Interview with Chitra Bahadur K.C.: 'Big parties pretend not to grasp perils of federalism'

'Big parties pretend not to grasp perils of federalism'

JAN 04 - Rastriya Jana Morcha (RJM) Chairman Chitra Bahadur K.C. has been a stalwart of the Communist movement in Nepal for over three decades. As RJM head, K.C. has also been the leading voice against federalism in the Constituent Assembly. K.C. talked to Biswas Baral, Pranab Kharel and Kamal Raj Sigdel about the perils of federalism in Nepal and how the big political parties are feigning ignorance on the pitfalls of a federal setup.

What is the basis of the anti-federalism movement?

K.C.: We should understand that there are different models of state structuring. Initially, there were only unitary states and even today, nearly 175 countries follow unitary state model. Only around 25 have adopted federal model. There are basically three reasons for adoption of federalism. One, scattered sovereign states have been brought together under a federal setup (as in the U.S.) to ward off external threats as one strong unit — as the 13 American states did.

Two, some countries like India opted for federalism after gaining independence at the end of colonial period. The Indian states and principalities felt that they would be better protected from big foreign powers under a federation. Three, circumstances forced some states to come together even while they would ideally choose to remain separate, as in Canada, where the states came under one flag on certain conditions.

Whatever the reason for federalising, history shows that the unitary countries that have adopted federalism are either no longer in existence (Yugoslavia) or in a state of conflict (Nigeria). Thus before federalising, we should look at whether there is necessary infrastructure in place.

Those countries that went into a federal setup and had the infrastructure to sustain it, they have flourished. But those countries which had no reason to go into a federal setup or didn’t have the right set of circumstances for it, they have floundered and witnessed civil wars. Take the cases of Nigeria and Yugoslavia again.

After Nepal’s unification, it became a feudal, highly-centralised state. Thus, our focus should be on abolishing the centralised state mechanism. To wrest state powers from the hands of elites and give them to common people. To end the political, economic and social exclusion of dalits, janajatis and other marginalised groups.

Even though the Interim Constitution has provisioned for a federal democratic republic, all powers are still concentrated in Singaburbar.

What do you propose should be done to empower people in real sense of the term?

K.C.: As I said, the answer to Nepal’s woes is decentralisation. We should work towards ending the centralised state mechanism and to give more powers to the regions, districts and municipalities. The people of Kalikot district should be able to govern themselves: to develop the area, collect tax and spend it. The biggest drawback of federal set up is that you have to give sovereignty to states. It means there will be an independent parliament, an independent Cabinet of ministers and independent law enforcement agencies — all that’s needed to form a country. Just think about it: We are being persecuted by foreigners when the sovereignty rests at one place. When its divided among many federal states, do you think the country will remain intact?

Then there have been talks of distributing states on the basis of ethnicity. With over 100 ethnic groups, whom to you allocate states to and whom do you leave out? And will those who are left out agree to such a setup?

Besides, it’s the CA which should decide the state structure. But there has been no debate in the CA about it. There should be at least 1-2 years of discussions regarding the benefits and drawbacks of federal system. If such broad-based discussions had been held, people would have understood how unsuitable federal system is for Nepal.

The country is already a federal democratic republic. In this climate, how meaningful is your slogan of anti-federalism?

K.C.: Our anti-federalism protests started after the country decided to adopt a federal set up. We believe that either Nepalis will have to say no to federalism or federalism will deny Nepal a unified existence. It’s a matter of principle. Just because some people support what’s wrong, others don’t have to follow them blindly. We are speaking against federalism as we believe it will end Nepal’s existence as we know it. 

You say the country will disintegrate if it federalises. But only a few fringe parties support your position. Why do you think the big political parties don’t understand this fact?

K.C.: They pretend not to, but they do. There are two types of people in the big parties. One: those who believe that the unified, feudal state with corrupt bureaucracy will improve for the better when the country federalises. They believe a federal set up will empower the marginalised and bring sovereignty back to the people. They genuinely believe in the goods a federal Nepal can deliver.

The second camp is comprised of those who have been forced to accede to federalism as their mother parties have opted for it. They equate opposing federalism to opposing their parties. They are sceptic about the federal setup even though they cannot express themselves openly.

Overall, how do you assess the role of big political parties vis-à-vis federalism?

K.C.: I believe most of them realise what a dangerous proposition federalism is to Nepal but they don’t have the guts to speak up. For them, power is everything. They care about little else. Many political parties have been — both willingly and unwillingly — the victims of expansionist foreign forces who want to fan ethnic flames in Nepal to serve their own interests.

And how do you see peaceful struggles of different ethnic groups?

K.C.: We support all ethnic groups who have been fighting against historical discrimination and social, political and economic exclusion. But just because they have been wronged isn’t any basis to divide the country.

The Maoists say that many ethnicities have developed as nationalities and hence deserve to run their own affairs.

K.C.: This is a totally wrong and misleading concept. There are still adivasis and janajatis in Nepal. They are yet to attain the status of nationhood. Besides, how many nations will you craft for over 100 ethnicities? The Maoists can’t just declare such and such group is a nation just because the group supports Maoist ethnic policies. The Maoist definition of nationhood is misguided and will only invite more ethnic unrest.

Do you believe you will be able to convince others of your position?

K.C.: See, all speakers of truth are first in the minority. Those who first said that the earth is round were persecuted. People avoided us when we spoke against the Rana and Panchayat regimes. They used to make fun of us: what was the use of protesting when the king himself had introduced it and the issue was supposedly done and dusted? But in time people came around to seeing the deficiencies of the Panchayat and Rana regimes.

Likewise, the people who now harbour the illusion that federalism will cure all evils will one day realise their folly. People will one day rise up against federal system to protect the country’s sovereignty, nationalism and national integrity. It isn’t all that important how many members of CA support us. More important is the legitimacy of our issue, as it is the people who are the ultimate deciders, not the parliamentarians.

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