Special Edit: The Madhesi Revolt
Special Edit: The Madhesi Revolt
Separatism? No. Autonomy? Yes. An immediate roundtable of all ethnic groups or nationalities is a must to set the table straight and to explore for lasting solutions.
Not Again. But again. That is the Nepali condition.
Nepal’s Maoists, in power now, showed violence pays, at least to grab power. That appears to have become a valuable lesson for other powerless groups in the country.
The world was watching Nepal closely, if not the big media or policy honks, the so-called globe-huggers and mountain-climbers. Despite some reservations on the real intentions of the Maoists, there was some hope that the country was finally inching toward a sustainable peace-process. The king was subdued, the United Nations offered help to oversee the transition process, including the constituent assembly elections in June 2007, and the Maoists even joined the parliament. But we now see that peace is in jeopardy.
Just less than 2 months after the historic November 21 agreement between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists, we are seeing the revival of violence, and possibly a very disturbing scenario in the central plains of Terai. It’s déjà vu all over again. Numerous clashes among the Maoists, JTMM cadres, and government forces have been reported. Media reports say that at least 8 people have been killed in less than two weeks. There is virtual curfew in key towns in the region, paralyzed by general-strikes.
The poor handling of the communal clash in Nepalgunj in December, in which security forces were seen aiding Pahades in their quest of destroying the homes and properties of Madhesis, was an indication of the days to come. Quickly the fire spread to Lahan, Birgunj, Janakpur and other towns populated by Madhesis.
That was feared long ago. In these times of anti-monarchy, we cannot even mention when. Remember the slogan that said only monarchy can serve national unity and integrity in a multicultural country like Nepal? That might have been a wrong proposition all along; nonetheless it was a well-known fear for generations. And the fear was expressed recently by others too. Only on January 9, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had warned that the debate over the country’s political future could swiftly exacerbate ethnic, regional, linguistic tensions. Rather than working together and making the best of the diversity, we are trying to create discord and thereby pushing the country into chaos.
The “we” is an elaborate mix of varied and complex identities in a country that is heterogeneous ethnically and linguistically. In these times of extreme polarization and historic power-tussles, that “we” also includes an amalgamation of anger, frustration, egos, and pride of many Nepalis that want to be heard, no matter how (even if it means, as in the case of the Madhesi cause, abandoning your link to the Nepali nation). Hence these are also confusing times, when the mainstream media can’t tell what is mainstream anymore (since yesterday’s margin has now become the center), when bloggers assume the role of informed punditry (because news is no different from views any longer in this age of customized content), and when the youthful energy of many is spent mostly on creating street propaganda via protests and agitations (since fieldwork and collaboration can be demanding), it is often difficult to identify truth from falsehood.
Still, the government must have responded quickly to Madhesi voices. The PM did not have to wait to give a national address on the issue until his top minister resigned to protest his inaction. Branding the new rebels as “criminals and gangsters” unworthy of negotiation, as the Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (aka Prachanda) did, only provided more credence to the claim that Kathmandu’s predominantly Pahade establishment discriminated the Terains of Indian-origin.
One can understand the former rebel’s hatred against his rebels. The new rebels, Jai Krishna Goit, the leader of Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) or People’s Terai Liberation Front, and Jwala Singh, who leads a splinter faction with a similar name, both broke away from Prachanda’s Maoist party some 2 and half years ago. But how long should the politics of personal hatred continue in Nepal? We saw much of that between political parties, Maoists and monarchy.
There are genuine concerns expressed by some that the new rebels are merely the extensions of the “regressive elements” or that they serve the interest of New Delhi or the Indian Hindu extremists. But such speculations, not uncommon as regards the Maoists during their revolt, helps more to fuel the conflict than to end it.
The focus must be on the demands of the rebels. Most of their grievances look genuine. If other parties insist on principle and do not budge an inch, why shouldn’t the Madhesis point out that interim constitution does not ensure their fare share in the new Nepal? Why should not the Madhes region get more electoral constituencies when the region is more populated than the hills? How can the system be fair when there is rampant discrimination in hiring Madhesis in the national administration, army and bureaucracy? The Madhesi demand for adequate representation in the constituent assembly, citizenship to all (genuine) Madhesis, cessation of Maoist atrocities and return of seized lands; compensation to Madhesi martyrs also seem reasonable.
What is troubling about the Madhesi movement is its separatist leaning. The proliferation of pro-Madhesi liberation or independence websites on the cyberspace has been staggering in the past few weeks. Nepal Monitor has received emails from groups, such as madhesi.net and madhesh.com , which seem to ardently champion the Madhesi cause (but sorry, we do not publish releases). There are many sites out there, however, that are preaching hatred and appear to carry content that are overtly provocative in nature. What is important at this critical hour is no Nepali in good conscience should want the country to be fragmented. How practical does it sound to have 50 politically independent nations in the Himalayas that will be landlocked and mountain-locked (and at the end, mentally-locked, perhaps)? There are already other rebellious groups, such as Limbuwan Federal Republic, and the Newa Mukti Morcha, (and countless other less known nationality groups based on scores of linguistic and ethnic communities).
Autonomy? Yes. All groups should be provided autonomy based on a broad political consensus. This cannot happen overnight, however. Ethnicities and regionalism do not always mean the same thing as they might have several hundred years ago. Where exactly is Madhesh, or Limbuwan today, for example? Where will the so-called Bahuns or Chhetris go? We must not prepare a ground for massive depopulation measures to serve our xenophobic interests. The government, rebels and potential future rebels should show a democratic commitment to their cause by adhering to peaceful means of solving problems. They must focus not on difference, but on commonalities that enable the needed forward movement. In fact, to set the table straight and to explore for lasting solutions, the government must immediately organize a roundtable of all ethnic groups or nationalities and listen to their grievances and advice. Otherwise, the stakes are very high in an increasingly polarized Nepal.
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