregated ethnicity based provincial ghettos can be created in Nepal nor has it been the objective of federal arrangement we are establising in this country.
Simply speaking, the objective of federalism as underlined in the preamble of the constitution promulgated by the historic constituent assembly is, among others, to address regional disparities and backwardness, end social discriminations and exclusion, and enhance participatory democratic process and justice. Moreover, ours is the country of multiple entities and identities and their relationships are characterised by inter-sectional interaction and fluidity. Cultural identities are not composed of rigid institutional and cognitive pieces that form stable and rigid structures. They are instead flexible, permeable and malleable with fluid boundaries. They are reproduced, adapted and reconstructed in the context of social networks and interaction.
Social anthropologists like Bihari Krishna Shrestha hold the view that Nepal’s topography can yield huge benefits to its people, and lift living standards but only if the plains, hills and mountains are an integrated whole. “Whoever thought of cutting Nepal into pieces that do not respect river watersheds did not have Nepal’s long term interests at heart.”
Relating to question of identity, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in his book titled Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny writes, “In our normal lives we see ourselves as members of a variety of groups – we belong to all of them. A person’s citizenship, residence, geographic origin, gender, class, politics, professional employment, food habits, sports interests, taste in music, social commitments etc make us members of a variety of groups. Each of these collectivities to all of which this person simultaneously belongs gives him or her a particular identity. None of them can be taken to be the person’s only identity or singular membership category. He further adds, “No particular identity whether it be ethnicity or religious should be reified as not all identities have durable and permanent importance and they have a very fleeting and contingent existence."
The reductionist and fractional views do not accord properly with the federal polity in such a social setting like ours. The federal polity should therefore be based on cooperation and mutual relationships. The tendencies to exploit and manipulate diversity and differences for parochial political ends are always harmful. This is more so in the context of federal polity that is being instituted in Nepal according to the constitution of Nepal 2015.

(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. He can be reached at