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Turning your back to the border: Federalism, territory, and claims for autonomy in the Nepal-India borderland

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On 20 September 2015, Nepal adopted a new constitution – the first ever drafted by a democratically elected constituent assembly. Hurriedly finalised in the aftermath of the major earthquakes that shook the Himalayas in spring 2015, the constitution did not meet the expectations of Nepal’s marginal population groups. Whereas many had looked at the past decade of prolonged constitutional negotiations with high hopes of a devolution of power in the centralised Himalayan state, the constitution failed to deliver. Widespread and contentious discussions of a future federal organisation of the state were silenced with a proposal that was widely regarded as centralistic and elitist. In the present chapter, I take a look at some of the conjunctural politics that emerged before this bitter end – at a time when federal restructuring of the Nepali nation was high on the political agenda and the country’s ‘social contract’ was to an unprecedented degree open for discussion. Based on fieldwork conducted in 2010 and 2011, I explore demands for a Limbuwan state in Nepal’s eastern borderland to Indian Darjeeling. I focus on the multiple ways in which the Limbuwan movement seeks to establish territorial authority of a Limbuwan state in the context of a major national transition. The movement, I argue, describes a balancing act of political mobilisation between an indigeneity-oriented politics of culture and a state-oriented and state-emulating culture of politics.These two dimensions operate at different scales. While the former connects the movement to pre-national histories and global narratives of ethnic belonging, the latter ties the movement thoroughly back into the territorialised politics of the Nepali nation state. Counterintuitively, the political practice of this movement for local autonomy ends up supporting a national territorialisation of the borderland.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Asian Borderlands
EditorsAlexander Horstmann, Martin Saxer, Alessandro Rippa
Number of pages12
Publication date2018
ISBN (Print)9781138917507
ISBN (Electronic)9781315688978
Publication statusPublished - 2018

ID: 192561384