Nepal has been aptly described as Asia´s ethnic turn-table. It is the land of interface between the oriental Kirant (Mongoloid) and occidental Khas a (Caucasoid) people. The former migrated from the east and north while the latter came from the west. The Khasa were, in turn, supplemented by high-caste Hindus from the south — a fallout of the battle of Tarain (1192 AD) in which Muhamad of Ghur defeated the Rajputs. Once the plains of Hindustan were lost, the martial Rajputs and their Brahmin consultants headed for the hills. It is significant that Garhwal and Kumaon—source of the Khasa migration to Nepal—has49to59.6percentRajputand21.6 to 23.7 per cent Brahmin as the predominant population. Their migration eastward was to greatly transform the polity and society of the then Nepal. This was epitomised in Prithvi Narayan Shah´s claim of Nepal as “Yo asil Hindustanaho,” (This is the genuine Hindustan)
and in the imposition of ib& Muhtki Ain (1854) Hindu caste code on a multi-ethnic society. Of the 212 signatories of the Am, over 70 per cent were tagadhari Brahmin, Thakuri and Chhetri. The Hindu kingdom of Nepal still considers discus sion on ethnicity as anathema and therefore no official data are available on ethnicity and caste. However, some broad cultural areas can be recognised, based on linguistic evidence. The simplified schema is as follows:
The Khasa, including the priestly upper and occupational lower strata, predominate in the West, or the old Baisi. The Central or old Chaubisi, is home to numerous tribal groups and Khasa migrants. (The terms Baisi and Chaubisi refer to the 22 and 24 principalities west of Gorkha before the consolidation of Nepal in the late 18th century). Upper Bagmati, or proto-Nepal, has Newar at the core and Tamang on the periphery. The east, or early Kirant land, has more tribal groups both in the hill and plain. A distinctive distribution pattern is the “horizontal” diversity of ethnic groups in the hills and the proliferation of “vertical” caste groups in the Tarai.
Since there are no ethnicity data for the country, land-ownership records available for the Central Development Region provide a sample framework for analyses. The total population recorded for the above region “(comprising of Bagmati,Narayani,Janakpur zones) was 3,488,825 during the mid-1960s, as against 3,865,753 enumerated in the 1971 census (Table 1). Thus, ethnic groups slightly outnumber the caste groups, while the hill group is more than double of the Tarai group.
The ethnicity/caste of the party leaders may influence their cadre composition. The two largest parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), headed by Bahuns of hill origin had large numbers of hill candidates and Bahuns. Of the 204 Nepali Congress candidates, 79.9 per cent were of hill origin and36.8 per cent Bahuns. Similarly, out of 177 candidates fielded by the CPN/UML, 84.2 per cent were of hill origin and 47.5 per cent Bahuns.
The National Democratic Party (Thapa) had 38 Chhetri candidates (of whom seven were Thapa-Chhetri), 23 Bahun and 12 Thakuri. S inularty, the N ational Democratic Party (Chand) had more Thakuri (36) than Chhetri (26) and Brahmin (21) candidates. The Western hill region is supposed to be the stronghold of the Thakuris, butNDP (Chand) fielded Thakuris forthree seats in Kathmandu Valley, five in the Inner Tarai and nine in the Tarai, all of whom lost. The Communist Party of Nepal (Democratic), led by a Newar, had eight Newar * candidates in eight districts. The far left United People´s Front (Samyukta Jana Morcha) had nearly 90 per cent candidates of hill origin and one-third Bahun. The Tarai-based Nepal Sadhbhavana Party did not field any-[hill] Bahun and Chhetri candidate, and only five of its 75 candidates were of hill origin. On the other hand, me hill-ethnic proponent Nepal National People´s Liberation Front (Nepal Rastriya Janamukti Morcha) did not sponsor any candidate of Tarai origin, while 40 out of 50 of its candidates — none of whom succeeded — were from six hill ethnic tribes.
There were 1,345 candidates for 205 constituencies during the 1991 general election. Out of the 20 political parties, eight fielded 50 or more candidates. These were the Nepali Congress (204), CPN/UML (177), NDP/ Thapa (163), NDP/Chand (154), CPN/Democratic (75). Nepal Sadhbhavana Party (75), United People´s Front (69) and Nepal. National Peopled Liberation Front (50). The total number of candidates representing these parties was 967 or 71.9 per cent of all contenders (Table 2). Of all the candidates from the above eight parties, a quarter was Bahun. Chhetri candidates made up one-fifth of the total, closely followed by hill ethnics. Among the latter, a sizeable number of candidates were from the Gurung (39), Tamang (35), Rai (34), Magar (33) and Limbu (26). Among the candidates of Tarai origin, landed castes made up 3.6 per cent, the highest representation being that
of Yadav (46), followed by Chaudhary (25) and Rajput (15). Within the Tarai tribals, the Thani led with 30 candidates (excluding those designated as Chaudhary).There were 18 Muslim candidates and all were from the Tarai. Of the 967 candidates sampled from eight parties, 27.2 per cent were from the Tarai.
Choice of the People
The social composition of the House of Representatives is the outcome of the people´s choice. The House represents eight ethnic and three caste groups from the hill, and three ethnic, eight caste, and one religious group from the Tarai. These can be regrouped into 10 broad categories (Table 3). Hill Brahmins constitute the largest group with 75 members out of 205. In other words, more than a third of the House members are Bahuns. The second most numerous are Chhetris, with 18.5 percent. Hill taibals come next with 16.6 per cent. Tarai tribals rank fourth with 8.8 per cent members.
Compared to the social composition of the 1959 general election, Bahuns have gained in 1991, while Chhetris lost their share considerably. Other social groups with a lower share than 32 years ago are caste groups of the Tarai, particularly the landed castes. On the other hand, the Tarai tribals have made considerable headway. The representation of the Tarai group has changed only slightly: 22 per cent in 1959 to 21 per cent in 1991. The Tarai representation was lowest (under the Panchayat election system) in 1978, but improved in 1981. Even during the 1991 election, more than half of the Tarai´s 67 constituencies were won by candidates of hill origin. These include 25 hill Bahuns, five Chhettis, two Newars, two Tamangs, one Pariyar (Damai), and one Gurung.
Choice of Party and Palace
The Upper House is composed of 60 members, of which 50 are nominated by prominent parties on a proportional basis, and 10 by the King. Compared to 36.6 per cent in the Lower House, the Upper House has 40 per cent Bahuns (Table 3), Out of 31 Congress nominees, 13 are Bahun. One-third of the CPN/UML nominees, both the nominees of the United People´s Front and four out of the 10 royal nominees are Bahuns. Chhetris are second in preference. Nominees of the Tarai social groups are nine, and those of Newar eight. Four hill tribal groups are represented with eight.
nominees. Two are of hill occupational castes. The combined strength of the lower and upper houses is 265 members. The share of the members of hill origin comes to 80.4 per cent. Hill Brahmins are predominant, with 37.4 per cent of all members (Table 3). Chhetris come next with 17.7 per cent, closely followed by hill tribals, 15.8 per cent. Tarai Brahmins and Tarai trader castes have a lower representation along with the Muslims.
Who Represents Whom ?
Some social groups have a higher propensity for political participation than others. This can be exemplified in the case of the Central Development Region. This region represents all varieties of ecological zones, including the metropolitan region of Kathmandu, and has 64 election constituencies, or 31.4 per cent of the total.
Of the 19 districts in the Central Region, seven have a Tamang majority (Table 4). The Tamang constitute the largest ethnic group with 15.4 per cent of the total regional population. However, the region has only three Tamangs elected members out of the 64 constituencies. The second largest group in the region is Newar with 13.9 per cent of the total regiopal population. They have nine representatives from the region. Newar representatives come from three Tamang majority districts and one Yadav majority district, including three from Kathmandu Valley.
Chhetris constitute 12.1 per cent of the regional population. They are in majority in only two districts (Dolakha, Ramechhap). Chhetris have six members in the lower house from the region. They do not represent Ramechhap, where they are the most numerous, but have seats in three Tamang-majority districts, and one Yadav-majority district.
Hill Brahmins constitute 11.7 per cent of the regional population but 41 per cent of the regional constituency, with 26 elected representatives. They are in majority only in Chitwan District, but represent 7 hill, 6 Kathmandu Valley, 6 inner Tarai and 6 Tarai constituencies in the region. This includes Rasuwa, which has 88.9 per cent Tamang population.
Among the Tarai social groups, the largest is Yadav, with 5.6 per cent of regional population with majority in five Tarai districts. However, there are only three Yadav representatives out of 27 Tarai constituencies. On the other hand, eight Tarai constituencies are held by representatives of hill origin. Overall, the literate Brahmins and the bazaar-based Newars seem the most conscious and cosmopolitan in political culture in Nepal. But the former also carry a burden of an Indian wisdom: “Before the Brahmin is in want, the kings´ larder will be empty.”