Not naming states along ethnic lines rejects identity
Prithvi Subba Gurung is a CPN-UML Politburo member from Lamjung. He has become more known recently for his position as the Coordinator of the Adivasi Janajati caucus of the former Constituent Assembly. With the demise of the CA, Janajati lawmakers are at a crossroads about whether to continue their struggle within their respective parties or split and form a broader cross-party alliance. In this context, Gurung spoke of the upcoming struggles, what went wrong with the CA, his views on the UML leadership and federalism. Dressed in a retro-style Safari Suit, Gurung appeared to be at ease in the caucus’ office in Anamnagar overlooking the Singha Durbar, where he spoke to the Post’s Bidushi Dhungel and Gyanu Adhikari. Exceprts:
As a coordinator for the Adivasi Janjati caucus, how do you view the dissolution of the CA?
The 12-point agreement signed in Delhi, one of its goals was to disarm the Maoists and bring them to the peace process. For this, the Congress and UML agreed to a Constituent Assembly, which was a Maoist agenda. That was the gist of it. I don’t believe at all that the Maoists wanted to dissolve the CA. We all know that NC and UML leaders have talked, in very unsavoury way, against the CA for long. Sometimes they said the CA was useless, other times they disparaged the CA members. The politicians tried very hard to move the constitution-writing process outside of the CA. All of these cumulative efforts were aimed at reducing the stature of the CA and insulting its members. Primarily, the NC and UML are guilty for the CA’s demise.
Don’t the Maoists share any responsibility?
The Maoists started to think that they were not going to get the constitution they wanted. Also, they might’ve preferred elections because they are the ones in the government, thinking the Madhesis would support them, the Janjatis would be sympathetic, and they’d get the majority in the election and put NC and UML in their place. They especially didn’t like the fact that NC, UML and the disgruntled Baidya faction were engaged in a signature campaign to submit to the President and bring a vote of no confidence against Baburam Bhattarai’s government. So at the last stage they favoured fresh elections for the CA rather than try to save it somehow.
Did Janjati caucus’ demand, especially for a single-identity states, lead to stalemate in the final negotiations on May 27?
At the final stage of bargaining, NC and UML formed one position, and the Maoists, Madhesis and Janjati caucus formed their position—federalism with identity and constitution with federalism. Leaders of my own party UML and NC, as well as many small parties, first tried to distort the report brought out by State Restructuring Committee of the CA. They wanted to get out of it, so they called for a State Restructuring Commission. But even the Commission basically endorsed the fundamentals of the CA’s Committee’s report. They wanted to go the unconstitutional way, and they tried to form their own type of federalism in secret meeting in resorts and hotels. They came up with the 11-state model, with nameless and baseless states. We opposed it—not to give a name is to reject identity.
Can you tell us what the options at the table on that day were?
Well, only state restructuring remained, and on that, four options were available. If we’d agreed on restructuring, we’d have had a constitution right away. Second option was to promulgate the constitution with the disputed issue of restructuring left to the transformed legislature-parliament. The parliament would’ve used the same procedures as used by the CA. The third was to declare an emergency to keep the CA alive. The fourth was to go for elections, not for the parliament, for another CA. The first option was out because there was no consensus. On the second, we said we were ready to be flexible. We were ready to accept the 11-state model, along with something to address the demand for the Sherpa state. We wanted number and names of states. If possible, we asked them to roughly sketch the boundaries. Even in names, we agreed to mixed- state names like Tamuwan-Gandak. But the NC and UML were not ready for this.
They wanted to put Rais and Limbus together in one state, and Gurungs and Magars in another, and create multi-identity states. We told them it’d be like planting seeds of division; to give a single state to two groups seeking their own identity. Such naming wouldn’t have worked and led to a common (sajha) name. We couldn’t agree to that. We suggested mixed names like Tamuwan-Gandak that’d both reveal the identity of an ethnicity as well as include other communities. That’s one reason CA got dissolved. The other is that none of the parties, except Maoists to a degree, have been able to accept the changes. That’s why the document that’d have institutionalised the changes, the constitution, couldn’t be made.
Why is naming of provinces along ethnic lines so important? One school of thought believes that being so adamant on the name issue is why we don’t have a constitution today.
The very necessity for federalism came out of the grievances of the hitherto marginalised, suppressed and oppressed communities. It came out of the need to include them in all aspects of state and society such that they too feel ownership of what it means to be Nepali. The demand for federalism is a demand for power-sharing. At the centre of the movement is rights, but the demand for names along ethnic lines is t serve as a symbolic gesture that previous marginalised communities are now respected and a part of the country’s state and society. There has to be space for that kind of respect—the demand is not for some extra political rights. Just a measure to make some communities feel included.
Is it fair to say that the NC, UML leaders are trying to preserve their caste interests, as some have alleged?
Well, there’s the fear that going to a new system would end their hegemony. They haven’t internalised that Nepal has changed. That’s why the constitutional parties were engaged in unconstitutional work like trying to write the constitution in dark rooms.
How is the relationship of members of caucus with their parties going to change after this? Are you going to quit the party?
Resigning from the party doesn’t solve the problem. Pasang Sherpa’s resignation from the UML was because of frustration with a process that didn’t deliver. But not all want to revolt like that. My view is that revolting now is not the best option. We can remain and pressure the parties.
Are you preparing to form a separate Janjati party?
Well, we have two options, struggle within the party or form a fresh one. But I don’t see the possibility of forming a new party right now. What would a new party look like? What’d be its class interests? We need to be clear on that.
What is the way forward now?
One way is to reinstate the CA with political consensus and move the constitution-writing process forward. Second way is to form an all-party national consensus government. That government could revive the legislature-parliament to amend the constitution, which is necessary to hold another CA election. The third option is to have an all-party political roundtable. That roundtable can come to a conclusion, and as the Baidya faction says, form a commission, which can come up with draft constitution that incorporates the work done by the CA. That can be put for ratified by the new elected parliament.
Final question, how do the members of the erstwhile Adivasi Janajati Caucus define Nepali nationalism in this changed context?
Where nationalism is usually directly linked to borders, ethnic nationalism sees no boundaries and it isn’t about state borders. So in this context, we have to look for a new Nepali nationalism on the faces of all kinds of Nepalis, their lifestyles and cultures. A one-sided nationalism which encompasses only the realities of only a portion of Nepalis will not be constructive in allowing others to feel ownership of the country and that kind of nationalism, as proven by history, will be weak. We need to focus on creating a nationalism which is all-encompassing, so far as all religions, cultures and ethnicities of Nepal are concerned.