Ethnic Movement in Nepal: A Case of Mongol National Organisation

Manoj Dhakal

Ethnic movements are no more alien to contemporary Nepal. These movements in ethnic politics have been largely credited to the Maoists in their efforts to recruit new cadres during the insurgency. However, in the eastern part of Nepal, some kind of ethnic movement was in operation even before the beginning of the Maoist movement and right after the restoration of democracy in 1990 which allowed greater democratic practice than before.  This paper will examine the case of Mongol National organisation (MNO) its relation to the ethnic identity of the groups of people affiliated to the movement, their reaction and responses to the other groups and the state, and their approach.

Mongol National Organization (MNO) and ethnic question

In an introductory chapter of her book, “Introduction: Democracy and Ethnic Politics,” The Rise of Ethnic Politics in Nepal: Democracy in the Margins (2010), Susan Hangen argues that ethnic politics has a potential to strengthen the democracy rather than a threat as it is often perceived to be. She explains this by examining indigenous nationalities movement with radical demands and democratization process since 1990 in eastern Nepal beyond political circle of the capital by focusing on Mongol National Organization, an ethnic political party and its mobilization in eastern Nepal based on her ethnographic fieldwork. Hangen’s purpose is to understand the other political forms that use nonviolence ways for their agenda contrary to Maoists. Hangen’s study is focused with an ethnic party itself and most importantly through nonviolence means.  However, the purpose of this essay is to explain why people participating in the MNO belong to ethnic groups and how they operate their movement in a theoretical framework.


Who belongs to the ethnic groups?

J Milton Yinger (1985) in his article, “Ethnicity” defines ethnic groups as “a segment of a larger society whose members are thought, bythemselves and/or others, to have a common origin and to share importantsegments of a common culture and who, in addition, participate in sharedactivities in which the common origin and culture are significant ingredients.”Yinger further argues that some mixture of language, religion, race, and ancestralhomeland with its related culture is the defining element. No one of these byitself demarcates an ethnic group.(Yinger, 1985: 159) By following these criteria, the characteristics participating Mongols can be included in ethnic groups as Hangen (2010: 16) points out “Mongol is an ethnic category that emerged in a particular political history and context, and for particular political purposes; its use and meaning may change or fade over time as the political context changes.” The Gurung community under the Mongoloid race is thus taken as ethnic groups. The following paragraph deals on the ethnography on MNO to offer a general sense on the state of MNO and its activities.

Summarizing MNO ethnography

Ethnography provides the detail description on the subject being studied. This summary of Hangen’s study of MNO is framed in the David Walsh’s theoretical framework as he states in his article, “Doing Ethnography.”

Walsh’s frame Hangen’s study
  • Theoretical orientation
Ethnic participation in democratization process
  • The observer position
Covert/overt, sympathetic to MNO yet carefully critical perspective to the party
  • Beginning an ethnographic study
Multi-sited, part of the study at Maidel where MNO won more seats in VDC election, drawn to this site to find how MNO got support and ran the VDC administration along with socio cultural effects of people’s engagement in this party
  • Access
Husband’s companionship, living in a Gurung household headed by VDC chairman and MNO member
  • Field relations and observation
Participating in village life, after deciding her presence harmless people were enthusiastic to help her
  • Interviewing
With over 100 party cadres and supporters on snowball approach
  • Documents
Party’s discourse, MNO’s struggle for support and operate in VDC, election pamphlets, cassette recordings of the speeches delivered at mass meetings, and slogans at peoples’s home
  • Recording data
The texts does not mention this clearly
  • Data analysis and theorizing
Discursive dimension of democracy and the institutional features of democracy
  • Validation and verification
Member validation – showing findings to Gopal Gurung, MNO President and seeking verification to correspond between Hangen’s findings and Gurung’s perspectivesTriangulation –  using participant observation, in-depth interviewing, personal documents, and discourse analysis to come to theoretical saturation
  • Conclusion
Marginal Party like MNO strengthens the democracy

How they compete with other groups and the state?

The ultimate interest of ethnocentric politics is power and development. Some argues that ethnocentric politics is growing in Nepal since these groups were discriminated against by the ruling elites. In case of MNO, as mentioned by Hangen and summarized in the table, people belonging to MNO participated in local election and won; however, they were not able to make their place in the state level politics. This, nevertheless, created the platform to freely circulate the new political discourse of the organization in post 1990 time. (Hangen, 2010:109)

Conclusion: primordial or instrumentalist?

Nepal has more social and cultural diversity than it has political diversity. There are two schools of thought central to the issue. The first school sees this diversity as an opportunity, whereas the second school sees the diversity as a burden. For the people with the first vision, social diversity can be accommodated by the state which will move the nation towards development and eventually strengthens the sense of nationalism. They have the opinion that the needs a mechanism that it currently lacks. By contrast, people with the second vision, sees this diversity as the cause of conflicts. They think that the climax of this conflict will lead to the disintegration of the state. Nepali politicians seem to be in the middle of these two visions. They fear to accommodate ethnic aspirations as doing so would cause them to lose their vote banks.  At the same time, they fear that not accommodating ethnic issues would cause the Janajati leaders in their parties to rebel.This is also the tussle between the people within the same political party. It can be argued, in case of Nepal, that it will create the polarization among Jhalanath Khanal, KP Oli, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Prachanda, Sushil Koirala, and Baburam Bhattarai. Similarly, Janajati leaders like Ashok Rai, Gopal Kiranti, and other will also come to one place irrespective of their party affiliations.

Many believe that the possible solution of this crisis is inclusion in economic, political, and social fronts. Economic inclusion seems more important than any other forms of inclusion because it will possibly empower those people to be included in other fronts as well. A close observation at MNO suggests that their approaches are largely instrumental for the specific goals to achieve.



Hangen, Susan. 2010 The Rise of Ethnic Politics in Nepal: Democracy in the Margins” London and New York: Routledge

Milton, Yinger. 1985. “Ethnicity” Annual Review of Sociology11:211-239

Walsh, David. 1998. “Doing Ethnography,” in Clive Seale(ed.) Researching Society and Culture, London: Sage Publications

Manoj Dhakal is studying M.A (Sociology) in SOUTH ASIAN UNIVERSITY (SAU), New Delhi, India.

N.B: The write up has already been submitted as Term Paper.


One thought on “Ethnic Movement in Nepal: A Case of Mongol National Organisation

  1. Anoop says:

    Your paper doesn’t clearly gives the objective idea about MNO, What i found from my studies is Bahuns who are less then 20% in numbers controlls over 80% of gov. ranks whereas Mongols being more than 80% in numbers are deprived from running their own Country. Though i am outsider from darjeeling , my origin is from nepal …. and y view is MNO just wants to Reverse the trend. Thats all.

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