Federalism: A Way Forward for Nepal

October 23, 2009 at 5:00 am 2 comments

Federalism: A Way Forward for Nepal

Hari Bansh Jha, PhD Executive Director, Centre for Economic and Technical Studies (CETS)

At the global level, there are over two dozens of federal nations in which 40% of the world population live. In Nepal, Kulanand Jha of Terai Congress for the first time in the country’s history in 1951 raised his voice for the introduction of federal system. Later on, Raghunath Thakur is on record to have put the demand for federal structure in 1958. In 1967, Madheshi Mukti Andolan echoed the voice in favor of federalism. After the political change in 1990, Nepal Sadbhavana Parishad under the leadership of Gajendra Narayan Singh raised voice in favor of federalism. But federalism emerged as a strong issue only when the UCPN-Maoist initiated debate for the introduction of federalism in the country in 2003.

Subsequently, it was the Madhesh uprising of January-February 2007 that helped give concrete shape to federalism. The uprising forced the then government led by G.P. Koirala to amend the Interim Constitution 2007 twice within a very short period time to address such issues as federalism, proportional representation (PR) based on population size and increasing the number of seats from 43 per cent to 49 per cent in Terai constituencies.

The Madhesh-based parties, including SP, MJF and TMDP entered into agreement with Prime Minister G.P. Koirala on 28 February 2008 for the formation of federal system in Nepal. In Article 2 of the agreement, the government accepted Madheshi people’s call for “Autonomous Madhes” and other people’s desire for a federal structure with autonomous regions.” In the same article, the two sides agreed for a federal structure with provision of autonomous regions keeping the sovereignty and integrity of the country intact. There was also a provision made for the formation of high-level monitoring committee to monitor the implementation of the agreement, which, however, is not yet formalized.

Following the CA elections on 10 April 2008, Nepal was declared federal republic on 28 May 2008. Except Rashtriya Jana Morcha (the party that secured 1.4% of the popular vote and 4 seats in CA) all other political parties in CA favored federal form of government. This was a kind of political consensus among the parties for the introduction of federal  structure in the country.

As a sigh of relief, the great majority of the Nepalese population, especially the disadvantaged groups have developed a feeling that only federalism would empower them. Certain groups of people have regarded federalism as recognition of religious, linguistic and ethnic diversity.

Federalism, however, should not be taken as panacea of all the ills. It does not necessarily guarantee the development of a society. What it does is that it creates conducive environment of self-rule and thereby generates development opportunities.

In the existing unitary form of structure, the past governments remained largely reluctant towards Terai in making proper allocation of resources, despite significant contributions made by the custom, excise and income tax offices to the national exchequer. Perhaps, this is the reason why several districts in Terai remained most backward economically. Such mistake is likely to be addressed under the federal structure.

However, the federal units in the country need to be made on the solid ground of geography and economy or what might be called geo-economic. Federalism, if implemented correctly on this approach, will unite the country rather than divide it. Complications, however, might arise if priority is given to ethnic, linguistic or other such considerations in the restructuring of state in the place of geo-economic realities.

The geo-economic factor should be supreme in deciding the number of states. Economic viability is most important for the survival and autonomy of the states. Equally important is the administrative cost of a federation. Formation of more states means greater allocation of resources on administration at the cost of development activities. Also, it will be a mistake if the states as proposed by CPN-UML or Maoists are based on ethnicity. It is possible that the formation of ethnicity-based states may help certain elements in the short run, but it would be a disaster in the long run.

It would, therefore, be worthwhile if only three states are established in the country on be basis of geo-economic structure i.e. the Terai State, the Hill State and the Himalayan State. Within each of these States, there could be provision of ‘sub-autonomous regions.’ Accordingly, there is no reason why some four regions such as Mithila, Bhojpura, Awadhi and Tharuhat cannot be established in a single Terai State. Similarly, different regions could be developed within the Hill and Himalayan States as well. The economy and ecology-based comparative advantage of the three belts can be harvested if the states are organized horizontally.



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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sanu maya kc  |  December 1, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Accordingly, there is no reason why some four regions such as Mithila, Bhojpura, Awadhi and Tharuhat cannot be established in a single Terai State.
    And why should be it united to form a single state, if the question is for identity of different ethnic groups? You are very cunning person, Mr author. From one side you are asking for identity of ethnic groups, from other side you are advocating for them to unite. I ask why?
    I can just guess– but guess with logic, of course. The logic is very simple. To make as much as possible BIg State in Terai and dictate your conditions to the whole Nepal( as other states will be far smaller thatn Single Madhes).
    But what I suggest you, if you want seperate country, please tell it openly. We, pahade are ready for it. But you Madhesi Elite people now living in Kathmandu with all comforts have to go out from Nepal(which you personally , and people like you,dont want).
    So good luck, you Mr Author.

  • 2. sanu maya kc  |  December 9, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    Why Pahade Living Areas(PLA) are included in Madhes Map?

    Madhesi movement organizers have issued a map of Madhes, which includes apart from parts of Terai where mostly Madhesi live, northern parts of many Terai districts where mostly Pahade community and Tharus live( 10-15 Km North-South from the beginning of Chure Pahad to Southwards- the Bhawar Area) and even some Pahadi Hilly parts which are in Terai districts.
    If whole of Terai is taken into account then Madhesis are less than the half in total population of Terai. The bulk population of Madhesi are however concentrated in the southern border part of the East and Middle Terai(10-15 KM northwards from the Indian border)where they constitute about 90 % of the population.
    The picture is quite different when it comes to Northen part of Terai districts- a overwhelming 90% are Pahades with Tharus and other Adibasis and other small linguistic groups. Although no figure is at hand for the number of Madhesi in the Northen part of Terai districts, the interpolation does not give more than 10% for Madhesi.
    The Northen parts of Terai districts claimed by Madhesi Janadhikar Forum and other madhesi parties constitute about 10 % of total national territory. The above analysis clearly shows that the demand of inclusion of the Northen parts of Terai districts in Madhes Pradesh is quite unethical and nonsense. Why a majority population of Pahades and Adibasis shall agree to come under a minority population of Madhesis? What kind of democracy is it on the part of Yadav & Co? Add up their Map of Madhes and distribution of population. It will be at best 40% of Madhesi against 60% non- Madhesi! Do Madhesi want to be minority in Madhes Pradesh?
    The question of the Madhes identity crisis is also false. Madhesis are a respected lot in Nepal. We have the great Udit Narayan Jha,Ram Baran Yadav, and many others in political, educational, admistration and other fields.(if ‘Madhesi’ means people of Indian origin and if Hindi should be their national language, then what to do with 60 % people of other origin living in the whole Terai and those 90 % living in the Northen part of Terai districts?
    But the interesting thing is why Yadav(Upendra) & Co. are demanding the Northen parts of Terai districts in Madhes knowing very well that it is impossible to include unwilling brute majority population in its Madhes set up.
    The design may be that after getting the Northen parts of Terai districts under Madhes, they will be only single largest state in future federative structure. They will have also controll over the single East-West highway thus concentrating the power to bargain with the Central government and which in future could lead to a puppet (Indian)government in Madhes state with automatically blocking Nepal’s any major sovereign decision making capacity.

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