October 10, 2012


To raise their issues vehemently, Janajati leaders and intellectuals are mulling formation of a new party. Republica´s Arun Rai caught up with Dr Om Gurung, a prominent Janajati scholar, chief of the Central Department of Sociology at  Tribhuvan University, and advisor to Indigenous People´s members Caucus of erstwhile Constituent Assembly. Excerpts:

How do you describe yourself in relation to Nepal´s Janajati movement?

Dr. Om Gurung: Image Credit Kiratsaathi
By profession, I am an academic. But classroom theories only do not work. Therefore I have consistently been lobbying for the rights of groups including Adivasis and Janajatis, who have been historically marginalized by the state. As such, I consider myself an intellectual activist.

What is the current focus of the movement?

To understand it better, we need to slightly go back to history. In the pre-1990 period, the state adopted policies meant to forcibly create a homogenized society based on Hindu Varna system. So identity became the focus of the movement between 1990 and 2001. However, it was soon realized that identity alone is not enough. So the Janajatis fought for identity with rights, such as right to proportional representation, till 2006. But lately, with realization that such changes are not possible in the existing unitary system, the focus is on radical restructuring of the state based on identity.

Janajati leaders and activists are preparing to launch their own political party? What could be the reasons?

Actually, this situation came because of the very political parties that have dominated national politics for long. Indifferent to the Janajati cause, they even went on to dissolve Constituent Assembly. Disillusioned with this, Janajati political leaders affiliated to various parties, mainly CPN-UML, have now felt a need for having their own party. I personally take this initiative as a positive move aimed at ensuring identity and rights to the Janajati groups.

But don´t recent developments, for example, differences among Janajati leaders over establishing a new political party, show that proponents of the new party are themselves not sure if this would be the right move?

Yes, we have faced some hurdles. However, at some point, I can see Janajati leaders competing among themselves to become the first to establish a new party. I feel these tendencies are quite natural during the formative stage of any organization. What makes a difference is leadership.

Talking about leadership, intellectuals have remained a major driving force behind the movement. Now are they going to take up any leadership roles in the new party?

Let us be clear about one thing. Political leaders, irrespective of their educational qualifications, are the ones who should lead. With no political experience, intellectuals can only play advisory roles. And they can give theoretical and ideological inputs to run the party.

Inclusion has remained at the heart of the agenda of Janajati movement. So how is this party going to include non-Janajati community in it?

Though the main focus will be on raising Janajati issues, there are other communities with similar agenda. I strongly believe that going beyond the ethnic issue, the party also should raise the issue of class struggle. Ideally, we have to learn from communists but they are only inclined to class issues, who tend to relate almost everything with the means of production. Overcoming this drawback, the new party should internalize dual issues of ethnicity and class and avoid being an ethnic outfit.

It is argued that the proposed party does not have any clear ideological line and its sustainability is often questioned. What is your view?

This issue of ideology has remained a major one. Essentially, a political organization is a perpetual institution. It cannot run on agenda only because the time objectives are met and agenda become irrelevant. But this should not mean a political party should cease to exist. The name of the new party has been proposed Federal Democratic Socialist Party. As the name suggests, the new party should chalk out a mixed ideology, touching on the principles of federalism, democracy and socialism.

Lastly, how would you like to respond to those who argue that Janajati movement would lead to disintegration?

I want to tell them that Janajatis are not essentially communal creatures. They are very much one of the nation´s own communities. They respect others´ individual identity. The issues Janajatis have raised are applicable to all other communities as well. When all communities are empowered, nationality and communal harmony will be stronger. Actually, tensions occur when communities do not have distinct identities and are denied rights

[In an oblique reference to his former party colleague Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar, Bhandari said Madhesi leaders do not utter a word when Madhes issues are ignored, but when their ‘favourites are not promoted, they threaten to quit the government’. Chairperson of Nepal Sadbhawana Party (Anandidevi) Sarita Giri said unification of Madhesi parties should be for Madhes empowerment and not merely electoral advantage.]

KATHMANDU: Chairman of Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum-Nepal Upendra Yadav today said unification of Madhesi parties was necessary to emancipate Madhesis from subjugation but unity should not serve as a springboard for opportunists.

Addressing an interaction on ‘Unification process of Madhesi parties: Prospects and challenges’ organised by Madhesi Youth Forum-Nepal, Yadav said they were open either for a unified Madhesi party or an electoral front but the ideological basis of the unity should be the emancipation of Madhes, and nothing else.
“Madhesi ministers are powerless because they care more for their own welfare than the larger cause,” added Yadav. “Madhesis and Janajatis should also fight under an alliance.”

Sharat Singh Bhandari, Chairman, National Madhes Socialist Party, said unification of Madhesi parties and an alliance of Madhesi and other marginalised communities of the hills and Himalayas was necessary to achieve a federal constitution. “Marginalised and oppressed groups need a new constitution more than anybody else, and if we fail to forge unity among ourselves, our sons and daughters will have to fight a long battle for their rights,” Bhandari said. “But we must diagnose the causes of the splits that the Madhesi parties suffered in the past,” he added. “But we cannot join hands with those who betrayed Madhesis.”

In an oblique reference to his former party colleague Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar, Bhandari said Madhesi leaders do not utter a word when Madhes issues are ignored, but when their ‘favourites are not promoted, they threaten to quit the government’. Chairperson of Nepal Sadbhawana Party (Anandidevi) Sarita Giri said unification of Madhesi parties should be for Madhes empowerment and not merely electoral advantage.

“Madhesi parties need to clarify first why they split in the past,” she said, adding that the United Democratic Madhesi Front did not have an independent status. Giri maintained that the issue of federalism might derail if it was not decided by a simple majority in the CA.

Vice-chair of Nepal Bar Association Surendra Kumar Mahato said the rise of Madhesi parties was the main reason why Madhesis could now live with dignity and pride in all parts of the country and a united Madhesi force could achieve more for the deprived communities. Unification, he said, is the best preferred option for Madhesi parties. “If you can not unite then go for an electoral alliance,” he added.

Columnist CK Lal said Madhesis don’t need to worry even if Madhesi parties don’t unite. “If the hills where half of the population lives can have 40 parties, why can’t Madhes have 17 parties?” he wondered. In the next election, he said, major polarisation will occur between the Maoist and the non-Maoist forces and that Madhesis have the opportunity to create the third front comprising those supporting identity-based federalism.

Madhes activist Tula Narayan Sah said it was an irony that those who engineered splits in Madhesi parties in the past were now spearheading the campaign to unite them. “I don’t think Hridayesh Tripathi and Upendra Yadav can stay together. Neither can Mahanatha Thakur and Mahendra Prasad Yadav or Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar and Sharat Singh Bhandari remain in one party,” he said.