Monday, May 26, 2014

Two Geographical States In The Terai

English: a aerial view of field in terai in Nepal
English: a aerial view of field in terai in Nepal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Inner Terai (Bhitri Madhesh) is part of the Terai, hence the word Terai in the name. Surkhet, Chitwan and Udaypur are part of the geographical Terai. And they have to be part of the Terai states.

The time for Ek Madhesh Ek Pradesh is over, and the fragmented 30 Madhesi parties are to blame. But now it is time for one Madhesi party and two geographical states in the Terai.

Tharus are Madhesis. Muslims in the Terai are Madhesis. You can not argue Madhesi women are not Madhesi just because there might be sexism in the Terai. Dalits in the Terai are Madhesis, although it can be argued they face enormous social difficulties.

Nawalparasi and west, Surkhet included, could be one state: Western Terai. Chitwan and east all the way to Jhapa, Udaypur included, could be Eastern Terai. Two states.

The discussions on federalism in Nepal has to start with these two purely geographical states in the Terai. The people of Nepal have voted the NC and the UML into power. I believe that is a mandate for geographical federalism.

That is a mandate for honoring the geographical integrity of the Terai. You honor that and creating four states in the hills becomes easier.

Inner Terai is not called Inner Pahad. You can't take Surkhet, Chitwan, and Udaypur out of the Terai. If you do just because they are Pahadi majority districts (and by Pahadi I mean cultural Pahadi) that would be like saying the rest of the Terai should go join Uttar Pradesh and Bihar because of cultural similarities.

Jhapa and Morang have large Pahadi populations, but that is no reason for them to not be part of the Terai states.

Ek Madhesh Do Pradesh.

I would want more and more people from the hills to migrate to these two Terai states because these two states have become so very vibrant, economically speaking. That would strengthen the national unity.

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Terai

Laloo Yadav
Laloo Yadav (Photo credit: bbcworldservice)
Nepali speaking Nepalis from the hills talk of Nepali speakers in places like Sikkim, Darjeeling, Assam and elsewhere as their own, and I don’t begrudge that. Cultural bonds are healthy. But by that same token, people in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh feel like my own to me. There are shared cultural bonds.

In my case, it goes way beyond that. I was born in India. My mother is Indian. One of my sisters is married to an Indian. I am as likely to dial the Indian country code as the Nepali country code. Main Laloo Ka Aadmi.

Nepalis who manage to come over to NYC are free to not work for Indians, but more than 95% freely choose to work for Indians. So it makes little sense for them to talk hate speech against Indians, which is the exact same hate speech they use against Madhesis. If Indians are your American dream, for you to talk hate speech against them is not only ungrateful, it is your problem, not theirs. I think that attitude, which is a mental sickness, is the primary reason why the overwhelming majority of Nepalis stay stuck in the jobs they start out with in the city. They prevent their own upward social mobility by engineering unhealthy attitudes towards Indians.

After democracy was reinstalled in Nepal in 1990, the Congress swept the Terai. All my relatives in Mahottari and Dhanusha became Congress supporters. My family was one exception. My father contested for parliament on a Sadbhavana party ticket. But that was preceded by the enemy behavior Basu Risal’s brother, the Vice Principal at the school, and Chiranjiwi Wagle’s cousin, a teacher, acted out against me at Budhanilkantha School. They were not alone. It was a rude shock to me. It took me years to come up with the vocabulary to describe my experience. You can see water with great clarity, but if you don’t know the word for it, what will you call it?

When the Sadbhavana party split for the first time, Hridayesh Tripathy, Rajendra Mahato, Rameshwar Raya Yadav, Sarita Giri, and others formed the Nepal Samajwadi Janata Dal. Tripathy was General Secretary, I was a Vice General Secretary. Technically speaking I was senior to both Rajendra Mahato and Sarita Giri at the time in the party. That was right before I came to America for college.

Over a decade later I became the only Madhesi in America to work full time for the Madhesi movement when it took off in 2007. Upendra Yadav and I had never communicated one on one before. But when he landed in Los Angeles a few months later for the ANA Convention, his first question to the people who went to receive him was, “Where is Paramendra Bhagat?” They took him to the hotel, he again asked, “Where is Paramendra Bhagat?” They ended up flying him over to NYC. I was with him pretty much every hour during the four or so days he was in the city before he flew over to Nepal.

The electoral setback of the Madhesi parties in the recent elections to the Constituent Assembly I have taken in stride. The pendulum will swing again. You can’t be 30 parties, and say Ek Madhesh Ek Pradesh, and expect the people to buy that. There is space for only one Madhesi party in Nepali politics. All 30 parties will have to become one. I believe they are working towards it. That act of unification alone will take their vote share from the current 25% to 35%. Post unification that one Madhesi party will sweep the state elections in the Terai.

Sushil Koirala’s performance has been poor. And some of the key UML leaders in government act nakedly corrupt, and are supposedly with open underworld ties. I already foresee a strong anti-incumbency wave against the NC and the UML in the next national election the country will see, which should be some time in 2015.

I want the NC to perform well. I want the UML to perform well. That elevates the standard of democracy in the country. If the NC and the UML perform well, the only way the Maoists and the Madhesis stand a chance of a comeback is if they do even better. That political competition is a good thing. But I have been disappointed by Sushil Koirala and Bamdev Gautam. Forget development, I am not sure they are even going to deliver the constitution on time.

What Nepal needs is a Modi, a Nitish Kumar, someone who will focus on the economy like a laser beam. Sadly I don’t see a personality of that temperament in Nepali politics right now. It will take a good constitution and a few national elections for the system to throw up such individuals perhaps.
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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Democratic Fermentation: NRN Style

Nepali architect - Arniko in Miaoying Temple
Nepali architect - Arniko in Miaoying Temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For the first time in its history, the Non Resident Nepali Association has become a mass based organization in America. This is a major milestone. Once the elections are over in a month, and people have the option to become members again, it is estimated the number might hit something like 10,000 to the current 4,000.

This makes the NRNA the largest Nepali organization in America, and now there is no more need for another umbrella organization. There must be a few hundred Nepali organizations across America, big and small. And that is all good. But there was a need to have one organization that brought everyone together from all parts of the country. That void has been filled.

Other than a large membership base, and perhaps more important, the basic democratic process seems to have taken root in the organization, starting from the election process itself. When an organization has 4,000 members spread across America, you have no choice as a candidate but to wage a decent campaign. You have to go out there and ask for votes, or go online.

I like to joke, which is the most socio-economically backward ethnic group in NYC? Is it the Nepalis, the Tibetans, or the Bhutanis? Considering Nepal is the poorest country outside of Africa, if Nepalis are not number one from the bottom in NYC, the crowd has got to be close to the bottom, there must be a pool of such ethnic groups.

How do you organize such people? Is it possible to buck the trend? As in, could Nepal continue to be the poorest country outside of Africa, but Nepalis in NYC organize themselves in such ways that the community makes major advances as a group over a period of something like 10 years?

I think that is possible. And turning the NRNA into a mass based organization is key to any such attempt. It is not just about dual citizenship. It is also about making socio-economic advances here itself, right here in New York City. Being better organized as a community helps, and that is to do with applying the basic democratic process.

For the longest time it felt like the minuscule ANTA had more members than the giant sounding NRNA. All that has changed. 2014 is proving to be a watershed year for the organization.

When you move from 200 members to 4,000 members, that is a move in the right direction. When members can register online, that is good. When members can vote directly for those running for office, that is swell. Online voting is a tremendous idea. A candidate creating a public Facebook page elevates the conversation.

The issue of dual citizenship remains the top item on the agenda, as yet the perennial unfulfilled goal. Politicians in Nepal are scared shitless that if they were to allow the NRNs dual citizenship, some of them might show up in Nepal to run for office, and then where are we? I remember one Holi in the 1980s when all planets in the solar system came to form one straight line, and that was supposed to be the end of the world. Nothing happened. At the end of the last century, all computers of the world were supposed to go haywire. Nothing happened. There is nothing to fear and everything to gain from the dual citizenship idea. In today’s globalized world Nepal has to think of all members of its diaspora as its ambassadors. Like I like to say, you can bring in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) or you can keep sending your workers out to Malaysia, Qatar, and where have you.

But then basic democracy is not enough. Recently I jotted down some ideas as to what a new Madhesi organization in the city might look like. Even with its recent love for basic democracy the NRNA will remain an organization where ordinary members have nothing much to do after they have paid their membership fee of 10 dollars and voted for somebody. Then all activity shifts to the few dozen active ones. I am not a big fan of that arrangement.

The basic building block of organizing Nepalis in the city has to be the Home Meeting, perhaps once a month, about 10 member strong. The emphasis has to be on helping more of the Nepalis who wish to come over to the US to come over, to help with the first phase of seeking lodging and a job. Most of that gets taken care of informally right now. Maybe there is room for something more organized. And then there has to be major emphasis on people making $10 per hour or less to help them get past that barrier. A lot of that might be to do with education and training, much of which can be done online for cheap these days. And there the social element can be a huge factor between someone moving upward, or staying stuck in third gear.

I think the same basic model of organizing can also work for Nepalis in the higher income brackets. In case you have not noticed, most of the top earners among Nepalis meet regularly, and compare notes, and help each other out.

The NRNA in NYC and in America should not just focus on the distant, seemingly abstract goal of dual citizenship, important as it is, but should primarily focus on helping its ordinary members advance socio-economically locally. Part of that also is about being efficient. Don’t get in the way of these Nepalis and the city itself and all that it has to offer. When you put together disorganized events that don’t have much focus or direction, you are basically inviting people to show up and waste their time. They work crazy hours for little pay. On their day off, they’d rather do laundry, or go visit Times Square, than show up for your event.

Can you blame them?
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Sunday, May 11, 2014

BNKS' Gift To Me

I have been talking to some high school friends across the pond recently. In less than a year Nepal will get its constitution and its federalism. After that 100% of the political focus has to shift to development and economic issues. After my work for Nepal's democracy and Madhesi movements to Obama 2008, I am squarely in the entrepreneurship boat by now.

I have come full circle in some ways. One word of appreciation I would like to express is that because of my BNKS experience I have not gone to rooms and halls and events in Manhattan ever and felt like, gosh, these people are too smart for me. That has been BNKS' number one gift to me.

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