For 104 years we had the Rana regime in Nepal. They were Prime Ministers by birth. This was a very feudal society. Land was distributed free of cost – not to farmers but to those who pleased the rulers. So if you had land, you exercised power.
The historical context must be explained first. The first revolution occurred in 1951. Nepal had people’s government at that time but after 10 years the king became very active and absolute monarchy prevailed for about 30 years till 1990, when big people’s protests brought a multi-party system in place of the one-party system. This held from 1990 until the turn of the century when another revolution occurred: the king stayed as the constitutional monarch but played a political role again. In 2006, we had to remove the king.
In Nepal, 29% of the rural population is absolutely landless, according to UN data, while a few families control land. The same people remain in power despite the three major political upheavals described above. They did not make the ruling class more accessible to the general public.
The contribution of the agricultural sector to GDP is 34%, with 65% of the population depending on agriculture for a livelihood. Over 58% of the rural population are fundamentally landless and over 85% of the farmers are land-poor, owning less than a hectare. The tenancy system decrees that those who are registered can claim the land they till but not those who are unregistered. It’s the Dalits and indigenous people who are mainly landless. In Nepal, land certificates are also connected to availing of government services so poor people are effectively shut out. Those who have land use it to strengthen social and political power but not to provide a livelihood to the people.
There is no consensus among political parties on the land question because five issues are contentious. One, is land a property or a natural resource? Second, is the national or the federal government responsible for land? Third, should there be a land ceiling? Fourth, should land reform be revolutionary or scientific? Fifth, what should be the compensation paid when land over the ceiling is acquired?
We are demanding re-distribution of land because the elite class still holds land but they were never farmers. Of course, public land or forest land is excluded. The land issue is related to national development as land reforms would help mobilise human resources. It would enable equitable growth and social justice.