What does the constitution tabled at present entail for local Nepal? Well, it’s hard to cover it all – the draft document stands at 104 pages plus appendices – but essentially it looks like much will be different in the future, although much will also remain the same. The overarching issue is indeed the creation of a new sub-level of government: provinces. The draft constitution provides for eight provinces – later the four main parties for some reason decided on six, now gone up to seven provinces – but numbers aside: what is a province?
Federalism has been on everybody’s lips for seven-eight years. A federal state structure – based on ethnicity – was indeed a popular idea back in 2008. But what about now? Well, ask the Kathmandu-based Interdisciplinary Analysts (IA), and they’ll say it’s all changed. Merely 26 percent of the population are in favour of federalism; and even more so, out of this segment only 12 percent favours federalism based on ethnicity!
IA’s results are based on a nation-wide survey among 3000 respondents. So it seems quite reliable too, statistically speaking. On top of that, another recent survey by Himalmedia supports these results. In fact, this week featured several arguments in the media against (ethnic) federalism. David Seddon wrote under the headline, “Devolution without federalism”, that now it’s time to return to the Local Self-governance Act of 1999 and start from there. That might not happen. But for the time being, a large majority of Nepalis do seem to favour the old set-up of elected local bodies.
There are many maps suggesting how to delineate future ethnically based federal states in Nepal. The “Tharu state”, the “Newari state”, the “Madeshi” state – all these names are on the table and more. Will it work to sub-divide the territory of a country, which has more than 60 ethnic groups, using the criterion of “ethnic majority” instead of administrative considerations? Well, it is indeed a difficult question, and that’s precisely why it does seem important to discuss it. One could be reminded of the old Greeks who said that every whole is made up of its smaller parts, and only by being closely familiar with the smallest parts can we understand how the bigger whole works. Why not consider the question of “ethnic