The essential element of a nation is that all its individuals must have many things in common. ... having done great things together and wishing to do more” - Ernest Renan, 19th Century French Philosopher
The constantly played politics of nationalism in Nepal is becoming complicated and is necessitating the search for new meanings and definitions of “nation” and “nationalism”. Unless guided by meaning and a deeper understanding, we would be ruled by our passions and emotions only and be heading to ever uncertain territories. The old nationalism that solely concentrated on anti-India and anti-China sentiments is not able to reflect the need of time as it does not address the identity, space, and rights sought by previously marginalized groups within Nepal. It also does not address our increasing connectedness with the world as well as the growing involvement of external players in the domestic politics of Nepal. Therefore, to survive in a rapidly evolving world, it has become important for us to find the meaning of a great nation.
I would like to define nationalism as a feeling of “my territory” programmed in the territorial animal called human, and a sense of belonging espoused into that human for what that territory has to offer “him”. The privileges available to “him” to draw benefits, roam freely, and exercise rights without fear in that territory becomes his “nationality”.
A nation offers something distinct to its people that they can cherish and be proud of. For example, Canada offers universal education, universal healthcare, universal rights and freedoms, protection, fair access to opportunities, ease of doing business, and hope for continuing progress, to its people, and Canadians are proud of those offerings. That is the reason why a Black from Africa, a Mongol from northern China, a Korean from Japan, or a Sherpa from Nepal can become a Canadian national and feel as such. Having had such privilege available to me, I would love to identify myself as a Canadian national. At the same time, I am a proud Nepali and thereby making myself a Nepalese Canadian. I feel Nepali by the virtue of the fact that I find my heritage residing in Nepal where I become indistinguishable by my physical appearance, feel, language, culture, mannerism, and feelings from other Nepalese. This does not make me less Canadian than others because I intimately care about Canada and contribute to its progress with the same zeal and intensity as anyone else. It is similar to how a Scottish Canadian finds his territorial home in Canada but finds his cultural heritage in Scotland until the two cultures diverge enough to feel otherwise. An American of British descent may have drifted sufficiently enough from the British that he may see himself as a purely American national but I meet many Canadians that cannot imagine getting rid of the British monarchy from Canada even if Canada has long been an independent country. Yet, all Citizens of Canada are Canadians despite their differing sentiments in specific issues.
If Nepal were to offer privileges like universal education, healthcare, rights and freedoms, welfare, and hope that its people could embrace as their own, a collective pride - a national pride as opposed to an individual pride – would have developed from multitudes of ways. Unfortunately, the bulk of national pride and unity developed so far in Nepal has come solely from being an independent country facing a real or perceived threat from external players like India, China, and USA. I would call this a one-dimensional nationalism which can easily disintegrate if the forces are applied from angles other than the prescribed ones.
My Canadian experience has allowed me to understand that it is possible for someone to be integrally connected to people of one nationality by culture and heritage but productively and emotionally be a national of another country. Going one step further, a person can be a national of both Canada and USA and cause no hurt to any. Therefore, I see no harm to Nepal when Sherpa further their linkage to Tibetans, Bhojpuris of Nepal marry the Bhojpuris of Bihar, and a Chhetri of Ilam plays music with a Nepali in Darjeeling. Once the education, employment, migration, and other endeavors of prosperity propel people to come out of their traditional roles and venture into a new world, people will gradually fuse and develop yet another “new culture” not known to us today. Therefore, the overly jealous and not open-enough view prevalent to this date in Singha Durbar towards Medhesi, Janajati, and Dalit, is less than espousing.
The Madhesh Debate
The conservatism towards Madhesi people largely stems from not being able to distinguish between the cultural loyalty and the national loyalty. Similarly, Madhesi movement has been confusing and militant due to lack of leadership and unity in taking it past the territorial and ethnic nationalism and into zeroing on oppression, inequity, and injustice, which are the main cause of anguish among the people. The root cause of problem is in the humiliation and neglect of common people of Madhesh carried over from the past and continued to this date. And the problem is more than political because the political aspirations of Madhesis, manifested in their overwhelming desire for republic, federalism, proportional representation, and social equity, are identical to those of other oppressed Nepalese, political movements like Maoists and also of many players in SPA. To me it appears as if the political acrimony is artificially maintained by short-sighted leaders. The solution to the fundamental problem lies in developing an attitude of acceptance, action to address common people’s pain born due to perpetual inequity in access to education, health, work, and – above all - dignity.
I see no problem if the whole of Nepal belongs to all inhabitants of Nepal irrespective of who is who. However, neither the Pahade leaders of Nepal seem to develop formerly undeveloped understandings nor do the Madheshi ones. This only fertilizes an intolerant nationalism for a collective detriment. Having witnessed the intolerant nationalism in Germany, Albert Einstein said, “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” But the irony is that if conscious people remain complacent for too long, any well-meaning movement can take a wrong turn. I feel as if all players are talking to specific constituencies and not to all of humanity.
It should be noted that in an ideal nation, various races, cultures, and religions can co-exist and share the same national identity as done in Canada where immigrants are welcomed and are encouraged to become citizens of the country. Although countries like Canada are not free of problems, their open immigration policies have certainly made them prosper due to the knowledge, skill, entrepreneurial spirit, and ability to withstand adversity, brought by the immigrants. However, in Nepal, where few family clans usurped all the power and privilege for long, and kept others as their subservient inferiors, the remnants of this old mindset is alive and the old-elites have no vision to contain the brewing of a chasm. They continue to despise, not only Tharu, Muslim, Maithili, and Bhojpuri, but also Tamang, Newar, Magar, Gurung, Rai, Limbu, and Dalit. Consequently, the newly conscious mass of those communities despise both the “old rulers” and the “old rulers in the new cloaks”. However, what should be strived for is that any person of any ethnic group of Nepal must be able to travel, work, and conduct business freely to any place in Nepal without fear. As humans motivated to build a better world of the future, we must, therefore, develop a sense of respect for all around us. That respect can then hold our people into a “new community” and the “new nation”, which is not territorially minded nor is territorially diminished.
A country that develops and strengthens the largest number of intrinsic, learned, familial, and extrinsic glues (see What Binds Us? for explanation) within its population makes its “nation” and “nationalism” the most sophisticated and durable. Such nation can transcend far beyond those that are hung up on geographic-boundary, race, ethnicity, language, or color. A nation founded on greater intensity, frequency and sincerity of human interactions would survive even in the most difficult of times. Whereas the nations and the nationalities that find relevance only in the presence of external threats are the ones that are poorly governed; and exploitation, injustice, and self-imposed isolation are the hallmarks of those nations.
Today, we are standing at a historical juncture where it is possible to elicit broad cross pollination of knowledge, ideas, experiences, experiments, and mechanisms around the world. In such opportune times, it should be possible for us to break some of the old spells and embrace the increasingly mobile and outward looking people into the fold of an entirely “new nationalism”. By this token, we should dream of the possibility and eminence of collaboration between the people of Nepal with those of Americas, Europe, Australia, Africa, and the neighboring Asia. I, therefore, wonder: Would it not be natural that our people in the north have increased interaction with the people of Tibet, those in the east with those in Darjeeling-Sikkim-and-West-Bengal, those in the eastern plains to Bihar, western plains to Uttar Pradesh, and those in the west to Uttaranchal and Himachal? But the artificial boarders and politics inhibit us from extending such collaborations. Today’s reality is that even the movement of people across the borders is often restricted; forget about the free trade and transit of goods and services. Much to my despair, all the endeavors of increasing the tensions amongst the people are spreading in the name of the mutuality of the sovereignties. Even newer demands for “sovereignties of the lands” are emerging at the expense of the “sovereignty of the people as conscious humans”.
I would, therefore, like to pose some questions to our independently thinking readers. What wrong would happen to Nepal and “Nepal lovers” if we kill this debate of “granting” or “inheriting” dual-citizenship and instead focus on developing a straightforward system of “earning” citizenship? What would be the problem in Nepal if it gave free visa for one, two, or three years to a Canadian, American, or Egyptian who was willing to teach our local school for free and on the basis of the invitation of the village council or the local school? What wrong would happen if that volunteer loved Nepal and decided to work there forever, or if she found love there, got married and have children? What if we give unlimited visa to all the people of Nepalese origin to go visit, live, and work in Nepal as much as they wanted without recurring visa fees? What if we give citizenship to a visiting volunteer who lived and worked in a community for three years and the community wanted to keep that person indefinitely? What if we give outright immigrant visas to anyone who is a professor of an accredited university, school-principal, scientist with 20 journal papers, an inventor with 5 patents, writer who has published more than 5 books, a manager who has managed a system with more than 100 people under him, a person who has earned national honor for the work of his mind, or a GNU or Linux community contributor who has written a living module of the system? What would go wrong if instead of facing depleted population living in poverty, Nepal’s population doubled due to immigration but wealth and productivity increased 20 fold without degrading the environment? What would go wrong if we do not chase each other away to reclaim “our land” but rather let people immigrate to it from even far flung parts of the world? What would go wrong if we kill the idea of making one Tarai state, one Tamuwan state, one Limbuwan state, and so on but instead we create thousands of self-managed communities that are loosely connected to each other in a system of federation? Would it hurt if one small Limbuwan community was surrounded by two other Limbuwan communities, one Rai community, and one Chhetri community? Would it hurt if one Maithili community was connected to three other Maithili communities, one more on the Indian side, and one Pahade community? Would it hurt if one community had people of 20 different origins? Would it hurt if we focus on composing the country with units of governments that are small enough to be successfully managed by the local people? And, most of all, would it hurt if we focus on the “freedom of human and prosperity of people” instead of the “freedom of state and prosperity of land”?
The Steps to Destiny
It is time that we stop exploiting our own people, stop discriminating our own children, and stop dreaming of boarders. The time has come for us to start seeing goodness in all humans, and to focus on education, knowledge, inquiry, and innovation. It is time to retain our youth within the country and engage them in gainful employment obtained in the process of developing their own country than someone else’s. The poverty that is chasing Nepalese to various countries in the region is eradicable because of the fact that every human can only eat a small quantity of food in a day and requires so little to be sheltered.
It is time to recall that even before the birth of the modern states, it was possible to carry out inquiry and produce knowledge in the foothills of the Western and Middle Himalayas and distribute that knowledge as far as the outer edges of Indonesia and Mongolia. By the same token, it is time to note that the children of the very same people who built Pashupatinath and Swoyambhunath have become illiterate and are begging for aid to build elementary schools. This is what happens when culture of inquiry dies and knowledge vanishes. Therefore, it is time that we do not dream on a “nation defined by a geographical boundary and ethnic cleanliness” but better wake up to the reality and start loving and uplifting one another. Only then will we give birth to a new nation, which will fill us with pride and dignity, which will encourage and inspire us to remain and work collectively to build a great nation!
About the author:
Dr Pramod Dhakal is a former faculty member of Tribhuvan University and holds a Ph D in electrical engineering. He is Executive Director of Canada Forum for Nepal and lives in Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org