Nepal takes rocky road to reservation

January 29th, 2009 - 4:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Jan 29 (IANS) Following its southern neighbour India’s decision to reserve a percentage of seats in all state and public service enterprises for underrepresented communities, Nepal’s new Maoist government has announced 45 percent reservation.Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and his cabinet Wednesday introduced a Public Service Ordinance that is intended to ensure the inclusion of women, Madhesis (people from the southern Terai plains), Dalits (communities once regarded as untouchables), ethnic communities and residents of backward regions in all public service sector organisations, including the army and armed police forces.

“The decision is meant to ensure that the public service sector is inclusive and proportionate,” Information and Communications Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who is also the spokesman of the Prachanda government, said.

However, even before the ordinance is to be implemented, protests have begun.

The biggest opposition party, whose support is necessary to pass any ordinance in the interim parliament, has flayed the move.

The Nepali Congress party of former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala said it would oppose the ordinance as well as two others introduced by the government since they came undemocratically through the backdoor after parliament was adjourned.

Besides the political opponent, the very communities the quota system intends to befriend are also up in arms against it.

“We are seeking 25 percent representation in all state organs,” said Thakur Chandra Gahat Raj, general secretary of the Dalit Janjati Party (DJP) that is the only Dalit party in Nepal’s 601-member constituent assembly.

According to Gahat Raj, Dalits form 25 percent of Nepal’s nearly 29 million population though the number has been “considerably downplayed by the national census”.

“Prachandapath (the adaptation of Maoist philosophy by Prachanda to suit Nepal) is nothing but Brahmanpath, meant only for the elite caste,” the Dalit leader said. “The quota figure is a blow to Dalits’ movement for proportional representation in all state organs, including the army, bureaucracy and judiciary.”

The reservation figure for Madhesis is also likely to trigger protests from the plains community, who too are clamouring for proportional representation.

The Prachanda government needs the support of the community as it came to power last year after a debutant Terai party, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, established itself as a regional power in southern Nepal and agreed to back the Maoists.

“The Election Act asked the state to ensure about 32 percent representation for Madhesis,” said lawmaker Hridayesh Tripathi, whose Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party, the fifth largest in the house, withdrew moral support to the Maoist government recently and now is planning a protest movement.

“Anything less than that would be opposed by us,” Tripathi told IANS. “Our ultimate demand is proportional representation, taking into consideration that Madhesis form nearly 50 percent of the population.”

Reservation has proved to be a volatile issue in India with violence, protests and court petitions rocking the nation.

Now it could trigger unrest in Nepal too, which would pose a stumbling block to the government’s mandate to draft a new constitution by next year.

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