Book Review::Regionalism and National Unity in Nepal
Regionalism and National Unity in Nepal.
By Frederick H. Gaige.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975, 234 pp
The problem of National-building differs from country to country. In Nepal’s case it has been created by nature, history, politics and, lately, by apparent insistence of the ruling elite that the problem be solved on its terms or not at all. The basic division to be overcome in Nepal before the country can develop into a modern-type state is between the “hill” people of the mountainous north and the “plains” people of the terai in the south. The hill people are dominant in Kathmandu and therefore in political control. The plains people dominate the economy, which gives them some leverage against the political hegemony of the capital. Mr. Gaige, in providing a comprehensive survey of conditions in the terai at the same time also supplies the reasons for the difficulty of integrating Nepal’s population into a national community.
Virtually every sphere of existence in the terai has or is made to have an anti-integration effect. Geography has clearly divided the country into two parts. The economy inevitably puts the terai at a great advantage over the hills. It, moreover, tends to orient the plains people towards
India, the more profitable partner in any economic enterprise. Voluntary and government-sponsored migration of hill people into the richer terai could produce some mutual acculturation, but is also resented the feared by the plains people. Citizenship, education and languages, with their important economic consequences, are handled by the central government so as to favor the hill people. The political life, especially since the disappearance of the parties and the creation of the panchayat system, is almost entirely in the hands of the hill people, benefiting the king and his supporters.
The efforts of the government toward nation-building, whether they relate to government, economy, language, land distribution, citizenship or migration, always tend in a likely perpetuation of the inferior position of the plains people in the Nepalese polity. The underdevelopment of the terai, especially the lack of communications, presumably contributes to this result. But the nature of the policies and reforms introduced by the government seem almost designed to produce it. Mr. Gaige does an excellent job in analyzing these conditions and relating them to the problem of nation building. The book is a major contribution to our knowledge of Nepal.
University of Hawaii Werner Levi
Entry filed under: Articles.