Federalism, Reservation And The Current Situation

Pratap Sharma

Nepal is a small country which, at different intervals throughout its history, has undergone radical changes that have drastically altered the political environment and the culture throughout.  Perhaps the most important of these historic periods occured in 1950, when the Nepalese people revolted against the Rana Regime, installing a three party agreement which was done under the arbitration of India.  Following a regime that was heavily isolationist, most experts agree that foreign influence became strong during this period in Nepalese policy making.  The political crisis and immature mentality of many of the political leaders during that time provided a suitable opportunity for the new monarch at that, king Mahendra to make a move later referred to as 1960 Coup d'état, wherein he suspended the constitution.  He effectively dismissed the elected parliament and the cabinet, and imposed direct rule, imprisoning Prime Minister Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala and his closest government colleagues.  To defend these actions he claimed that the congress had fostered corruption, failed to maintain law and order, and put party politics above the interests of the nation.  More than 10 governments were formed and then subsequently dismissed during the period from 1950 to 1960, which created political instability and conditions of lawlessness in Nepal.  King Mahendra consequently eliminated the party system and promulgated a new constitution introducing a Panchayat, a "guided" system wherein the people could elect their own representative.  However, the true power remained in the hands of the Monarchy, and political dissenters were referred to as "anti-national elements". 

In many ways a similar political strife to that of the 1950's is appearing in Nepal after the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015.  As a result the implementation of a federal state reservation system has been a topic of heated debate and controversy, heavily steeped in ethnic and cultural issues.  Many feel that the plans, policies and programs within the reservation system should be reviewed, and that they should focus more on those of low economic status rather than those of a particular ethnic group. 

However, in addressing this issue it's important to understand the ethnic climate in which reservation policies have sprung forth.  Nepalese society is still rife with inequality, and research has shown us that certain communities and castes are given little to no opportunities to work in the public sphere.  Lower castes, women, and the poor are still some of the most vulnerable in our society, with minimal access to civil institutions and resources.  Education is also lopsided, with seven out of ten of the least educated districts in Nepal lying in Madhesh, and these seven districts have an average literacy rate of 48.77%.  Moreover, people in these districts earn a much lower income than the overall national income, and it is still quite common for Madheshi girls to drop out of school prematurely.  Those who were born to privilege of family name, business connections, and inherited wealth have more of an advantage to be able to display their abilities based on merit and achievements, and those born without those advantages are simply not evaluated or considered.  With the existing situation in Nepal being what it is, it is certainly not easy to distinguish between issues of caste and issues of poverty, where boundaries between the two are often blurred. 

Reservation is a form of "positive discrimination" that seeks to provide opportunities to individuals of every group with equality in mind.  It is designed to favor members of a disadvantaged group, who face discrimination within their society and disproportionately suffer more hardships.  It has been implement in many countries outside of Nepal, including India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, the United States, and many more, but wherever such policies are implemented they are almost always hotly debated.  Experts still disagree on the effectiveness of reservation on the disenfranchised groups it is designed to support. 

One of the sharpest criticisms of reservation is that it tends to benefit only the wealthiest and most fortunate of the groups it targets, and overlooks those in the same group of low economic status, while actively taking opportunities away from poor people of other groups.  However, the problem with this criticism is that it assumes that reservation is like some kind of welfare program designed to help the poor.  It isn't.  Its specific intention is to help those of a certain group, which faces discrimination, to gain equality overall in their society, equality in education, and equal representation in government, thus granting upward mobility to those who previously had no access to it.  There's no question that there should be programs to help the poor of all ethnicities and castes, but this is not an effective argument against reservation because there is no reason why we can't have both. 

Before I end this article, however, I want to explore one more factor.  Many supporters of reservation in Nepal would also like to divide the country on the basis of caste and ethnicity.  This would likely have the reverse effect of what they are looking for, and would instead provide a means for further negative discrimination against the vulnerable sections of society.  Dividing the country by caste would only serve to further separate the castes socially and politically, increase ethnic tensions, and create possible conflict.  Reservation should not divide groups up and separate them, but instead it should bring groups together and allow them to get to know each other in ways never possible before.  In this way, I feel that reservation in Nepal is taking a wrong turn compared to other countries who have managed to use it effectively. 


प्रतिकृया दिनुहोस्