Kanak Mani Dixit: Flawed On Federalism

king birendra.JPG
king birendra.JPG (Photo credit: lieber_matthew)

Kanak Mani Dixit has come out swinging - not the first time - for what can aptly be called the King Birendra Fake Federalism in a Kantipur article a few days ago. Basically he is proposing about five North-South states for a federal Nepal. I wish to make the point that such a proposition is fundamentally flawed. It is akin to foisting King Gyanendra as the first president of Nepal. Good thing we did not go for that.

Federalism and Tarai-Madhes
The Madhesi people have been historically disadvantaged, both through economic marginalisation and their exclusion from national identity, which developed historically as hill-centric. Even as the Madhesi people have succeeded in demanding their place on the table as equal citizens following the Madhes Aandolan of early 2007, we are creating conditions where they will lose access to the resources of the hills, to which they have a right as citizens. ..... The argument of the ‘Madhesbadi’ leaders is that only separate provinces can extricate Madhesis from Kathmandu’s (upper caste) hill domination. One or two Tarai-based provinces would allow Madhesis to run their own affairs while wielding more influence on the national stage. ........ This argument is certainly worth pondering but research shows that the closer you go to the Indian border, southward from the East-West Highway, the weaker the local economy and the poorer the people. The prosperity seems to flow all the way south only when there are arteries leading to the Indian border, as in Biratnagar, Bhairahawa and Birganj. This does seem to indicate a need for hill-plain integration, especially at a time when north-south highways are finally connecting formerly neglected areas of the Tarai. ..... With the largest volume and density of poverty in the country to be found in Madhesi-inhabited areas, it is vital that federalism holds out the promise of both political and economic emancipation to Madhesis. .... The matter is also complicated by the refusal of all Tharu and plains Muslims to accept the ‘Madhesi’ identity, and by the presence of a large population of the Pahadiya in the plains. ....... While there is agriculture in the Tarai, a large human resources base and great possibilities for industrialisation and processing, these alone will not deliver sufficiently improved livelihoods for the massive number of the Tarai poor. We must ensure that the promised bounty of the hills and mountains—through agro-forestry, herbs, tourism, hydropower, service industries, stored water for irrigation, entrepot trade (vis-à-vis China/Tibet), etc—is available to the people of the plains as a right. ...... some Kathmandu politicians may be harbouring visions of achieving the per capita wealth of Bhutan, which has mountains but almost no Tarai. ...... A prosperous Tarai is good for the plains people of Nepal and will also provide an economic boost to the highly populated and marginalised border regions of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Federalism Does Not Break Up The Country

The opposite is true. Federalism strengthens national identity and unity. Hitherto marginalized people - in Nepal's case 80% of the population - feel a sense of belonging.

The Central Government Does Not Go Away

The MPs from the two Madhesh states will still assemble in Kathmandu. They will still become Prime Ministers and ministers. They will still vote for and against issues that impact the entire country. All major highways will be under the jurisdiction of the central government. All big (and by big I mean anything bigger than 10 MW) hydro projects will still - or should - come under the jurisdiction of the central government. People from the Terai will have equal claim to the money the central government might make from the big hydro projects.

The Kanak Mani Dixit mindset fits my definition of Bahunbad. It is just fine for someone to be born a Bahun, but Bahunbad is an evil ideology, a worldview, that puts everyone else down. In this article Kanak Mani Dixit comes across as downright patronizing. The tone of the article is disrespectful. It is as if he is saying to the Madhesis, you don't know what's best for you, let me tell you what's best for you.

The big Bahun conspiracy right now is to make sure no ministries are eliminated or downsized, that the Nepal Police stays the way it is right now, that the Nepal Army remains intact in its current form. Dividing Nepal into five North-South states would do precisely that.

It is known that in a federal setup policing is a state function, not a central government function. When you create two states in the Terai, you basically are going to have to create new police forces in those states that will be primarily Madhesi. And people like Kanak Mani Dixit detest that idea.

Little has changed since the Madhesi Movement of 2007, primarily because the rulers in Kathmandu sign agreements with agitating Madhesis that they don't then adhere to.

Creating two states in the Terai is going to speed up the blacktopping of the Hulaki Rajmarga, the Postal Highway, and that highway is going to form the backbone of the Terai's economic transformation. Madhesis attaining equality in Nepal kills the false nationalism that is based on an irrational distrust and hatred of India. That will finally bring forth Nepal-India cooperation in the hydro sector, and that is what will finally eliminate poverty in Nepal.

The November 2013 elections were not an anti-federalism mandate any more than Kamal Thapa doing well was a pro-monarchy wave. This was an anti-incumbency wave against the Madhesis and the Maoists. The NC and the UML will also face that anti-incumbency wave when the next national elections are held. Neither the NC nor the UML faced the people saying they were for North-South states.