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Throes of a Fledgling

Nation



H

idden among the advance sample tables from the 1991 Nepal Census is data that is politically significant. There has been a net decline of 5.14 percent among Nepalis who say that Nepali is their mother tongue —from 58.36 percent inl981 to 53.22 percent today. Although preliminary findings for population distribution by reli­gion have not been published so far, there are strong indications that the percentageof popu­lation reporting Hinduism as its religion will also decline significantly. If these findings are confirmed, they would constitute majorrever-sals of national trends. Population percent­ages in both these categories had been on the rise in all previous counts.

Tc a large degree, nationalism is a matter of loyalties and emotions, which are charged with religion, language and other cultural elements. When a significant portion of the population shifts position on who they are or who they should be, the corporate 'self of the nation will be affected accordingly.

In the case of Nepal, Hinduism, the Nepali language and monarchy have been considered the three pillars of nationalism. What does Hmean, then, that all three are seen to be in decline? One cannot, of course, exag­gerate the trends. There were those who had warned that the nation state of Nepal would collapse with democracy, but this did not happen. Probably the Nepali language and Hinduism are no weaker than they were, only the perception of how strong they are has

changed. And after the initial phases of rejec­tion, the position of monarchy too is probably heading towards equilibrium, albeit at a less exalted level.

Nevertheless, given the obvious trends, there is a need to analyse Nepali na­tionalism and whether there is a need to tinker with the super-structure.

Newar, Tarain and Janajati

The wider freedoms available to the Nepali public since the political change of Spring 1990 has brought sentiments long suppressed to the surface. An array of organisations have been stridently challenging the established notions of nationalism, including numerous ethnic, linguistic and regional forums, as well as far-left ideologues, ultra liberals, and cham­pions of extra-indigenous religions.

Hridayesh Tripathi, -stalwart of the Sadhbhavana Party, which champions the cause for an autonomous Tarai, says that there is not much in the Nepali State with which the madhesiya can identify with. "Unless the madhesiya people get due representation in thepolitical process and decision-making, and their regional aspirations are satisfied on an institutional basis, there can be no common nationalism," says the MP from Rupendehi District. "The Tarain can never be integrated with the hill mainstream on cultural and lin­guistic terms."

Among the Kathmandu Valley Newar, considered one of the three privileged

groups of Nepal, there simmers a resentment against the other two, the Bahun and Chhetri, which are considered the 'hill mainstream'. "The Newars carry a psychology of the van-; quished at a subconscious level and view the Khasas as the victors," says Malla K. Sundar; journalist and Vice ■President of the Nepal Bhasa Manka Khala, a 'mass organisation' which seeks to promote Newari culture and language.

On the hill ethnic front, the Limbuwan Mukti Morcha, Khambuwan Na­tional Front, Mongol Liberation Organiza­tion, Rastriya Janamukti Party, and a host of smaller organisations have, in varying de­grees, asserted political, cultural, linguistic and religious separateness from the hill (parbatey) mainstream. In Kirat lands of eastern Nepal, the last and the leas t subjugated, by the Gorkha state, some Rai and Limbu groups last year boycotted Dasain and Tihar festivals to emphasise their rejection.

Nepal's Far West, which had been free of political mobilisation thus far for geo­graphic and economic reasons, too, seems to have become agitated. A recent meeting in Kathmandu tentatively put forward a demand for autonomy for the Karnali region, apresent-day backwater which is actually the place of origin of the Khasas, who can be said to have provided the defining stamp of Nepali nation­alism. A sense of having received a raw deal fromKathmandu pervades the Kamali's intel­ligentsia.

Mar/Apr 1993 HIMAL . 7




The demands,then, are for recogni­tion of group identity and federalism on eth­nic, linguistic or regional lines. Are the country's political and intellectual elites, who havebeensodishearteningly preoccupied with party politics of the lowest order, even capable of searching for new definitions?

At the same time, it is important to underscore that uncritical academic distinc­tions by social science practioners in thestudy of Nepali society might have further aggra­vated the tendency of retrenchment from the mainstream. Non-existent schisms have per­haps been dug up and mere difference of forms have sometimes been juxtaposed as mutually antagonistic categories, such as Aryan vs. Mongoloid, Hindu vs. Buddhist, and Sanskritic vs. Tibeto-Burman. When the

The raja and the praja.

focus is exclusively on highlighting conflict at the cost of linkages and similarities, the situ­ation becomes reactive as people adopt the analytical labels for self-identification.

Raja, Bhcsh, Bhasa

Going by the conventional yardsticks, Nepal never had prerequisites for a strong nation­hood or nationalism.The physical geography itself was too hostile to development of inte­gration or homogeneity in population. The harsh landscape, intersected by north-south river systems, isolated communities from each other and prevented the easy flow of people, goods and ideas —- so necessary in evolving a broader, inclusive national identity. Says Mangal Siddhi Manandhar, a geographer at Tribhuvan University," Inadequacy of agood 'circulatory system' was Nepal's greatest handicap in welding the country into one nation."

Though the Gorkhali unification campaign in latter half of the 1700screatedthe territorial unit of Nepal, it failed to provide economic integration for the nascent nation. The subsistence economies of the hills were

instead progressively wedded Io the plains markets, thanks to the East India Company. Mercenary recruitment; plains employment, mercantile links, all relied on the vertical north-south link, which matured and reduced the chances of lateral integration of economy and production within Nepal. As sociology professor Chaitanya Mishra notes, "The na­tional economy remained disarticulated; there was little Tarai to Tarai or Hill-Tarai ex­change, either in terms of commodities or labour."

If the objective foundations of the nation are weak, the subjective ones are not very vigorous either. There is no belief of common ancestry or race or even common territorial loyalties among Nepalis. In the face of such heavy odds, after the conquest and subjugation by the force of khukuri was over, the Nepali language, 'popular' hill Hin­duism and the institution of monarchy took over as the bind-j= ing forces that have sustained | theNepalinationstate thus far. 2 From the ancient period, z kingship has been a central p pivot of political as well as g socio-culrural life. In the ab-z sence of a tangible state appa-8 ratus, the crown became the £ primary foci of loyalty for all communities as well as the per­sonification of the state. "It is the empirical representation of national unity," says sociology professor Gopal Singh Nepali. The old adage raja sabaika saja (king is common to all) made everyone's relation with the monarch an individual affair. Il was for this reason that in the past, when political power was seized by ambitious families, the usurpers could not actually do away with the king himself. The crown was the legitimizing force in the eyes of the people.

ThenewNepaliConstitutionofl990 converted Nepal's 'active' kingship into a constitutional monarchy. But the transforma­tion went further, and was marked by a signifi­cant dissipation of faith and veneration in the once vaunted institution. The rumblings of republicanism and the occasional snub from mainline political parties has greatly weak­ened the halo of this once seemingly invin­cible institution.

Religion has been the second bed­rock for Nepali nationalism. Despite its con­stitutional label as a 'Hindu Kingdom', Nepal was never a puritanical Hindu State. Religion in the hills in fact evolved as a blending of indigenous shaministic worship practices with

classical Hinduism and Buddhism. What emerged therefore was a sui generis entity a 'hill Hinduism' that is distinctly Central Himalayan — Nepali — in character. As an­thropologist Dipak Raj Pant says, "The larger Hindu identity, and in some areas Buddhist identity, is not the exclusive prerogative of a certain group or a majority. The Hindu iden­tity, especially, is that broad frame of refer­ence which links all the indigenous cults and insulates the whole, but it does neither com­pletely unite nor create a unique type."

Nepal's popular Hinduism, based on organic spirituality reflected through localised symbols such as particular hillocks, trees and spirits, offers one of the rarest ex­amples of ethno-religiouspluralism,Pant adds. This hill Hinduism is quite distinct from the orthodox Vedic-Puranic traditions of the plains. Whereas theplains saw conflict between Hin­duism and Buddhism, the hills were witness to exemplary coexistence and overlapping of the two, with added inputs from the local Bon Po and shaministic traditions. Even the rigid stric­tures of caste were loosened to incorporate the non-caste tribal groups. The Mulki Ain (civil code) of 1854, although much maligned, in seeking to organise the multitudes into a uni­form frame of caste hierarchy did give consid­erable leeway to customary norms and prac­tices.

The assimilitative tendencies of re­ligion in the hills is not specific to Hinduism, and can also be seen in the shamanistic and Buddhist traditions on the southern Hima­layan flanks. This point seems to receive sup­port from Pahal Man Singh Moktan in a paper presented at the Third National Convention of the Nepal Tamang Ghedung (association), which concluded in Kathmandu in early April. Said Moktan, "...the original Bon Po tradi­tions were first diluted by Buddhism, and the whole is now moving towards Lamaism."

It is this flexibility, overlapping and blending of magico-religious practices and beliefs which makes religion such a shared experience for the Nepalis. Islam, Christian­ity, and tosome extent the Buddhist Theravada sect, have not undergone this Nepali sing pro­cess due to their late arrival on the scene and their origins in qualitatively different envi­rons.

Even before the unification process got underway, Khas Kura , the progenitor of the Nepali language, had established itself as the link language of the hills. In a sense, the spread of Khas Kura cast the die for the eventual military unification. It traversed east­ward as the Khasa people migrated out of the Kamali region. Today, Nepali remains the

8 . HIMAL Mar/Apr 1993




strongest asset of Nepali nationhood and the vehicle for preserving and articulating the national spirit and the historical experience. Balakrishna Saraa, the poet-drama­tist, oncecoined a slogan"HamroRaja,Hamro Desh; Hamro Bhasha, Hamro Bhesh" (our king, our country; our language, our customs). This slogan was first politically articulated by a representative from Lalitpur District in the FirstBuddhijibiSammelan (Intellectual's Con­ference) called by King Mahendra in 1962. This slogan, modified by the Panchayat pun­dits to "Ek Bhasa, Ek Bhesh, Ek Desh" {one language, one custom, one country), was pushed for all it was worth during the 30 years of paTtyless rule. The slogan which was a logical extension of the system's monolithic ideology.

Panchayat Years

The Panchayat years, particularly the Mahendra reign, saw the State implementing an aggressive nationalising policy. Strong ef­forts were made to link the ideal of national­ism with the institution of monarchy. The king, in fact, ascended to ever higher pedestals and the Jai Desh, Jal Naresh (hail country, hail monarch) slogan superseded all others.

The Nepali Rupee replaced Indian currency in circulation, and use of the latter was made illegal for internal transactions. The building-up of a modem administrative struc­ture, investments in transportation, and com­munication links contributed to the emergence of a national consciousness to some degree. But it was the introduction of a standard na­tional education system in the early 1960s that laid the foundation for 'modern' Nepali na­tionalism. As a medium of instruction, Nepali foisted educational uniformity from Mechi to the Mahakali, Even more telling in its impact was the designing of national school syllabus and textbooks. Nepali history, geography, culture and economics began to be taught for the first time, enabling the new generation to be socialised into a particular image of the nation.

The de rigueur recitation of the na­tional anthem and the stories of such mythical/ historical figures as Amshu Burma, ATaniko, Jayasthiti Malla, Prithivi Narayan, Kalu Pandey, Amar Singh Thapa, Bhakti Thapa, Bala Bhadra and Bhanu Bhakta sought to implant a vigorous and forceful patriotism among the youth. Earlier, in the absence of a national education system and syllabus, the kwSsnskril pathsfialas taught Indian books, and Kathmandu's well-to-do people travelled to India for higher education. Excluding the ruling circles, there had not been among the

general populace a concept of Nepal as a politico-territorial unit.

"The modern concept of national­ism is the product of the modern education system," agrees Prof. Mishra. Perhaps as a result of a nationwide peer pressure, the popu­lation which claimed Nepali as mother tongue rose from 48 percent in 1952/54 to 58.36 percent in 1981.

Anti-Indianism was a well nurtured undertone of Panchayati nationalism. It was politically expedient for the regime to point its finger at a "external threat" and allay internal discontent. Secondly, policymakers of the Panchayat astutely recognised the hillman's 'primeval' fear of the plains, and the more 'modern' fear of being sucked into the great Hindustani cultural cauldron.

The two nationalist motifs of mon­archy and Hinduism came together in the Panchayat's assiduous championing of the cause of the "Hindu kingdom", and trying to contrast it to India's secular status. But the handlers of, the Panchayat over-reached when they chose to promote an orthodox Hindu order. This elitist 'Sanatan' dharma of the plains had little affinity witfi the cultic tradi­tions of the hills. This propagation of an offi­cial version of religion alienated many com­munities who were less Sanskritie and could not identify with the Hinduism of Beneras and Ayodhya.

The fall of die Ranas in mid-century had left die country ripe for accelerated na­tionalistic evolution, and it was the definition provided by the Panchayat that the population had to accept or contend with nationalism right or wrong. Perhaps a less autocratic Gov­ernment would have provided a different stamp, but there is no doubt that the dominant nationalistic themes propounded by the Panchayat were palatable to the dominant communities of Bahun and Chhetris, as well as to the elites among the Newars and other communities.

A Pluralistic Mosaic

Even though the traditional symbols of na­tionalism have been tired out, there is still some strength left in them. And while it might not be fashionable to say so in certain paro­chial circles, there is something to be said for nationalism that is Nepali. It might be weak, but it exists and it is unique.

Since the first test of nation-state survival —has been passed and a democratic politiy now exists within Nepali borders, so­cial scientists agree that it is time for a new nationalism to be cast, borrowing from the old motifs and adding new attributes.

Nepal's distinct identity lies not in trying to trace its roots to the Gangetic plains in toto, but in learning to take pride in its own remarkable history and in the process of Nepalisation through which a cultural and religious syncretism has emerged. Indian, Ti­betan, Hindu, Buddhist and animistic influ­ences have undergone an accommodative and assimilative process in the Central Himalaya.

According to Prof. Nepali," Nepal must build its owncognitive foundations if its claims of a separate nation-state are to be sustainable. This means generating awareness and creating pride in indigenous traditions, heritage and personalities. We seem to make much fanfare about foreign events and digni­taries, but we fail to recognise the contribution of our own Khas, Kirat and other local he­roes". The scholar suggests that celebrating the memory of Yelambar, an ancient Kirat king would be agood start in tracing authentic Nepali roots. Among others, the Magars' mili­tary prowess, Sherpas' mountaineering feats and the Tharus'quintessential cultural unique­ness could be propagated as national heritage. The national pantheon must therefore include personalities and events, historic as well as mythical, from all communities.

Mar/Apr 1993 HIMAL . 9


While me Panchayat decades were characterised by loud rhetoric that was long on nationalism and short on democracy, the situ­ation has been reversed today. And as far as nationalism goes, those in power continue to flog the motifs of the past (althoughless so the monarchy), little realising that the time is now for innovative measures to strengthen Nepali nationalism by harking back to other tradi­tions that can serve to bring al! Nepalis to­gether. Initiatives are required on the cultural and ethnic fronts, but the Establishment seems ambivalent. It seems undecided between let­ting "a hundred flowers bloom" and retaining the overused melting pot ideal.


organisations and leadership are perceived to be just as distant From the common life and culture they claim to champion as are the central business and ruling elites. This was amply demonstrated in the last general and local elections, when the many candidates espousing ethnic or regional agendas made a poor showing, barring Sadhbhavana's achieve­ments in the Tarai.



On the other hand, the calm should notlull the politicians or the intelligentsia into complacency. For the legacy of harmony can­not forever be a substitute for equitable eco­nomic development. The regional and com­munal tinderbox is on a short fuse, and viable


economic opportunities and social justice must be provided, irrespective of caste, class, reli­gion orrace, and with affirmative action where necessary. Only such socioeconomic dyna­mism will promote the ideals of liberal de­mocracy and equal cituenship. Otherwise, the slide towards parochial and tribal democracy may accelerate beyond the point of no return. The traditional foundations of the Nepali nation-state will have to be judiciously worked at until the society can come up with alternative values.and institutions that can




As in any multicultural country, the question of identity must be handled deli­cately. Specifically in Nepal's context, is there a golden mean between pursuing the policy of the melting pot or going for the pluralistic mosaic? In the lack of any shared sociocul-tural values and historical experience, Sadhbhavana's Tripathi feels that only a fed­eral constitution granting extensive autonomy to regional aspirations will work in the long run. "If regional grievances are not resolved in time, a Sri Lanka-like situation cannot be ruled out and die eventual outcome witt be determined by the relative strength of con­flicting forces," he warns.

But even autonomous ar­rangements such as what Tripathi suggests is bound to be a short-term expedient. For, in the lack of any common rationale or loyalties at a higher level, what would be the ratio­nale for the continued existence of a central federated structure after re­gional autonomy is available? Once autonomous or federal status is granted on ethnic and regional lines, wouldn't it be logical for the Tarai to coalesce with north India and the Bhot region with Tibet on the same perceived eth­nic and regional affinity?

There is another solution on offer." While local variations enrich the total cultural milieu, the effort should be to create a strong macro-Nepali culture at the national level," says Prof. Nepali. This pan-Nepali identity can bind together the local manifestations in a dynamic main­stream. Yalung Kirant, Editor of Himalaya magazine, which seeks to highlight die ethnic heritage qf the Nepali hills, is also of the view that the best way lies ingradually develop­ing an all-Nepali culture in which every one can pride while at the same time allowing local variations to flour-ish. "But first, existing discrimina- Repre$entatjon of KiratKing Yeiambar

tions and inequalities across caste, ethnic and class lines must be removed," he adds, otherwise " unscrupulous politicians and parties will get fuel to fan the politics of hatred to create exclusive enclaves."

While the ethnic and subnational rumblings continue, they have by no means reached Yugoslavia or Sri Lanka proportions. The bile of communalism besieging much of South Asia is also absent among the general populace, irrespective of ethnic categories. Intergioup harmony and cooperation remains very much the norm. Some of the 'extreme'

sustain the national ideal. Constitutionalism, democracy and amultiparty system havebeen ushered in as the new ethos for the countiy. But these are highly intellectual and subjec­tive institutions, and largely out of the grasp of the illiterate masses for the immediate present. If it can be of any illumination, the socialist ideals could not hold the Soviet Union to­gether even after 70 years of ardent indoctri­nation. Nearer home, secularism, republican­ism and federalism in India hasn't fared too well. It is solely the feat of Indian arms that keeps its troubled outposts within grasp.

These examples carry a deeper les­son for fledgling nations like Nepal. One iron rule of history is that a political entity exists only as long as its coercive powers remain greater than the sum total of centrifugal forces (existing in any system). Once the f issiparous ten­dencies upset the equilibrium, the en­tity crumbles, be it an empire or a republic, unitary or federal. In this equation, a heterogeneous federal structure requires greater ultima ratio regum for existence than a unitary one because it not only has to deal with the external threats, but also with the contending units within its own boundaries. The Nepali State, hard-pressed as it is to hold itself togetherin a unitary model, would find it well nigh impossible to command a federal structure, given die country's unenvi­able geopolitical situation.

Before even moving towards new definitions of Nepali nationalism, the society has to determine if national­ism is sucha desirable thing to have at all. There are perhaps equally con­vincing arguments for and against, but ilis undeniable that Nepali nation­alism provides die people who popu­late the CentralHimalayawithan iden­tity which would probably be lost if each of the individual communities were to decide to try to make it on its own. On balance, it would seem that a Gurung, Rai, orTharu should be able to main­tain his distinct local identity while at the same time donning the garb oi Nepali nationalism. Once again, nationalism is only the glue that sticks a people together emotionally. It is the national economy which must seek to bind the people in self-interest. Mutual advantage is the best guarantee for the development and sustainability of nationalism.

S, Shah is a sociologist at Tribhuvan University and reports for Kathmandus Rising Nopal.

10 . H1MAL Mar/Apr 1993

Nationalism and the Janajati




w

National unity will come from embracing diversity, rather than by imposing uniformity.

by William F. Fisher

s


" *^™^i omepoliticianscallusdogs.Butwe Janajatis are not dogs, we are as much Nepali as anyone else, and we deserve to be treated as full citizens of this country." With these w ords, Suresh Ale Mag ar, the General Secretary of the Nepal Janajati Mahasangh (the Nepal Federation of Nation­alities), began his address to the national con­ference of the Newar association, the Nepal Bhasha Manka Khala, held in Kathmandu in October 1992.

Some politicians dismiss words like these as the rhetoric' of a few disgruntled or power-seeking individuals, insisting that there is no "ethnic problem" in Nepal. However, an increasing number of Nepalis recognise the spread in rhetoric like this as a signal of Nepal's growing "ethnic problem", one that will soon require but a single match to set off a conflagration. As Padma Ratna Tuladhar, a Left member of theHouse of Representatives, argues, "the problems of the Janajatis are one

of the most serious problems faced by Nepal a t the moment."

Whether it is a new problem that emerged in the wake of democracy or the latest expression of a tension that has been simmering just beneath the surface for a long time, many Nepalis fear that this recent growth in the expression of ethnic interests represents a form of ethnic separatism that could split Nepal apart in a fashion so recently demon­strated in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Man Mohan Adhikari, leader of the Opposi­tion in Parliament, expressed a widely held view in a recent interview when he suggested that "the expression of ethnic and communal interests might weaken us all." He went on to observe, "Of course, it is a democratic right to form associations and parties. But we must realise and understand that we are one na­tionality despite our ethnic and religious di­versity."

The Janajati leader^ and others chal-

lenge assertions like this that seem to oppose their national and ethnic interests. In their view, the assertion of ethnic interests, far from weakening the nation, can only strengthen it. They insist that there is no "ethnic problem" that stands apart from and threatens the nation. Rather, the expression of the interests of the multiple "nationalities" is essential to the for­mation of a nation.

Parshu Ram Tamang, General Sec­retary of the Nepal Tamang Ghedung, argues that "therestoration of democracy opened up the opportunity for the creation of a wider collective identity." In his view, Nepal can only emerge as anation-state by fully embrac­ing, rather than suppressing, its religious, lin­guistic, ethnic, and cultural diversity. K.B.Singh, Acting Director of the Adminis­trative Staff Coilegein Kathmandu, succinctly articulated the problem facing Nepal, "We are

* Preface from Laxmi Prasact Devkota's Muna Madan. See end of article

Mar/Apr 1993 HIMAL . II











not a nation," he observed, "we are a nation in the making." The failure to recognise and confront this may pose the greatest threat to Nepal's quest for national unity.

One Nation, or Many Nationalities The October 1992 Nepal Bhasha Manka Kala conference was one of many similar conven­tions held recently throughout the country, the most receni being the national conference of the Nepal Tamang Ghedung in early April. Twenty of these national associations are mem­bers o f the Nepal Janajati Mahasangh, founded in July 1990 (see box). Others represent the perspectives of a variety of regional,religious, and oppressed groups.

While these ethnic associations have
come into the public eye in the aftermath of the
1990 Jana Andolan, the growth in the number
of these associations is but the most recent
manifestation of a long process. Formal ethnic
associations have existed at least since 1950:
the Tharu Kalyan Karini Sabha, which now
supports local associations in 22 districts, was
first registered in that year; the Nepal Tamang
Ghedung was first formed in 1956; the Nepal
Bhasha Manka Kala was organised in June
1979; and the Nepal MagarLangaliSangh and
the Thakali Sewa Samiti in 1982. Predeces­
sors to the Mahasangh include the Nepal
Sarvajatiya Adhikar Manch (Forum for the
Rights of All Nationalities), organised in 1986,
and the Bibidh Dharcna. Bhasha, Jati lalha
Janaj ati S angharsha S amiti (V ariou s Religions,
Languages, arid Nationalities Action Com­
mittee), which was active in 1990 during the
Jana Andolan. ^

The term "janajati" as interpreted Wk and applied by the Nepal Janajati jl Mahasangh, has both inclusive and exclu- I ' sive aspects. A significant indication of J," I, the Janajatis' conception of themselves f and of the nation is their insistence on ■I translating the term as "nationalities" rather j* than the previously more-frequently used H "tribals". This change indicates a shift to H self-defini tion from external ly-basediden- H tification, and draws attention to their con- I viction that Nepal consists of a number of | equal nationalities which collectively con­stitute the nation rather than a set of tribals who stand in opposition to the nation. The gloss "nationalities" may also be preferred for the ambiguity suggested by its two dictionary definitions. It can refer simply to "groups of people, each of which has a common and distinguishing linguistic and cultural background and form one con­stituent element of a larger group (as a nation)," though it also suggests that each

of these aggregations of people may be "po­tentially capable of forming a nation-state."

In an attempt to incorporate the wid-esL possible number of "nationalities" and to avoid discriminating against any linguistic or cultural group, the Mahasangh avoids defin­ing "janajati" in terms of some Kirat/Mongol-oid/Khas/Indo-Aryan divide, and,instead de­fines it in opposition to the Hindu Vama system and Hindu caste groups. Janajatis are described as "fundamentally non-Hindu", where Hindu is understood to mean those who accept a place in the Vama system of hierar­chy. This explicit anti-Hindu definition re­flects the recent tendency of many of these ethnic associations to actively agitate for a return to their indigenous cultures and to reject the influence of years of Hindu isa tion.

While the Janajati leaders openly acknowledge that many individuals among these groups practise Hindu rituals, they cat­egorically dismiss any classification of Janajati groups that uses the Varna categories of Sudra or Vaisya. Ironically, then, while they broadly define "janajati" so as to include a wide range of groups with differing ways bf life, world views, customs and territory, they base this definition on a negative characteristic which exclude from membership any group which has or accepts a place in the Varna system. In practice, any tribal and ethnic group in Nepal seeking membership in the Mahasangh has been accepted. Hindu caste groups including untouchable communities, and Christian or Muslim-based groups, have not been consid­ered eligible.

Klrat Yaktung Chumiung KCfal: ]|al ¥ayekiha * -, ■* Chant yal Pariwar Sangh

Tamu Boudhs Sewa Samltl Nepal Bhasha Manka Khala Tharu Kalyan Karlnl Sabha Thakail Sewa Samiti

Chi Chhog Slwpu

Nepal Hyolmo Samaj Sewa Samlfl

Nepal Tamang Ghedung

Dhimal Jatlya Utlban Kendra Rajbansf Bhasha Prachar Samltl Jirel Samudaya Utthan Sangh

The foundersof the Mahasangh also mean for the term to have a positive definition, indicating the "aborigines" of Nepal, who, in theb view, share common interests because of the treatment their cultures have received since the formation of the Nepali State. This asser­tion that Janajatis are the aborigines of Nepal is intended to support the view expressed by Suresh AleMagar that "we Janajati deserve to be treated as full citizens of this country," but is sometimes unfortunately interpreted by Parbatiya Hindus to imply that, in the opinion of the Janajatis, Hindu caste groups are not as entitled as the Janajatis to their citizenship.

The barely submerged hint of exclu­sion or separatism occasionally bubbles to the surface when the emphatic flair with which Janajatis express their point that "we, too, are Nepali'1 is often misinterpreted by Parbatiya Hindus, who hear them saying "we are the only Nepali". This misunderstanding lends a high emotional content to the rhetoric on all sides of this issue which threatens to obscure the substance of the debate and the possibili­ties for understanding and solving the prob­lem. "We have never saidthat Bahuns are not part of the nation," argues Tamang. "We have only insisted that Janajatis be equally ac­knowledged. "He adds that "as long as Hindus continue to insist that Nepal is a nation and not a nation in the making, it is clear that they mean that this is their nation, a Hindu nation." Nevertheless, Tamang acknowl­edges that within the Janajati communities there are some individuals who take more extreme positions, arguing that political par­ties should form along ethnic lines and H should insist on full territorial autonomy. But while talk of separatism may reflect the consideration of hypothetical action, most Janajati leaders agree with the calmer and more practical view ex­pressed by Tamang. Subash Nembang, an attorney and member of the Upper House of Parliament, argues that "we need to be practical about demands for autonomy since the ethnic groups are so intertwined and dispersed." This preference for a single nation composed of numerous nationali­ties is reflected in the stated goals of the Mahasangh, which are "to respect the freedom, equality, and fraternity of other Janajati organisations; to encourage dif­ferent cultures to flower since diversity, not unity, is a global fact; and to make a single sovereign state of nations."

Numerous other ethnic, linguistic, religious and regional groups not belong­ing to the Mahasangh also object to the reigning definition of the nation, the nar-

12 . HIMAL Mar/Apr 1993

rowness of representation, or the limited and precarious provision for the rights of minority communities in Nepal. Among these, the Utpidit Jaliya Utthan Manch (Uplifting Fo­rum for the Oppressed Castes), with organisations in 50 districts, was organised in 1987 to focus on the interests and rights of the untouchable castes of the Tarai and the hills.

Like the Mahasangh, the Manch wants a secular state and opposes Hinduism as a system because it endorses discrimination against untouchables. However, as Pradam Lai Bishwakarma, the General Secretary of the Manch, argues, "Untouchables are op­pressed by a!l other groups in Nepal. We do not want to reform Hinduism, we want a nation where we are free to be Nepalis in any way we choose. We want equality and human rights for all, and to make ourselves citizens. While the law provides for equality, this does not extend in practice." As long as the laws allow for "traditional discrimination" and pro­vide insufficient means for legal recourse, says Bishwakarma, the untouchable commu­nity will continue to face serious disadvan­tages.

The lack of accurate census data and the uncertain level of local support presents serious difficulties in analysing the strength of each of these associations. "The biggest prob­lem in analysing the question of ethnicity is data," says Anand Aditya, lecturer in political science at Tribhuvan University. In the ab­sence of reliable data, each grouping or fed­eration can, and indeed, does claim to repre­sent a majority of Nepal's citizens. The Gov­ernment Figures have it that more than 80 percent of its citLZens are Hindu; the Mahasangh believes that Janajatisrepresent approximately 70 percent of the population of Nepal; the Manch maintains that untouchables account for 60 percent of the total population; and the Sadbhavana Party estimates that the Tarai contains halftbe Nepali population. In Aditya's opinion, "these figures are based more on sentiment than data,"

Behind the cacophony of rising de­mands is a need for a framework that allows for more equal and open competition.

Making Nepal

Nations are, in the words of Benedict Ander­son, "imagined political communities". Ernest Gellner {Nations and Nationalities) observes that nations are not "inscribed into the nature of things", though they may be built upon the existing flotsam and jetsam of culture: they are not discovered, or awakened, but made. Nationalism is "the striving to make culture and polity congruent."

One of the most surprising and per­plexing problems, of late twentieth century politics has been the difficulty of reconciling the ideals of cultural, linguistic, and ethnic homogeneity in the nation-state with the reali­ties of ethnic and cultural pluralism. Politi­cians have usually concluded that national unity depends upon the creation or- mainte­nance of a notion of cultural homogeneity.

Dor Bahadur Bista, inFatalism and Development, has noted that in Nepal "(o)ne of the main arguments put forward for the elimination of the various ethnic cultures is the need to develop a strong national identity. Some pundits are arguing that this can only be possible with cultural homogeneity — with the complete institution of caste values." But as Gellner notes, "(states) can only become ethnically homogenous if they kill, expel, or assimilate" those who do not fit the national mould.

All too frequently, theobsession with homogenisation emerges from the desire for national unity. This pathological drive for an exclusive and homogenising nationalism is what led Albert Einstein to declare national­ism "an infantile disease, the measles of man­kind"

Is there an alternative path to the 19th century idea! of a culturally homogenous nation-state? If, asGopal Singh Nepali claims, "Parbatiya culture will no longer work as a model for nationhood," then "the search is on," as Prayag Raj Sharmanotes (HimalMay/ Juii 1992), "for a single cultural identity that would make Nepal a nation-state rather than merely a state," Can this search uncover or create an identity that is equally cognisant and respectful of all the multiple cultures of Nepal? Is Bista correct in his claim that "pluralism is notnecessarily a problem for the development of...a nation"?

The recent changes in Nepal —spe­cifically the overthrow of the partyless Panchayat system, the writing of anew demo­cratic constitution, and the political dialogues of the past three years—have underscored the fluid and malleable character of the discourse underlying the artifice of the Nepali nation, and drawn attention to the always ongoing process of forming and transforming societ­ies.

In the years following Prithvi Narayan Shah's conquests, the Gorkhali aspi­ration to make their Kingdom a true "Hindustan" faced external threats from the British and the Mughals, and internal threats posed by geography and religious, ethnic and political differences among their subjects. In addition to the creation of an institutional



Suresh Ale Magar: angry man.

administration, state-building required the formation of a national ideology. With the fall of other Hindu principalities in South Asia to the British, Gorkha saw itself as the only remaining independent Hindurealm and acted to preserve the purity of that realm.

In the ensuing years, finding com­mon ideological ground was even more diffi­cult. As Andras Hefer has noted, within the possessions of the Gorkha kingdom were a wide array of social groups speaking more than 40 distinct languages; three historically and regionally distinct caste hierarchies, a number of loosely defined groups in the middle hills, and culturally distinct Tibeto-Burman speaking populations along the northern fron­tier. Ovci the years, strategies employed to create a Hindu nation out of disparate popula­tions included persuading these populations to adopt some Hindu practices, broadening the definition of 'Hindu', and outlawing the conversion of Hindus to other religions. Since the late 18th century, the language and culture promoted by the State has been that of the Hindu population of the hill regions.

One significant step in this process was taken in 1854, with the codification of a 'national hierarchy that ascribed a status to each of the categories of social groups named in the MuLuki Am. This civil code served a dual puipose by distinguishing Nepal's soci­ety from foreign societies and cultures, and by justifying the placement of the rulers at the top of the hierarchy. This new social universe ranked high Hindu castes at the top, followed by an array of non-Hindu hill groups, Bhotcs, and, at the bottom, untouchables.

Mar/Apr 1903 HIMAL . 13

The legal code put forth the country's laws on diverse social, religious, economic and administrative matters in 163 categories in order to ensure that all subjects were treated according to their offense and their status. Its inclusion of legislation on commensality and physical contact, and provision of different sorts ofland tenure and tradingrights to differ­ent groups, imbued ethnic labels with a sig­nificance they did not formerly have. The incorporative model set up by the Muluki Ain whereby a group's legislated difference from other groups was the very principle by which it was integrated into society has had lasting effects in Nepal that have outlived the legal hierarchy.

Contested Futures

It is a testimony to the years of state formation that underneath all the current conflict about the national culture, there is an almost unques­tioned acceptance that there is aNepali nation. The disagreement that rages, rages over the nature and character of the nation. The at­tempts of the Parbaliya elites to establish a Hindu nation succeeded in the establishment of a State and, to some degree, an abstract notion of nationhood, but the removal of the last institutional support for the old regime has allowed the power of the elite and the defini­tion of the nation to be brought into question. The emerging dissonant voices heard inNepa], for the most part, are not embryonic national­isms that threaten to compete with Nepali nationalism — there is no Tamang national­ism, Gurung nationalism, or Janajati national­ism, for instance. What they represent is dif­fering visions of Nepali nationalism.

As in Eastern Europe, the authori­tarian system in Nepal managed to submerge rather than resolve the regional and ethnic animosities in an ethnically diverse popula­tion. Not surprisingly, these differences re-emerged as the suppression was lifted. And in as much as the Parbatiya Bahun-Chhetri cul­ture is identified with the State, it is not sur­prising that the Janajatis and others try to distance themselves from this culture.

The Janajati associations have per­haps been most forceful in their criticism of, and opposition to, the notiorrof Nepal repre­sented by the 1990 Constitution and current Government .policies.

Most Parbatiya Hindus point to the new Constitution torefute the Janajatis'claim that Nepal has yet to provide them respect and equality. In fact, the Constitution does make a complete break with the historical model of national integration and acknowledges the cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity of the

Nepali population. However, while the rights provided by Article 12 are the cornerstone on which ethnic, regional, linguistic and reli­gious dissent can be built, many Nepalis argue that therights provided by the Constitution for these communities arc severely limited and precarious. Most particularly, they argue that thereligious freedoms menti oned in Articles 2 and 11, and spelled out in Article 19, are undercut by the assertion in Article 4, thai Nepal is a Hindu Kingdom. How can this be, they ask, if the nation is constituted by "the Nepali people irrespective of religion" (Article 2)?

Furthermore, they argue, the right of each community to preserve and promote its own langauge, script, and culture, and to oper-



Padma Ratna Tuiadhar. "a communal Government".

ate schools up to the primary level in its own motheT tongue, is impotent without the provi­sion of Governmental financial support. Mean­while, the declaration of Nepal as a Hindu Kingdom and Nepali as the national language allows the Government to spend its financial resources for the support of Hindu temples, a Sanskrit university, and Nepali, even as it ignores the cultures and languages of the other communities. "This is why," explains Padma Ratna Tuiadhar, "whenever I am branded a communal politician, I respond that it is the Government which is communal."

Despite the tribute in Article 2 to the multiethnic and multilingual character of Nepal, many Nepalis see the. 1990 Constitu­tion as another attempt to impose a national identity based on the cultural and linguistic heritage of one minority. ,

The perception that Nepal's Hindu

elite are determined to impose a national identity based on their own culture has been reinforced by the controversial drive last year to make Sanskrit a compulsory subject in schools. Such actions fuel the belief that high-caste Hindus are interested in making Nepal "their country" and ignoring the cul­tures of others.

While most Nepalis feel that there is a need to maintain Nepali as a national language, many feel that it is time to move away from the process ofsanskritisation that has characterised the development of the langauge. Some, likeBal Krishna Pokharel in 1964 and Rishikesh Shaha in 1982, have suggested that muctiof the vocabulary needed to enrich Nepali could be adopted from exist­ing Nepali dialects or from other Nepali lan­guages like Newari. As Shaha observes, "words borrowed from Sanskrit do not al­ways have lire same natural vigour, simplic­ity and raciness as the expressions borrowed from the dialects."

Since contested futures are the hall­mark of democracies, might Nepal avoid eth­nic strife and find national unity by embrac­ing diversity rather than by imposing unifor­mity? In a garden whose diversity now ex­ceeds the four caste divisions and 36 tribes of PrilhviNarayan, there seems to be noconsen-sus on what is a weed and what is a flower, which plants are to be watered, and who is to be the gardener.

Mahttkabi Laxmi Prasad Devkoia may have set an appropriate example when he incorporated words from Tamang, Newari and other languages into his writings, and also embraced jhyaure, a formerly dispar­aged folksong meter. If national unity de­pends on the acceptance of a framework in which multiple cultures or flowers are al­lowed to compete without one dominating the whote system or garden, then it may require the resurrection and embracing of indigenous "sprouts" ...planted unseen in our fields May in bloom and wither, as God wills, but grant me this, brother! don't trample it underfoot

let it flower and bear fruit! Invite the spring, and scorn not thejhyaure, dear sir... Nepali seed and Nepali grain, lite sweet juicy song

watered with the flavour of Nepal
What Nepali would close his eyes to it ?
if the fountain springs from the spirit
what heart will it not touch? k

W.F. Fisher teaches anthropology at Harvard University. Fluid Boundaries, his book on ethnicity and nationalism in Nepal, with particular reference to the Thakalis, is due out soon.

14 . HIMAL Mar/Apr 1993




Looking for

Greater Nepal

Is there today in

South Asia

a movement

to establish

a "Greater Nepal" ?

If not, is such a

movement likely

to arise

anytime soon?

by Kanak Mani Dixit

M

ostconnosieurs of South Asian news and politics claim not to believe that there is a movement afoot to create a "Greater Nepal" along the Himalayan rim-land of South Asia. Like Jyoti Basu, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, they maintain that the concept is a "bogey" pushed opportunisti­cally by a handful of regional actors.

But there are some diplomatic and media circles in the Indian capital of New Delhi, who profess to lake seriously the idea of a Greater Nepal "conspiracy" or "gameplan". Whether anyone believes it or not, therefore, "Greater Nepal" becomes an issue of geopo­litical significance.

Those who have g iven Greater Nepal a high media profile over the last two years, apparently acting independently of each other, are Dawa Tshering, Foreign Minister of Bhutan, and Subhas Ghising, Chairman of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.

Ghising has had ongoing spats with West Bengal's Left Front government and Sikkim's Chief Minister Nar Bahadur Bhandari. His method of confronting these challenges has been to raise a scare with issues relating to territory, language and national­ism. Over the last coupleof years, Ghisinghas claimed that: Darjeeling is a no-man's-land due to lacunae in the 1950 Indo-Nepal Friend­ship Treaty; that Kalimpong is leased territory actually belonging to Bhutan; that 'Gorkhali' rather than Nepali should have been the offi­cially recognised language in India; and that there exists a conspiracy for Greater Nepal.

Ina26JuLy 1991 letter to the Prime Minister of India, Ghising asserted that the recognition of'Nepali' rather than'Gorkhali' helped stabilise the GreaterNepal movement, which was a communist plot clandestinely supported by Indian leftists and

Bhandari. The Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), Nepal'spowerfuloppositionin Parli amen t, G hising w amed, was demanding (he re­turn of Nepali territo-

ries ceded to the British.

"That is why I am spending sleep­less nights," Ghising confessed to The States­man of Calcutta. "My sixth sense and political acumen have repeatedly alerted me of the grave danger that the manifestations of the Greater Nepal movement .pose to the Indian Union. Surprisingly, this danger iscompletely unknown to the rulers in Delhi and Calcutta..."

TheForeign Minister of Bhutan finds common cause with Ghising. In January 1992, Dawa Tshering told a visiting Amnesty Inter­national delegation that Nepali-speaking south-em Bhutanese rebels were "supported by groups and individuals in India andNepal who support the concept of a greater Nepal, which is based on the premise that the Himalayas are die natural home of the Nepalese, a myth which is not supported by historical fact."

The concept had attracted Nepati politicians in India and Nepal because "the green hills of Bhutan have become a paradise for the land-hungry and job-hungry poor, illit­erate Nepali peasants from across the border."

In Autumn 1992, as reported by the Kuensel weekly of Thimphu, theForeign Min­ister informed the Tshongdu (National As* sembly) that thepolitical parties and people of Nepal were supporting the "anti-nationals" of soudiern Bhutan not merely because of ethnic affinity, "but more out of their deep-seated desire to promote the concept of a Greater Nepal". The plan envisaged "Nepalese domi­nation over the entire Himalayas by bringing Bhutan, parts of the Duars in West Bengal and Assam and the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland under Nepalese control just as in the case of Sikkim and Darjeeling."

A Historical Yearning

Of course, there was once a Greater Nepal an historical Greater Nepal — but it did not last for long.

Until the mid-1700s, the principali­ties of the Central Himalayan region had been content at fighting each other for strategic advantage. But then, emerging from the mini-state of Gorkha, Prithvi Narayan Shah dev ised a method of mountain warfare, conquest and consolidation which extended his domain far beyond what earlier rajas had ever contem­plated.

Within four decades, Prithvi Narayan and his immediate successors had incorpo­rated the prize of Kathmandu Valley and pushed the Gorkhali frontiers from the Kirat regions eastwards to beyond the Karnali prin­cipalities of the west. The Gorkhali empire-builders then lunged westwards across the

Mar/Apr 1993 HIMAL . IS

Mahakaliriverinto Kumaon, taking it in 1790. Garhwal was conquered in 1804, and other cis-Sutlej principalities were taken until the Gorkhali forces were laying seige to the fort of Kangra. Beyond, and probably within reach, lay Kashmir.

In 1813, this historical Greater Nepal extended from the Sutlej to the Teesta, span­ning 1500 kilometres. Rule over this expanse was brief, however, and the 1814-1815 war with the East India Company saw theGorkhali realm whittled down considerably. The real­time Gorkhali presence in Garhwal was for a little over adecade; Kumaon for 25 years; and Sikkim for 33 years. The Treaty of Sugauli, between a chastened Gorkhali state and the Company, was ratified in 1816. It stripped Kathmandu'srulersofaboul 105,000 sq km of territory and left Nepal as she is today: a country of 142,000 sq km that has not shown extra-territorial ambitions since.

Even as the historical Greater Nepal went into eclipse, there began a process of migration out of the Central Himalaya which would lead to demographic conflicts more than acentury later. During what one historian has characterised as the "silent years" of 19th century Nepal, the pressuresof the State on the ethnic and other hill communities increased dramatically. Political repression, economic exploitation and, possibly, over-population, pushed peasants eastwards along hill and Duar towards the Indian Northeast, where the Brit­ish needed Nepali brawn to harvest timber and to open up territories for settlement and tea gardens. Over the decades and well into the 1900s, Nepalis became heavily concentrated in the lower hills of Sikkim, Bhutan and in the Duars.Inlessernumbers, they extended them­selves right across the Northeast and as far as today's Myanmar.

Would this scattered community of Nepali labour/peasantry ever come together to form a Greater Nepal?

The Likely Conspirators

Under presentcircumstances,aGreaterNepal could emerge from one of three directions: the Nepali State, the Sikkimese state, or the Lhotshampa Nepali-speakers of southern Bhutan.

The Nepali State. After historical Qjeater Nepal was truncated by the Treaty of Sugauli, Nepal entered an insular era which lasted till 1951. Much of this period was under the Rana oligarchs, who understood well that they were not to eye the neighbouring territo­ries of the Raj.



Nar Bahadur Bhandari; a Greater Sikkim ?

With the overthrow of the Ranas, Kathmandu's middle class shook off its cen­tury-old political shackles and was swept away by an upwelling of dated Gorkhali sentimen­tality. Childhood textbooks harked back to the halycondays of expansion, andpatriotic songs extolled the Gorkhali prowess. However, while there was a yearning for a glorious past, there was no militancy.

One folk lyric, collected in the early 1950s by Dharma Raj Thapa, went like this:

What has happened to usNepalis?

Our own songs have alt been lost.

We did twice best the Germans in battle.

We did take the Sutlej and Kangra.

But today out own voice is heard no more. A pan-Nepali movement did not emerge because Nepalis realised that the new Indian rulers had merely supplanted the Brit­ish Viceroy.

If Nepali politicians gave up the thought of incorporating Ka/igra"^ and Darjeelirig, it w^s not necessarily because they did not relish the prospect. It'Was more the impracticability of establishing a Greater Nepal on India's front lawn. A Greater Nepal would have to include the takeover of Sikkim (now a state of the Indian Union) and Bhutan

(which falls squarely under New Delhi's secu­rity umbrella). Which government of Nepal, whether Nepali Congress or any Left com­bine, would be willing to take such a dare!? As one diplomat in Kallunandu asked rhetori­cally, "Would not any Greater Nepal move by Katlunandu bring it up against a certain insti­tution called the Indian Amiy?"

The three decades of the autocratic Panchayat system might have provided lei­surely occasions to push for a "Brihat Nepal", to be spearheaded by the King, a direct de­scendant of "Badamaharaj" PrilhviNarayan. Ho w ev er, the defining foreign p o I icy demarche during King Birendra's years as unfettered monarch was actually the Zone of Peace pro­posal which, far from being pan-Nepali in nature, was seen by some as an attempt by Nepal lo protect itself from a "Greater India".

With the second coming of democ­racy in the spring of 1990, the freedom to speak out has once again provided a fillip to those few who continue to be obsessed with re-establishing the Gorkhali state's lost land and glory.

A group calling itself the Greater Nepal Committee was formed in Katlunandu in July 1991. It senl a letter to some Kathmandu embassies, stating, "Since the Nepali people are now sovereign, it is but natural that they worry about their nation and the perpetual security of its territorial integrity." Under the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friend­ship, India should restore unconditionally to Nepal the territories east of the Mechi river and west of Mahakali. The Committee's ob­jective was "to create a world-wide public opinion in favour of the 'Greater Nepal' and to achieve it."

The letter was signed by Surendra
Dhakal as member of the Committee. Dhakal,
till recently, was the editor of a two-year-old
Kalhmandu weekly, Rangamanch. Dhaka!
says that by campaigning for Greater Nepal,
he was fulfilling his moral and nationalistic
duty. But why is it that he seems to be crying
in the wilderness? He replies, "Right across
the political spectrum, Nepali leaders are
cowed down by fear of India, which is why
they were unwilling to speak out In support."
Dhakal said he did not know of any organisation
/"b'therthan his own that was pushing for a
. Greater Nepal. <>..

Whatever might be the seriousness with which some individuals and groups re­gard Greater Nepal, their enthusiasm might be dampened somewhat when they look within the nation-state of Nepal. Since the spring of

16 . HIMAL Mar/Apr 1993




1990, there has been a surge of ethnic and regional assertion within Nepali boundaries. At a time when the Nepali State is looking inwards to resolve these challenges, it would hardly seek external adventures that would directly challenge the Indian State.

While Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala told Sikkimese journalists in Jiiapa that the Greater Nepal idea is "a product of unstable minds", Nepal's mainstream Left seems to be just a bit ambivalent towards Greater Nepal — they like the concept but are unwilling to do anything about it.

As much is clear from the Rangamanch's interview with Madan Bhandari, General Secretary of the CPN (UML). He said, "I do not want to make any political comment on Greater Nepal. But as far as it is a question of feeling, as a Nepali I can express the emotion that Nepali-speakers who are linked through their ancestry should be able to come together as one united family. If the Greater Nepal issue progresses ahead, then in a peaceful manner, taking into account the sentiments of alt people, this thing can be decided."

Asked about current CPN (UML) policy on the matter, however, Ishwor Pokhare!, Central Committee member of the CPN (UML), was unequivocal: "We have made no fonnal statements on the question of Greater Nepal and no leader of the party has endorsed this concept. We have decried un-



Ever-petulant Subhas Ghising.

equal treaties between Nepal and India, but that is in the context of the 1947 Tripartite Agreement and subsequent treaties. We have not gone back to question the Sugauli Treaty of 1816, nor asked (or cession of land to Nepal. The party regards the Greater Nepal

proposals as neither relevant nor timely and we have not taken them seriously."

The Sikkimese state. Today's Sikkim is dominated by Nepali-speakers and the Bhutia/Lepchas who were here first have been marginalised. Chief Minister Bhandari has ruled Sikkim for 12 years and emerged as the most powerful voice of Indians of Nepali-origin. A charis­matic and ambitious man, Bhandari must seek successes beyond his small state. Could a move for Greater Nepal come from him?

_ Under.presenL circumstances,
it is not realistic for Bhandari or any
other Nepali leader in India to have vi­
sions of becoming a leader of Nepali-
speakers of South Asia as a whole.
"Greater Sikkim", however, seems a
more likely possibility. In a July 1991
press conference, as reported by the
Sikkim Observer, Bhandari himself did
indicate a preference for a Sikkim with
Darjeeling incorporated into it; ~

Sikkim's historical claims over the Darjeeling hills would not make untenable the demand for a united state. (The Darjeeling hills were gifted by the Chogyal to the British as late as 1835,) But the establishment of such a Nepali-speaking enlarged state within India would be complicated as ii would impinge upon the turf of Ghising and West Bengal.

B.S. Das, a former Indian envoy to Thimphu, is of the view that if Bhandari's emergence as a spokesman for all the Nepalis settled in India remains within bounds, it does not become a problem. However, he writes, "if these forces are allowed to become stron­ger by Indian neglect or Bhutanese mistakes, the concept of Maha Nepal will emerge under the garb of the so-called Greater Sikkim."

The Lhotshampa. The third cat­egory of possible conspirators would be the Lhotshampa of Bhutan, in particular the 85,000-plus refugees who today populate the camps of southeast Nepal.. However, it ap­pears that the Lhotshampa^s most logical agenda would be to strive for greater power-sharing within Bhutan.

Says R.B. Basnet, President of the Bhutan National Democratic Party (BNDP), "There has been no document and no speech by any refugee leader which has spoken of Greater Nepal as our goal. This is something we have heard of only since we have come outside. It is a concept that is neither feasible nor desirable for Bhutan. It might have been brought up to create misunderstandings be-

tween Nepal and India and to undercut any Nepali support for the refugees."

Since the Thimphu Government seems firm on not wanting the refugees back,
'Greater Nepal' Tshering. there is only one party that can ensure the refugees' repatriation to their homesteads the Government in New Delhi. And the one move that would guarantee immediate an­tagonism from that quarter is for the refugees to agitate for a Greater Nepal. The refugee leaders perhaps realise this better than others.

Until the Lhotshampas emerged as refugees, there seems to have been very little political links between them and the Nepalis of Nepal. If there is any place where there is a feeling for being 'Nepali' today, however, itis in the refugee camps of Jhapa. Said one camp resident, "This feeling arises because the very reason we have been made refugees is because we speak Nepali. I used to feel Bhutanese first and Nepali second. Now it is the other way around."

Their refugee status, thus, seems 10 have forced the Lhotshampas to feel more 'Nepali' than before. By creating the condi­tions that have made Nepali-speakers into refugees on a mass scale, therefore, the Bhutanese Government might have unleashed a process of setf-identification that could be­come uncontrollable. For the moment, how­ever, this seems unlikely, and the refugee leadership seems little inclined to initiate or join a movement for a Greater Nepal.

Eyes on New Delhi
It is clear that "Greater Nepal" is used by both Thimphu and Darjeeling as a weapon in their separate battles. It is a means to make the

Mar/Apr 1993 HIMAL . 17




powerful politicians and bureaucrats in New Delhi si t up and lake notice. But why is "Greater Nepal" such a convenient issue to catch New Delhi's attention?

Both Ghising arid Tshering know well the sensitivity of India's strategists to­wards the "northern frontier". They under­stand that New Delhi would not take kindly to the emergence of a Nepali-speaking super­state in such a strategic region, most particu­larly the Northeast.

Greater Nepal, at its geographical widest, would command the Himalayan rimland, controlling water resources, irriga­tion,, hydropower, tourism, and trade with Tibet. Added if such a state were to be foreign, under Kathmandu's rule, this would give rise to attendant geopolitical complications that New Delhi could well do without.

. .^Among New Delhi strategists, there­fore, a Greater Nepal state would be some­thing to avoid. At the same time, astute diplo­macy could make effective use of the Greater Nepal scenario, even if it were not entirely believable, as a means to keep the Nepali Government forever on the defensive. Stok­ing the Greater Nepal embers every now and then could serve a purpose.

What genuine concern there is in the plains about Greater Nepal probably refers back to the lurking fear that the martial Gorkhalis will one day arise and take over chunks of the Indian territory. This fear of the khukuri as a regional threat is quite dated to those who keep up with Nepali society. But many, some plains academics among them, continue to regard the "Gorkhas" as compris­ing of one unified race with the ability to articulate a political agenda and achieve com­plicated geopolitical designs.

Journalist Sunanda K. Datta-Ray wrote recently in The International Herald Tribune that the Indian Government "has long been wary of the Nepalis". The claim for official recognition of the Nepali language is seen "as the thin end of a wedge of political demands by a martial race entrenched in pock­ets along India's 1,500 mile Himalayan bor­der..."

Tanka Subba, a sociologist and re­searcher at the North Eastern Hill University in Shillong, says that there is also fear of Nepali expansion from the tens of thousands of demobilised and retired Gurkha soldiers. "With so much military experience, so the argument goes, it may be possible for Nepalis to take over areas where they dominate."

With the layers of worries and suspi-

1S . HIMAL Mar/Apr 1993




cion about the Nepali-speaking hills (sensi­tive northern frontier, a possible super-state, a supposedly homogeneous population, the martial legacy), a suggestion that the Nepal's Left parties are planning a Greater Nepal putsch, or that Nar Bahadur Bhandari's popu­larity among Nepali-speakers of India shows the way to Greater Nepal, or a suggestion that Lhotshampas of Bhutan are the vanguards of a Greater Nepal campaign — all serve Ghising's and Tshering's purpose to get New Delhi to see things their way.

When Jyoti Basu was dismissive of the Greater Nepal issue, one Sunday Mail reporter responded in a column, "...there is more to the 'Greater Nepal' issue than meets the eye... Jyoti Basu may dismiss the allega­tion of a 'Greater Nepal' movement as a 'bogey'forpolitical reasons, but the responsi­bility of the Union government goes deeper than that."

The Nepali Psyche

Anirudha Gupta, political scientist at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, speaking on Greater Nepal, says, "There is no conspiracy, but there is an aspiration. Today, there is revival everywhere, and the Nepali-speaking middle class perhaps is no excep­tion. Historical revivalism always brings up irredentist eruptions. In theNepali case, people may start looking back to Sugauli and the ceded territories. The middleclass intellectual aspirations have always been an easy ground to revive a feeling of past perceived wrongs. When 'we' and 'they' comes to the fore of discourse, history comes alive, to influence me future."

Under what conditions would a pan-Nepali 'ethnogenesis' come about, which could then be expected to lead to a potent Greater Nepal movement?

There has been no wrenching inci­dent in Nepali history, no trial by fire, that has led to the evolution of a collective national psyche. What has served to loosely bring the population together has been the force of Gorkhali expansion, the Kathmandu-based monarchy, a sense of being separate from the plains, and,'most significantly, the spread of the Nepali language.

While a sense of identity is there, nationalismnever settled deep. Prithvi Narayan Shah, unifier ofNepal, is nottheiconof choice among the Nepali-speakers outside Nepal. Even Nepalis of Nepal do not make pilgrim­ages to spots of erstwhile military martydom, suchasthebattlefieldsofNalapaniandMalaun.

Instead, except in Ghising's present-day Darjee ling, the accepted symbol of pan-Nepali cultural identity is Bhanu Bhakta Acharya, the adi kabi of Nepali literature.

And the Nepali language Ls travel­ling along the hills. The economics of modern mass communications demands a dominant language, and along the central Himalayan rimland, Nepali has slipped into that role. Nepali is ascendant even as there is an unfor­tunate loss of ethnic languages and cultures right across the Himalaya. In order to reach the largest audience, politicians, journalists, ad­vertisers, filmmakers; entertainers, educators, tradespeople and others are making increas­ing use of Nepali.

While it is language that binds the Nepali-speakers of South Asia, it is a weak thread. The feeling of 'Nepaliness' in the Nepali 'diaspora' is culturally charged, but not politically so.

One explanation for this weak politicisation might be that, barring Sikkim, Darjeeling and the Duars, theconcentrationof Nepalis in India is relatively low. Another could be that Nepalis do not form an ethnicity or race. For a Bengali or Marathi, it is a quick step from language to cultural identification. For good percentage of Nepalis, however, the Nepali language is a second language. There is so much that sets apart even Nepali-speak­ers from one another — tribe, caste, class, language, region, and so oa Political mass articulation is therefore harder to achieve among Nepali-speakers than it would be for a more homogeneous population.

A serious move towards Greater Nepal would have to have its origins in the targeting and humiliation of Nepali-speakers from all over, in an extreme scale, for being Nepali-speakers. Even then, the threshold of tolerance seems to be notched high for Nepali-speakers, bo thin and outside the mother coun­try. Severe suffering inflicted upon Nepali-speakers over the last decades did not lead to a circling of wagons and die subsequent rise of region wide nationalism.

Ne ither the ev i ction of Nep al i -speak -ers from Burma in the 1960s, nor the expul­sion of Nepali-speakers from Meghalaya in 1985-1986 resulted in organised pan-Nepali reaction. When border points were closed during the height of the Nepal-India trade and transit crisis of 1989-1990, sentiments were affected among Nepali-speakers of India, but there was no political surge. And today, even with the volume of media attention that has finally focused on the Lhotshampa refugees,

there is no political coming together of the larger Nepali-speaking world.

An Indian national daily recently presented with alarm the geographical extent of the Greater Nepal that is planned — it is to include large parts of Himachal Pradesh, Kumaon andGarhwal, Dehradun, all ofNepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and the Duars. The map pre­sented by Dhakal of the Greater Nepal Com­mittee covers more or less the same ground.

But a look at the rimland, from east to west, shows: a we 11-entrenched state of Himachal; the Uttarakhandregion which does want autonomy, but only from Lucknow; a Nepal whose political leaders remain preoc­cupied withmyopic politics of the short-term; a Darjeeling dial wants emancipation, but only from Calcutta; a Sikkim that wants Darjeeling, if it could have it; and a Bhutan that is every day shedding more of its Nepali identity.

The vested interests, the administra­tion and the politics of the region are all well-entrenched, and only a Subcontinental wrench­ing that goes far beyond the Himalayan region would dislocate them and lead to, among other things, a Greater Nepal. While a large portion of the population of the region is able to appreciate the cultural attributes of the Nepaliness, the feel does not go deep enough to emerge as a movement for Greater Nepal anytime soon.

This article is adapted from a paper presented at a conference on Bhutan organised by the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. 22-23 March 1993.

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