Professor Peter Schuck of Yale University defines federalism as "a system that divides political authority between a nation-state and sub-national polities within its territory so that both the national and sub-national polities directly govern individuals within their jurisdiction." The centrality of proposing federalism is to decentralise power. However, if the proposal of ethnic federalism breeds violence, alternatives have to be considered. The question of federalism has become a conundrum for the Nepalese. It has already sowed seeds of division between social sections. We have been hearing about stories of inter-caste skirmishes from different parts of the country. The racial fire is raging. It has been difficult for one ethnic group to tolerate the other. Nepal had never witnessed such disharmony in terms of ethnicity. The leaders have forgotten that they are Nepalese in the first place.
Federalism connotes numerous variables and it comes in different forms. Concept of ethnic-federalism in Nepal has to be widely studied before it is implemented. Is it appropriate for Nepal? The recent clash in Nawalparasi where more than twenty people were injured clearly shows that it has potentials of breeding communal tensions. Ethnic division can be deadly when it is ignited by ruthless leaders who brainwash innocent masses for their own political gains.
Experts opine that the model of ethnic federalism is close to that of Switzerland. How just would it be to copy the political product of a European country into our soil? It is a question for the politicians to answer. The Swiss model which is regarded as a strong federal system comprises of cantons and it has a robust history of its own which is totally different to that of Nepal. Belgium is another example of a federal government built along cultural lines. In the case of Nepal, the primary essence is to identify the dynamics upon which the governing system is to be based. The social pluralism is the major benchmark where our governing system has to be focused. Vested interest of different parties, individual interests of politicians, external pressures from neighbouring countries and the fight over resources, rights and powers seems to spoil the recipe of ethnic-federalism. The fatal disintegration of USSR and Yugoslavia should not be forgotten. The Ethiopian setback is also a fresh reference for us to consider. The critics who regarded it as a panacea later concluded that federal system based on ethnic lines will eventually raise the danger of dismembering the country.
There has been constant pressure from the parties to adopt the policy of ethnic-federalism however, the casualties that it has invited is shocking. The case of ethnicity has created a distinct rift amongst the people. A Tamang neighbour has suddenly become an alien for a Brahmin. A Limbu is ready to fight with his Newar colleague. The situation at the grass-root level is more pathetic. The ethnicity based federalism has the risk of being manipulated in the wrong direction. There are enormous threats pragmatically while implementing this principle. Not only in the initial stage but the tussle over resources, power and constitutional arrangements will be more severe if the leaders do not act cautiously. The battle over ideological, military and conceptual misunderstanding has to be sorted out before taking this giant political jump. Other external threats, whether they are real, imaginary or contrived cannot be ruled out.
The politicians and the parties might have never thought that the issue of federalism will throw the country into chaos. No matter what the political pundits may preach, Nepal is burning in the fire of racism. Its sparks have been seen not only within Nepal but within the Nepalese Diaspora. London, Toronto, Japan, U.S. Australia and in many places, the inter-caste prejudice is evident and is mostly visible on functions and events. The mutual co-existence between the people of different castes has been bitterly challenged by this racial divide. The inter-caste hostility that has sprung up throughout the country is a strong reflection of ill political forecast. If the same trend continues, Nepal will see the worst blood bath. More than what the political parties will do, it would be wise for every citizen to rise up and revolt against any agenda that perpetrates communal rift and threatens to shatter the unity of the nation.