Do not Nurture Extremism, Mr Deuba !  

By Pradeep Gyawali (KATHMANDU, 25 April 2017) – For some time now, Nepali Congress leaders, not least Sher Bahadur Deuba, are engaged in UML[1]-bashing.They have alleged UML of triggering “division between hills and madhesh,” “national disintegration,” and so on. It is of no use to waste time in responding to such baseless comments. However, what cannot be taken lightly is the way Nepali Congress has been nurturing extremism over the course of time in the pretext of criticizing UML. This is too serious to ignore.

Let’s look back at a bit of history. When the CPN[2] (Maoist) was promoting a violent conflict, some Nepali Congress leaders used to pamper the Maoists as being “genuine communists.”The indicator of the Maoists being genuine was their insistence on “violent revolution” and “the dictatorship of the proletariat.” To the Congress, the UML was not a communist as it had eschewed violence, and had adopted the program of multiparty democracy and peaceful social transformation.

A few years down the line the result of the pampering was out. The Maoist violence cost Nepali Congress very dear. Its leaders and activists were the main target of the violence. Hope, Sher Bahadur Deuba, now struggling to patch the excesses committed during the violence, has not forgotten the pain endured by his party activists. Perhaps, he would also not forget him being the victim of “use and throw.” For Maoists, he was at once a “lotus in the mud” and “a pain in the neck.” It is only Mr Deuba who knows how narrowlyhe escaped an ambush placed to kill him in the Kailali District.

After the costly conflict, a peace process began. However, the Nepali Congress continued its disdain for UML. It was evident right at the formationof the interim parliament. Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala kept the Maoists on a par with UML by according them an equal number of seats. A few years later, the Maoists deceived Mr Koirala by denyinghim for the presidential election, thereby dashing his aspiration to hold the office of the President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.

Some of these historical instances should be seen in the context of the day. Nepal is currently battling two byproducts of the Maoist conflict: ethnic/regional extremism and the glorification of violence. On the one hand, Prachanda’s former comrade Biplavjee (Netra Bikram Chand) is advocating for “another armed revolution.” On the other, efforts are being made to build a sensational narrative of “caste oppression in the hills” and “regional oppression in tarai/madhesh,” and establish “ethnicity-based states against the hegemony of Khas-Aryas” in the hills and “an exclusive Madhesh province against internal colonialism of the hills” in Tarai/Madhesh. Mr Deuba, can you clarify where do you stand vis-à-vis these issues as you seek to tear UML down?

CPN (UML) has stood firmly against the design of ethnicity-based federalism. It is on the belief thatsuch a model of state restructuring does not fit a multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious country like Nepal. We have to have a model that binds diverse communities together, promotes intercultural harmony and firms up national unity. This is our principle position. Much in the same way you are blaming us for being “anti-madhesh,” some of our colleagues left blaming us as a party “opposed to ethnic communities” and “federalism.” However, we did not change our position in the face of the loss of a few votes, and even the dignity of the party, at the cost of national unity. As a result, the fever of ethnic extremism has significantly calmed down in the country.

In tarai-madhesh, however, efforts are being made to force-feed the extremism that has lost ground elsewhere. Friends who advocate for ethnicity-based provinces in the hills are pressing for one province from Jhapa to Kanchanpur. If that does not happen, they bargain, “we could settle for two provinces, but there should be no portion of the hills.” To justify it, they have developed a principle of “multinationality” and “binationality.” By this, they meanNepal has primarily two nationalities: hill nationality and madheshi nationality. And to establish this claim, they do not want any arrangement that keeps both hills and madhesh in one place. The recent proposal to remove hilly districts from province 5 is an incremental effort to realize this principle.

Another principle is one of “internal colonialism.”The phrase is used to demean a country that was never a colony, and foment hatred, degradation and violence against a specific community. A landlord in tarai/madhesh sees a porter toiling in Karnali as “elite” just because he hails from the hill. There is yet another principle, the principle of dependence. It suggests that “roti-beti” relationship (one based on sharing of hearth and marriage) exists with India, and India has been supporting us in various sectors.As such, India should be consulted and engaged in all areas of concerns: in constitution making, in designing federalism, in forming governments and also in establishing relationship with other countries.

The country is enmeshed in these debates now. UML is firm that federalism cannot be formed along the line of “binationality” and “multinationality.” This will in the long run be detrimental to Nepal’s national unity, as nationality cannot be defined in isolation. Nationality is connected to language and culture, and, geography and sentiment. It may also have links to issues that can pave the way for self-determination.

Nepal has no “binationality” or “multinationality.” As stated in the Constitution, Nepal is a nation of all Nepali people with “multiethnic, multilingual, multi-religious andmulticultural characteristics, geographical diversities, commonaspirations and the unity of a bond of allegiance to national independence,territorial integrity, national interest and prosperity of Nepal.” Is the concept that reinforces the bond of unity between and among communities in the hill and tarai-madhesh divisive? Or is it your proposal to separate the hill from tarai-mahesh while designing federal structures? You may feel your areas of political influence (Kailali and Kanchanpur) are safe and why to bother about elsewhere! Do not be mistaken, Mr Deuba! Once the concept of “binationality” is established, your area will be the next target.

Different forms of “madhesh”exist within the seemingly plain and complete madhesh. There is one madhesh that perishes due to cold waves in winter and heatwaves in summer. There is another madhesh that always remains close to power, whether it is the Panchayat regime or the Congress regime or the royal regime or arepublican one. No moral or ideological consideration keeps this madhesh from seizing an opportunity to be a minister or a member of parliament or to hold any other public office. Which one of these forms of madhesh are you talking about, Mr Deuba?

There is a madhesh that stands valiantly against foreign aggression at Tilathi and gives up life at Punarbas. There is another madhesh that connives to impose blockade on a country devastated by an earthquake, runs across dash gajha (no man’s land of ten yards along Indo-Nepal border) to shower Nepali security personnel with a volley of stones,andindulges on an arson attack on vehicles carrying lifesaving medicines. Which one of the two are you talking about?

There is a madhesh that worries about violent protests turning Rajbiraj to a dead city and Janakapur a charmless place, and hosts a peace and friendship rally to make sure Birgunj does not descend into similar state. There is another madhesh that spews venom against social harmony and ethnic unity. Which madhesh are you talking about, Mr Deuba?

No doubt, UML has allegiance to the first. As such, UML allocates budget for free housing for the 20,000 homeless in madhesh. It advocates for land reform to ensure land entitlement of the landless, and initiates a program of free education for Dalit children. Why are you unhappy at UML? I hope it is not because UML saw the madhesh you didn’t see when you were prime minister three times. Nor is it because, I earnestly hope, UML did not side with the local lords who evict Dalitsfrom their villages when they deny the disposal of carcasses or punish Dalits for drawing water from public wells, which the lords treat as their personal property (Dalits are not supposed to touch).

No doubt the parties aligned to the madheshi morcha[3] are within the democratic orbit, and they should be supported to tackle growing extremism in tarai. But, at times, it is difficult to differentiate between madhesi morcha and extremist forces. As the boundary between the two gets blurred, both in terms of policies and practices, we become seriously concerned. The madheshi morchacompletely loses its centrist identity the moment it resorts to a violent attack on peaceful programs of a party. Where do we see honesty and integrity when senior leaders of the morcha publicly threaten to divide the country?

Maybe, you would feel no need to worry, as it is UML getting the brunt. You may feel that your electoral constituency is safe. But the extremism you are nurturing against UML does not stay just there. Once the arrogance of “you-should-do-what-I-say” is nurtured, lokatantra (democracy)begins to free-fall. Lokatantra loses its essence when some individuals claim that they would not follow a standard whether it is set by 90 or 95 percent of the people, and resort to violence to impose their mind on the majority. Extremism is taking on various forms today: in selective preference (‘only those I want are allowed to act’); on grounds of technicality (‘what I say on technical grounds shouldprevail at any cost’); in the denial of opposition (‘who criticize me are not allowed to enter madhesh’); in the pseudo claim of territory (‘tarai-madhesh is ours, and it is only us who should run the show’); and, in the notion of the superiority of foreign power (‘we can do anything we want as long as we have the backing of foreign powers’). This is not only wrong, but is also detrimental to lokatantra, pluralism and social diversity such as ours.

CPN (UML) and the Nepali Congress are the main democratic forces in Nepal. They are also the principal competitors. Let’s engage in healthy competition. It is futile to nurture extremism to weaken the position and stake of UML. Mr Deuba, do not engage in such a futile act.

[1]        The Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) (CPN, UML)

[2]        Communist Party of Nepal

[3]        A front of madhesh-based parties

Pradip Gyawali is CPN-UML leader and renowned writer.  

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