Does it matter who are our Representatives?


Successful democracy is a situation where political parties and government can articulate and respond to the demands of every segment of society.  In democracy people want to governed by their representatives. There is also no doubt that marginalized groups also want to governed by their own representative, and not by artificial type of representatives. Pitkin, the famous political scientist, in her theory of representation states thatrepresenting means acting in the interests of the represented in a manner responsive to them”. For years in Nepal, these artificial type of representatives have been saying one thing and doing another with impunity, and with little or no accountability to their constituencies, especially on the issues of marginalized groups.

Political representations of marginalized groups is essential for the sustainability of democracy in Nepal because history shows that bogus representation by dominant groups (Brahmin/Chhetri) could not bring any changes in policies, rather they have been resistant to and not accountable on the issues of marginalized groups and this exclusion has continued since the beginning of the process of nation-building. But, after the political changes of 2006, which were seen as a result of decade-long Maoist insurgency, the representatives of marginalized groups increased in numbers, and were able to articulate and express the problems and issues of their groups in the Constitution Assembly. These representatives have accurately articulated issues of federalism, inclusion, secularism and discrimination associated with caste and gender which was never done in Nepalese history by artificial representatives. Thus, discussion of representation and accountability is essential today.

People, speaking for the voice of marginalized groups, are supporting descriptive and substantive representation. Pitkin states that there are descriptive similarities between representatives and represented. It’s because of their peculiar similarities, in terms of shared history of discrimination, domination, exclusion and suppression, minority representatives stand, speak and articulate of similar represented. She further claims that the representatives who are totally from different background cannot act substantially because there are spatial differences between them. Women can understand the problem of women but not men. Yes of course, there are men who are supporting women movements and fighting against gender based violence, but it cannot be said that they are representing women.  In the case of Nepal, the problem of Dalit, indigenous people, Madhesi, can be understood only by their own representatives not by the representative from Bahun/Chhetri, and Pahade. There are mainly two reasons why they cannot represent marginalize communities: first based on historical experiences and second they themselves are the actors of discrimination and exclusion.

The political representation of marginalized groups started mainly after 1990. Data shows that the percentage of representation of the Bahun, Chhetirs and Thaukuris in parliament of 1991, 1994 and 1999 is 55.16, 62.9 and 59.9 respectively, although, there population was almost 30.5 percent (Gurung, 2005). The representation percent of the Dalit in parliament of 1991 was very low, only one member was elected. From 1994 to 1999 there was no any Dalit member. Indigenous population comprises 37.2 percent out of total population but representation percentage in 1991, 1994 and 1999 remained 25.2, 18.5 and 18.4 respectively. Similarly, Madhesi representation percent was remained 8.7, 10.7 and 14.1 respectively. In addition women population in Nepal is over fifty percent but their participation was very low (almost five percent) till 1999. Now why did representatives from dominant groups not act and respond to the negative aspects faced by marginalized groups? As stated above they themselves has been a part of sustaining discrimination and exclusion in Nepal. Let us suppose they were not, but what kinds of changes on policies have they brought after 1900? Research shows that exclusion increased dramatically after 1990 and exclusionary laws and policies were made. The main reason behind this was there was limited number of marginalized groups’ representatives in the constitution drafting body of 1990 and parliament. And the limited number of minority representatives could not influence the government attention, hence, exclusion and marginalization began to increase. This suggests that there must be representatives of  marginalized groups  in order to secure their rights in the constitution and status apparatus.

Representatives from other groups cannot represent marginalized groups as they themselves have been directly and indirectly perpetuating discrimination and exclusion. To understand, we must have to understand the party system of Nepal. The major political party leaders of Nepal including Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist) are from “hill high caste elite” and they have “patron-client relationship between central party leaders and local cadres” (Hachhethu, 2002, 209). These party leaders and their political organizations that are situated different regions of Nepal are against agendas (ethnic federalism, reservation, inclusion, autonomy and self-determination right etc) of marginalized groups in Nepal. Party systems are also extensively paralyzed by the prevailing patriarchal norms and casteism. Thus, discrimination, domination, and oppression of marginalize political leaders exists. In this regard, s very little possibility remains that representatives from dominant groups (Brahmin/Chhetri) will act for the development of marginalized groups.  Thus, it indicates that minorities own representatives are necessary in order to be free from the circle of exclusion.

But, there are some views for whom it does not matter who the representatives are. They present the views that they cannot support marginalized group representatives since they are facing discrimination and inequality within their groups. For instance, women have not been taken into consideration. In Nepalese case, upper caste Dalit discriminate against lower caste Dalit. Within women, so called high caste and wealthy women discriminate against lower caste poor women.  They can argue that these representatives are not taking into consideration the discrimination done by their own group members. Rather they are blaming the discrimination done by so called higher caste Brahmin/Chhetri. This kind of blaming itself is resistant to social change as they themselves are the source of discrimination. They have to first take responsibility for the elimination of such discrimination. Other critiques have argued that the representatives of marginalized communities have been charged of nepotism, corruption, elitism and serving and promoting their relatives rather than the poor and vulnerable people. It is interesting to note that even marginalized groups themselves claim that their representatives could not institutionalize their rights as they are not serious on the agendas.

Yes of course, marginalized representatives were sent to secure their group’s rights in the constitution but because of the domination and supersession of party leaders within party they could not. It should be understood that some party policies are contradictory to the agendas of marginalized groups. In such a situation, those who supported the policies remained cadres and who don’t were boycotted from the party. A compulsory situation was created for marginalized representatives either to leave the party or articulate represented issues. Some representatives of marginalized groups are truly accountable to their issues, so that they could not accept the party decisions and left party too. The remaining representatives stayed in the party and attempted to raise marginalized issues in CA, separate caucus of indigenous representatives in CA 2008 proved how they are accountable on the represented issues. It indicates that marginalized representatives have done good important work for the rights marginalized groups in Nepal. Unfortunately, the number of marginalized representatives in CA 2013 is very low compared to 2008 which generated less hope to these groups.

Thus, representation of marginalized groups in the states mainstream is very important and for this there should be representatives of their own groups. This is because history shows that representatives from different background/community could not represent the marginalized groups, rather they excluded them. Generally in democracy, majority voices are heard and minority voices neglected. In this situation, the increases in number of marginalized groups’ representatives of course caused the state to listen to their problems and they can influence policies too. Though marginalized representatives in Nepal could not massively influence policies, they reflected issues of their represented accurately. The status of marginalized representation in CA 2013 generated confusion whether dominant representatives would institutionalize their rights or not.

Prakash BK holds MA degree in sociology from Graduate School for Social Research.



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