In a sign of the emerging fault-lines in Nepali politics, over 500 activists belonging to traditionally marginalised groups quit the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) on Thursday, accusing it of being ‘anti federal’. Led by former party vice-chairman Ashok Rai, the dissidents have declared they would soon set up a new party and ally with other ‘marginalised groups’.

Soon after announcing the decision to quit, Mr Rai told The Hindu, “The constitution could not be written because parties did not agree on the question of identity. We tried very hard to correct the UML’s position but it did not accommodate people’s progressive aspirations on federalism.”

When pointed out that that UML, in principle, had reiterated its commitment to ‘multiple-identity federalism’, Mr Rai said, “At the core, it is an anti-federal party. But since the interim constitution has said federalism, they are trapped. So they want to push nominal administrative federalism. But in a country of Nepal’s diversity, the key issue is addressing identity-based aspirations.”

Besides Mr Rai, other prominent individuals who have quit UML include Newar leader Rajendra Shrestha, Sherpa leader and former head of the Nepal Ethnic Federation of Indigeneous Nationalities (NEFIN) Pasang Sherpa, Limbu leaders Bijay Subba and Rakam Chemjong, Muslim leader and former junior home minister Rijwan Ansari, and Madhesi leader Gopal Thakur. In a setback to the group however, the leader of the indigeneous peoples (Janjati) caucus in the Constituent Assembly, Prithvi Subba Gurung, has decided to stay on in the UML and fight for identity-based federalism.

The decision of the UML rebels comes a day after a group of three dozen Janjati leaders of the Nepali Congress quit the party, accusing the parent outfit of being opposed to federalism. Sometime back, a group of intellectuals and activists of the Janjati movement too had proposed the formation of a party to represent marginalised communities.

Mr Rai said they were ‘in discussions’ with all like-minded groups, and would be willing to ally with any other force which supported their ‘agenda’. Krishna Bhattachan, a prominent Janjati activist who has been advocating the formation of a common party of Janjati communities said ideology was proving to be a sticking point. “We need to find a common ideological platform which gives space to people from different political schools of thought. But I am positive we will bring all strands together.”

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