APR 14 - Surya Man Gurung, a central committee member of the Nepali Congress (NC) and head of the department of district coordination, is a first-generation Janajati leader who joined politics in the transitional period of the 50s . A founding president of the NC’s Janajati wing, Gurung has been lobbying within the party for ethnic identity while federating the country. The Janajati issue took centre stage at the NC’s Mahasamiti meet last week over a controversial proposal to redefine Janajatis. Gurung spoke to the Post’s Dewan Rai about Janajati issues and the Mahasamiti meet.
How did the Mahasamiti meet turn out?
It was a success, though it failed to live up to expectations. The meet was held after three years but instead of resolving issues, it only raised new ones. While the party unanimously agreed to a parliamentary model (on forms of governance), other important issues like federalism, the names of the federated states and the identity issue of Janajatis remained unaddressed.
Then how was it a successful meet?
A review committee has been formed to review the political paper presented by Vice-President Ram Chandra Poudel. The team will review and prepare the final document within a month. I expect the review team will address these issues properly, as it has representatives from both Janajati and non-Janajati communities.
What were the main concerns raised during the Mahasamiti?
The Mahasamiti failed to name provinces. It raised a controversial issue of redefining Janajatis, while the issue of secularism was intentionally omitted. These are all against our commitment to the people.
Why have Janjati leaders failed to raise Janajati issues at the party’s central committee consistently?
I have been raising the issue in all forums, including outside the party.
I am not for priority rights to a particular community but I have been arguing that ethnic identity is vital to state restructuring. The central committee endorsed Poudel’s political document citing time constraints. The issue of redefining Adivasi/Janajati was never revealed. When it was presented at the Mahasamiti meet, it was only natural that the document would meet resistance.
What is your concern about the redefinition of Janajatis in the document?
The political document has proposed to list all castes and ethnic communities residing in Nepal before Prithvi Narayan Shah’s unification of the country as Janajatis. This is ridiculous. Even some non-Janajatis claim to be living in the land since Vedic times and want to be recognised as indigenous. There is an internationally recognised criteria for Adivasi/Janajati. But there is a trust deficit among our communities. Many are afraid of not getting a ticket to contest elections or being unpopular if they raise Janajati issues while those who are raising them think it is their responsbility to speak against Chhetri-Bahuns. They are extremists. Identity is an important issue, consisting of culture, language, religion, traditions, customs and many other things. We should address the identity issue without jeopardising social harmony.
What do Janajati leaders in the NC want?
We demand that identity be recognised on the basis of historical facts. Identity should be acknowledged but we are not for priority rights to a certain community, which is a completely different topic. For instance, I come from Taplejung, a Limbuwan stronghold where the Limbus are strong in number as well as organisation. The largest population of Limbus live in my district. Now, we can’t deny this
historical fact. There is no need to be confused about simply naming this community.
How much does the NC recognise the identity of Adivasi/Janajatis?
The NC was the first party to set up a separate Janajati wing. However, we have heard complaints that the party does not understand our issues properly. Janajati leaders tend to lambaste non-Janajatis while Chhetri-Bahun leaders tend to use Janajatis for votes. They try to negate the rights of one another while the reality is that they need to work together. Non-Janajatis often raise the issue of capability (resources) to avoid the issue of identity. They argue identity is not enough to draw up provinces, which is not an argument at all.
Why is the Janajati issue not a priority in your party?
Our party is at a loss but the situation of Janajati leaders in other parties is no better. I have been arguing that all Adivasis are Janajatis but not all ethnicities are Janajatis. For instance, a Limbu in Limbuwan, which is east of the Arun, is an Adivasi but he/she is a Janajati in Khambuwan, west of the Arun. An Adivasi becomes a Jajajati in another’s land. I am not an Adivasi in Taplejung, but I am one in Lamjung. Newars are Adivasis in Kathmandu.
This historical fact is our pride. Language, religion, culture, language, tradition, costume should be preserved, which is not just Adivasi thinking but historical necessity. Even the UN has defined Adivasi/Janajati. The country has set criteria to qualify as an Adivasi/Janajati—they don’t fall under Hindu Barnashram (social classification based on caste); they are backward in all sectors; and some of them have not been able to preserve their own culture. There is a need for clarity on understanding ethnicity and Janajati issues.
What do you think accounts for this lack of clarity?
Orthodox mindset. The party has not yet accepted secularism. When I noticed that there was no mention of secularism in the political document, I questioned whether the party wants to run after Kamal Thapa. Nobody spoke because secularism was deliberately omitted. India has 80 Hindu parties but even the BJP has never demanded that the country be declared a Hindu state. Secularism does not harm anyone but Hindu lobbyists are pervasive. Here, we even go a step further by opposing Christianity. Nobody will change their religion haphazardly, the oppressed and marginalised do it for liberty.
Is this why a Hindu guru was invited to the Mahasamiti?
I don’t know whether he was invited or he came by himself. But the NC is reluctant to call Nepal a secular state. A Hindu priest addressing the Mahasamiti says a lot about the party’s position. Thankfully, the press did not make it into an issue.
What makes you think that your party will address Janajati issues when it has already proposed to redefine Janajatis in its official document?
There is a vague statement regarding Adivasi/Janajati. Poudel has
highlighted the need to redefine the criteria to provide identity while avoiding ethnic conflict (pahichan ni bhetine, jatiye dwanda ni metine). Identity consists of religion, language, culture, tradition and even opportunity in the present context. Educated Janajatis don’t want to stay in the country due to a lack of opportunities. But we are expecting revisions of the political document.
Will you quit the party if your concerns are not addressed?
I prefer struggling within the party. Why leave the battle ground open for them to play?
Concerning federalism, why is the NC not ready to agree on the number of provinces?
The issue of capability (resource) with identity is often brought up. But resource is secondary. If you recognise identity, people will prove their capability. They become ready to do anything for their identity. If you give them a province, they will work to make it better. Creating provinces is not about dividing land as if slicing a cucumber. Historical background, identity and culture should be taken into consideration.
Are you saying that your party is against federalism?
No, there is no going back from the historical agreement on federalism. But it’s about the number of provinces and how they should be carved out. Some leaders still do not seem to have assimilated to the change yet. They don’t want secularism and keep picking a fight over the number of provinces and their names. Some leaders have even argued that federalism leads to secession. If the party fails to address ethnic issues while federating the country, that might lead to secession.
Is NC ready to go for elections?
Yes, there is no alternative to it. Elections are also a chance for the party to renew its mandate to write a constitution. After all, the people are sovereign, not one party.
Is federalism an election agenda for the NC?
We are clear about it. The number of provinces is not an issue but identity is. There are certain factors that rile up issues unnecessarily as they don’t want to see an agreement being reached. Nobody should have a problem with calling a state where Limbus live Limbuwan.
What will you do if the reviewed document fails to address your concerns?
Naturally, there will be a revolt. We will abstain and the party will not be able to go to elections.
Posted on: 2013-04-15 10:05