Debate on Nationalism

(This article was originally published on September 18, 2013 in The Kathmandu Post with title “Patriotic plots” This article has been republished here at the request of the author for our readers.)

Recently, a senior leader from Nepali Congress (NC) is reported saying that since the signing of Sugauli Treaty (1814-16), Nepal’s nationality and sovereignty is in a grave situation. Similarly, another NC stalwart is noted to have remarked: “Nepali people living abroad are more worried about nationalism than those living inside Nepal”. With the dethroning of monarchy and a prolonged transition period, a debate is underway, seeking progressive definition of nationalism and Nepaliness in a federal, democratic and republic, inclusive New Nepal.

At the one end of the debate people believe that “everything has to be changed” in New Nepal and at the other end, people are still holding on to the traditional definition such that “nothing needs to be changed”.

In between, there are people who are confused finding it difficult to come out of this logjam situation.
In this regard, a civil society organization called Martin Chautari must be credited for venturing into an uncharted territory. Beginning from 24 February 2010 to 24 September 2011, it initiated a series of debate in 16 different places of Nepal, attended by hundreds of people representing different sections of the society. Chautari conducted two versions of the debate/seminar basing it mainly on Mr. CK Lal’s paper, a highly respected political analyst. Another highly respected analyst, Mr. Khagendra Sangroula, synthesized the participants’ views from the seminar into nine categorical heads. From the list, I pick two factors for simplified presentation and understanding of the debate on Nepali nationalism. These two factors are (1) time dimension of nationalism – whether the nationalism is oriented towards the past or the future; and (2) focus of nationalism – whether the nationalism is oriented internally or externally. These two features capture many other features identified by Mr. Sangraula. Some examples include singular vs. plural nationalism, cultural vs. political nationalism, and top-down vs. bottom-up approaches to nationalism.

Past vs. Future Nationalism:
If you focus more on past glories, images and incidents like King Prithivi Narayan Shah, Lord Buddha, Bir Bal Bhadra, Sita, Ansuvarma, etc., you are into nationalism of the past. If you focus more on future images of Nepal like prosperous, peaceful, equitable, progressive Nepal, you are into nationalism of the future. Remember, there are no less politicians promising us for “another Singapore” or “next Switzerland of Asia”.
Internal vs. External Nationalism:
If you speak of nationalism in terms of extension and protection of territorial boundary, integrity, national sovereignty, your orientation is external. This is faction of though is a key determinant of where we stand on foreign policy dynamics. Instead, if you focus more on internal strengths, resources and competencies, your orientation on nationalism is internal.
With these two dimensions we can construct a 2X2 matrix giving four specific types of Nepali nationalism. This is depicted in Table 1.

1. My Greater Nepal: People in this quadrant like to see Nepal’s boundary restored to the point prior to the signing of the Sugauli Treaty in 1814-16. The boundary of Nepal once stretched from river Tista in the East to Kangara in the West. The Anglo-Nepal war in 1814-16 considerably reduced the size of the country. Albeit small, we do have a group of people waging a movement in the name of Greater Nepal. Prithvi Narayan Shah’s postulation “Nepal is a yam between two big boulders” or “asali hindustan” or even Comrade Prachanda’s absurd and equally destructive view like “Nepal as a dynamite between two big rocks” are some other variants of Greater Nepal nationalism. People worried by boarder encroachment or expressing need to regulate boarder essentially fall into this group.

2. My Old Nepal: The monarchists, royalists, most of the panchas, hindu fanatics all fall into this category. The people in this group basically bask or hark back to (their) good old days. For them “old is gold”. They express nationalism in terms of one language, one culture, Nepali daura suruwal, dhaka topi, partyless panchayat system, King as the symbol of Nepal’s unity and nationalism. People in this group stress on unity in diversity. Their orientation is status quo situation as they derive maximum benefit from the situation.

3. My New Nepal: In contrast to old Nepal, people in this category stress on multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-culture, inclusive Nepal. Various movements like madhesi, janajati, women, kamiya, dalit, muslim, including Maoist war have laid down a foundation for this variant of nationalism. People in this group focus on diversity in unity. Their basic orientation is change. Much of the present day crisis is due to the clash of values between Old Nepal and New Nepal people.

4. My Better Nepal: Hami Nepali (we the Nepali) could probably be a better title for people in this group. People in this group do not see Nepal as a geographical territory, they see more from the eyes of a Nepali diaspora. The constant out-migration of Nepali people starting from 19th century to present day foreign employment avatar has literally created another seamless Nepal in the global map. Now, one can find Nepali people even in African countries. For the people in this group, to be a Nepali, you do not need to reside in Nepal or carry a Nepali blood or even speak Nepali language. The demand for dual citizenship by Non-Resident Nepali (NRN) or the section of the people demanding Nepali citizenship to foreigners based on marital status fall into this group of nationalism. Because of nationalism of this kind, similar to Bhutani refugees, we are soon expected to drag into the problem created by the on-going struggle for a separate Gorkhaland in India.

I have dared to present a simplified categorization of a complex issue — Nepali nationalism. I request the readers to comment on usefulness and relevance of this typology. I invite researchers and academicians to contribute and sharpen our understanding on: (1) underlying features that goes with each of these nationalism; including the primary proponents, say political parties and their underlying motives; (2) contradictions and consistencies between and within each typology, (3) possibility of shifts in these four variants over a period of time, and (4) possibility of reconciling these four broad values. For the last point, I leave the readers with a question: Can we draw an overlapping cell at the middle of the table drawing elements from all four nationalistic values for a better, inclusive Nepal?

Narayan Manandhar

Narayan Manandhar is a freelance consultant with an interest in corruption and governance issues.