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Nepal Monitor: The National Online Journal

Listen Up! Don't Go for 'Federal Republic'

It will break up Nepal-- a federal republic will. It will hasten disintegration, and it will ultimately lead to the erosion of the Nepali identity, says AVANTIKA REGMI

It has been just a few days since the self-appointed rulers of our Motherland arbitrarily declared her as a “Federal Republic.” Maybe this terminology sounds great and conveys feelings of a rosy and prosperous future for some selected groups, but for me, personally, these words are nothing more than the death knell of my unfortunate and poor, yet so beautiful, calm and serene, my most beloved Mother Nepal. In the paragraphs below, I will try to explain why I have this strong feeling, the premonition, and the fears of this inevitable eventuality of Nepal’s death knell.

First and foremost, what does a "Federal Republic" mean? A federal republic is a federation of states with a republican form of government. A federation in turn means the composition of a number of self-governing states united by a federal government. Alternately, a federal republic can also be defined as one in which authority is divided and shared among different units of government. Thus, theoretically, federalism is the antithesis of centralization and unification of a country. To borrow an analogy from Physics, federalism is a centrifugal force where individual units want to fly away but are held together by a centripetal force. Federalism is designed to achieve some self-rule and shared rules amongst all the constituent member states.

Next, an indicator of the popularity and success of Federalism would be borne by the number of existing Federal Republics. How many nations are Federal Republics? Surprisingly, there are not more than twenty Federal Republics. The most prominent ones being Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Iraq, Nigeria, Russia, Switzerland, and the United States. Nepal is the newest entrant to this list preceded by Iraq. Then there were the Federal Republics of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, not so long ago, which now no longer exist.

And, even more surprising, there are only four nations worldwide who unequivocally declare themselves as a Federal Republic, i.e. federalism is enshrined in each of their names: Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Federal Republic of Germany, Federal Republic of Nigeria and Federative Republic of Brazil. Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal would be only the fifth explicit Federal Republic worldwide. Why do countries fear to enter this club of explicit federal republics even after declaring them to be some sort of a federation?

The difference between an unequivocal Federal Republic (which Nepal has become) and only having some spirit of it, but not really becoming one, can be understood more clearly by looking at the example of India. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the chairman of the constitution drafting committee in India, was dead against federalism and he point-blank refused to insert the word “federal” in the final constitution of India (that came out in 1950). Jawaharlal Nehru was also against this whole concept – the constitution committees chaired by Nehru recommended a centralized federal model.

It is important to understand the distinction between a federal republic and a centralized federal model because the centralized federal model is not representative of a true federal system, as maximum power is still concentrated at the center with only an appearance of federalism by constituting state governments. Moreover, the refusal of Dr. Ambedkar to explicitly designate India as a federal republic should make one to ponder a lot and be very wary of including this word in the name of a nation.

The reluctance of Ambedkar and Nehru makes a lot of sense when one considers the fact that India was not formed that easily. Sardar Patel, the then home minister and the strong man of India, had to often threaten and cajole the wayward Princely states and arm-twist them to join the union of India. In the end, India was an amalgamation of around five hundred princely states, some even larger in spatial extent and population than Nepal, and, moreover, all “enjoying some form of local autonomy.”

If the founding fathers had included the word “federal” in the constitution, it would have laid the foundation for a weak center that could eventually fail to hold a country forged with such a great difficulty together. Let me now provide the reasoning why the few nations that choose to become explicit federal republics did so.

Czechoslovakia came into being in 1919 and was formed by merging two politically distinct entities - the Czech and Slovak regions. There was no force involved in this union; it was based on the fundamental concern for their mutual security. They wanted to create a bigger nation to strengthen them militarily and economically. Moreover, the Slovak region was promised some semblance of self-rule. Thus, the term Federal Republic makes sense here.

Another example is Nigeria, the only “federal” state in the whole of Africa until Ethiopia declared itself as a federal state in 1994. The bringing together of various ethnically and culturally distinct regions in 1914 amalgamated the Nigeria of today. Nigeria was bequeathed a federal constitutional rule by its British colonists in 1954 after a series of demands for regional autonomy and “rights to secession.” By the time Nigeria gained independence in 1960, its three regions had already become self-governing. Thus, when Nigeria declared itself a Federal Republic in 1963 it made sense because not only had the nation already adopted a federal form of government, a decade earlier, but also its three regions had almost become independent. Thus, Nigerian leaders may have hastened to enshrine Nigeria as an explicit Federal Republic, so as to prevent breaking apart of the nation and to consolidate the Nigerian Republic.

Yet another example, the Swiss federal constitution (promulgated 160 years ago) came into existence at the end of a civil war between Catholic and liberal cantons. In another example, in Argentina the implementation of Federalism started after rural strongmen from three provinces waged a battle after their demand that the juntas in Buenos Aires establish a federation was not met. The rural strongmen won the battle (in 1820) after which the provinces signed a treaty enshrining that the provinces would not be controlled from Buenos Aires henceforth, but things did not turn out the way the rural strongmen wanted after all, i.e. the Argentina of today is not an explicit federal republic.

Now coming to the case of Mother Nepal: did Nepal go through any danger of disintegration or war between various parts of the country such as those of Nigeria, Argentina, or Switzerland? Or on the contrary, are we in the process of creating a bigger state like Czechoslovakia? Bear in mind that all these nations became federal republics to consolidate the integrity and cohesion of their respective nation states. When we already exist as a solid unitary state, what is the sense of turning it into a federal republic thereby sowing the seeds of a future weak nation? Federalism is a process to increase the strength of warring or friendly nation states by coming together and it is a movement in the direction of a unitary state. To break a unitary state into a federation smacks of nothing else but a mischievous attempt to weaken Nepal.

Keep in mind that nations like Nigeria and Ethiopia declared themselves as Federal Republics to placate the secessionist groups that were ready to break the integrity of the nation. On the contrary, there has not been a single ethnically motivated separatist or secessionist movement that has been waged on the soil of Nepal. Nepal has been a solid unitary state for more than 200 years and that’s not a small length of time. Thus, again, how on earth can any sane mind think of declaring this solid nation a “Federal” Republic and weaken it from inside? Only enemies of the country or gullible idiots can agree to this.

Moreover, the stupidity of the supporters of federal republic can be understood from the fact that this must be the only nation in modern history to declare itself as a Federal Republic when time tested republic states have not dared to. Please go and ask the Indians, who presumably have blessed this move, whether they would dare to convert India into an explicit federal republic.

Of course, the merchants of destruction vehemently cry aloud that Nepal had to be declared a federal republic to undo the centuries old atrocities of the Shah-Rana rulers and the subjugation of the various ethnic minorities and indigenous groups. Thus, the premise on which this new disintegration of Nepal is taking place is along ethnic lines (ethnofederalism) and to redress the past faults. This seems to be the only issue to break the country and the only example in modern times where a unified solid nation is being mutilated and disintegrated to redress past mistakes.

Let me also remind you that many nations that had inserted the word “Federal” at some point of time in their history, have later erased it.

Moreover, there is another point I’d like to address here: Where does the grand scheme of Federal Republic fit in the context of Nepal, considering its spatial extent? There is a common thread shared by most of these nations that have taken the federal path explicitly or otherwise. Argentina, Brazil, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Nigeria, Russia, Switzerland, and United States (excluding Austria and Switzerland): these are all spatially humungous countries. Argentina is almost the size of India with the total area of 2,766,890 square km (8th largest nation). India has a continental area of 3,287,590 square km (7th largest). Brazil (5th largest) is almost three times the size of India. United States is 9,826, 630 square km (3rd largest) and Russia 17,075,400 square km (the largest). Nigeria is 923, 768 square km and Germany is 357, 021 square km. On the contrary Nepal is a tiny 147,181 square km only larger than Austria and Switzerland. Thus, the perceived autonomous states or provinces of Nepal are going to be very-very small – reminiscent of the baieshe-chaubese rajyas of yonder years. How will these future federal states even survive? What will they do for survival? Beg India to help them against the neighbor? Even with the best of intentions India would ultimately be forced into the role of an imperial judge.

What is being sown in Nepal today as an ethno-federal state would ultimately lead to the erosion of the Nepali identity and from collective strength we would move to collective weakness; ethnic groups will fight for supremacy and our large neighbors would play one federal state against another. We will lose our independence. I beg and I pray to our short- sighted leaders and parties to forget their petty short term self-interests and goals; give up your short term calculated gains in the larger interest of the nation and roll back federalism; for this is that demon which will first break up our beloved Motherland Nepal and then devour it and make slaves of all her children to foreign powers.

Avantika Regmi can be reached at The veiws expressed here are author's own.

Earlier articles by the author:
* June 22, 2007: Discerning Causality in Women Empowerment
* January 14, 2007: The New Nepal: Enter Ethnic Politics?
* July 27, 2006: Against Early Disarmament


Posted by Editor on January 1, 2008 1:12 PM