[It is in this context that the current agitation in Madhesh be best understood that some among them are talking about their nation and national identity (which is their birth right), should not concern us as much as the fact that they are using the logic of nationalism to fight a state that does not have an iota of respect for them. In other words, their demand for recognition pales in front of the problems that require immediate solution.]
By Abhinawa Devkota
Madhesh Aandolan seems to have come to a halt, at least for the time being, with the arrival of winter. And although it might still be a bit premature to gauge the success of the aandolan, it must be credited with exposing the fault lines that divide residents of the hills from those living in the plains and starting a wider debate on equality, political representation and Nepali nationalism.
Predictably, the debate on nationalism and national identity of the Madheshi people provoked much anger among the ruling class, prompting some to define the movement as a separatists’ and forcing others to skip the issue without giving it a deeper thought. Even among the Madheshi leadership, only few, including Mahanta Thakur, unequivocally spoke of Madhehs as a separate nation having its own set of languages, culture and a glorious past predating Khas rulers.
However controversial might it sound, this demand for a Madheshi nation is not devoid of merit. A nation simply stands for an aggregate of people sharing a common identity, culture, and geographical territory. Going by this logic, it makes no sense to argue against the Madheshi demand for a separate nation to safeguard their identity, either within the boundary of
or outside it. Nepal
More pressing is the reason why they have decided to call themselves one. And this can only be understood in light of other similar movements that have taken place the world over.
The two World Wars that took place in the twentieth century not just reshaped the boundaries of continental
Europe, they also gave way to the espousal of
values based on equality and justice and made them universal. Soon after,
popular nationalistic struggles brought an end to the colonial rule throughout
much of the Southern hemisphere. But it did not just end there.
While European colonialism might have ended, many people still find themselves ostracised by their rulers at home. Be it the oppressive Indian policies in Kashmir and the North East, the throttling of the Baloch freedom struggle in Pakistan, the struggle of Muslim minority against majority Christians in Nigeria, or just the opposite in Sudan, people who have felt left out or marginalised by the system that has been manipulated to enrich and benefit the few, have taken over the idea of nationalism to challenge the hegemony.
It is in this context that the current agitation in Madhesh be best understood that some among them are talking about their nation and national identity (which is their birth right), should not concern us as much as the fact that they are using the logic of nationalism to fight a state that does not have an iota of respect for them. In other words, their demand for recognition pales in front of the problems that require immediate solution.
Sadly, Madhesh Aandolan is a mere representative of the larger problem ailing the country--that of rampant corruption, unequal distribution of resources and flagrant nepotism. Communities like the Dalits; those belonging to different ethnic groups like the Tamangs, Chepangs and Majhis and religious minorities like Muslims have equally been left out by our political system. This is where federalism comes in. By divesting power from the centre, which has traditionally been dominated by hill-based Bahuns and Chettris, and sharing it with constituent political units, which are meant to promote the wellbeing of those belonging to different ethnic groups, it cannot only ensure that the rewards of development get distributed more evenly, it can also help quell the longing for separate nations.
Nationalism, as the recently deceased Benedict Anderson put it, is ‘imaginary’ as much as those living outside the boundary of one’s village or not belonging to one’s friends-and-family circle, and hence not participating in everyday interaction with the person, occupy an imaginary realm in the person’s mind. But at the heart of this so-called ‘imaginary nationalism’ are real-world concerns: identity, camaraderie, participation in different socio-cultural activities, meaningful economic involvement and exercise of certain rights and privileges.
The seed of rebellion is sown when people are deprived of these opportunities. The heavy-handedness with which the state has treated the Tarai agitation, or its attitude when it comes to quake victims, the majority of whom are from lower caste or different ethnic groups, does not spell well for the future of the country.
History serves us with multiple examples of what happens when the popular will is thwarted and people belonging to a certain race, caste, creed or ethnicity are left behind. Despite all the efforts of General Franco to quell the Basque rebellion, it is still going strong.
has separated from the North. , despite all its petrodollars, is on the
verge of becoming a failed state. Nigeria , despite Saddam’s heavy handedness, will
never be one. Iraq
If the gross neglect and intransigent attitude of the state persists, it would not come as a surprise if one day the numerous ethnic groups populating this country start demanding separate nations for themselves.