|English: Nitish Kumar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Maintaining Perspectives On Ethnicity, Race And The Good Old Dollar
By Paramendra Bhagat (www.paramendra.com)
All you have to do is meet a few bad mannered Madhesis in New York City, and that really gives you perspectives on ethnicity and race. Madhesis are not Bahuns, not Pahadis, Madhesis are not white. All you have to do is meet a few bad mannered Bahuns in NYC and you come out ahead on the social dynamics of the situation. Bahuns are not Indian.
There is the immediate, and then there is that which happens or needs to happen 10,000 miles away. There is the New York City thing, the city that is the Kathmandu of the world, the capital city where every town on earth is represented. And then there is Nepal.
I have fond memories of putting my efforts into Nepal’s democracy movement a few years ago. And I have vivid memories of seeing deep hostility from some of the comrades of that same movement when the Madhesi movement took off. It is sad that the constituent assembly was not able to give Nepal a new constitution in two years, or even four. I have a feeling neither of the two sides might cross the two-thirds majority mark, and all the major parties will end up facing a similar situation to what they faced in the last assembly, which is that compromise is essential to how democracy works. You can’t get everything you want, and so you also have to listen to the other side and try and seek common ground.
When I personally drew a map for a federal Nepal in 2005 it had three economic states: Koshi, Gandaki and Karnali. The Terai got a proportionate representation in the parliament based on population. And I drew that map because I have recognized as far back as I can remember that poverty is the number one political issue in Nepal. It is number one, number two, number three. There are Arab states where you draw a handsome annual salary for simply being a citizen. I am a believer in Nepal’s hydro potential. There’s the petro dollar, and then there’s the hydro dollar.
But over the years I have come to appreciate the need for ethnic federalism. I have personal experiences going back to my high school years in Kathmandu that more than convince me the systemic disadvantages faced by the DaMaJaMa – Dalit, Madhesi, Janajati, Mahila – in Nepal are very real. A compromise would mean Nepal might end up neither with a pure geographic federalism, nor with a pure ethnic federalism. And I would rather the map came out sooner rather than later. The longer Nepal takes to finalize its constitution and the federalism question, longer the delay to focusing on economic issues. Right now Nepal is missing out. China is forging ahead. India is forging ahead. Nepal sadly lags behind. What Nepal needs more than anything else is a Nitish Kumar, someone who would make a singular focus on economic development and give double digit growth rates, year in year out. The longer we dwell on issues of ethnicity and federalism, greater the delay to such years of rapid growth.
I had never imagined Bihar would see the day it is seeing today. This is like Alabama became the top American state economically. That same Bihar depends on Nepal to become flood free and energy rich in the future. But Nepal and India have never so far managed to reach such heights of cooperation. Nepal and India are friendly as in the two countries are not likely to go to war, but cooperation has been poor over the decades. In Nepal the false nationalism is suspicious of everything that looks Indian, and that sentiment has permanent hold on a segment of the population. In India the bureaucrats running the foreign policy machinery spend too much energy on being a regional hegemon and not enough on aspiring to be a global power by taking the immediate neighbors into confidence.
But the economic engine is a beautiful thing. I f diversity is the reason for civil wars, New York City would shame Bosnia, but it does not. It is because people in NYC are too busy chasing the dollar. A laser like focus on the economy is the best way for Nepal to get past its ethnically complicated past. All you need is a simple, progressive constitution, basic law and order, and an honest government leadership that calls the shots on investing in education, health and infrastructure, and providing planks for massive inflows of foreign investment.
There is the hydro sector, there is the tourism sector. Nepal could do well in becoming a regional education hub for having a wonderful climate at least in the hills. Planned urbanization could be another boost to the economy. Wireless broadband over metro areas could spew a host of knowledge industries like software and long distance learning. Get federalism, get the constitution, and get going, I say.