Everyone is talking about talking, but no one is actually talking. Even so, that is better than saying they won’t talk. So all is not yet lost.
There is still a window of opportunity to address the three main madhesi demands: a federal state, proportional representation, and re-demarcation of electoral constituencies to take into account population density in the tarai.
Prime Minister Koirala’s much-anticipated address to the nation on Wednesday was supposed to do the trick. But the grieving and unwell PM came across as blasé, and his omissions turned out to be critical. The seven-party alliance has completely misjudged the anger in the south, and even among madhesi cadre within their own parties.
But it is the Maoists who are most to blame for sparking off the current agitation by shooting dead an activist in Lahan and then preventing the prime minister from going further than he finally did to meet madhesi demands. They are so blinded by their rage at the breakaway JTMM that they see the tarai fire as just an internal party issue. And it doesn’t help that at a time like this the interim parliament is on a 10-day recess. If it had reconvened for an emergency session to issue a multi-party declaration, the situation in the plains wouldn’t have spiralled out of control.
Another casualty of the crisis is the constituent assembly election. There is no way it can now be held as scheduled. Madhesi demands have escalated and proportional representation may be moot as radical activists ratchet up their demand for a re-census.
There are three factors in the current tarai flareup: political, administrative, and structural. On the political level, the prime minister’s promises about a federal setup, delineation of constituencies on the basis of population and offer of talks to all concerned needs to be interpreted in the most generous way. The state doesn’t stand to lose anything by involving as many people as possible in decision-making leading up to elections. Rather than a site of contestation, negotiations can in fact become participatory if handled carefully.
Administrative steps are needed to engender trust and prepare the ground for political negotiations. This can be done by probing police and Maoist lapses in Lahan and Nepalganj and punishing the guilty.
Much more difficult are long-term structural changes. Proportionate representation in the state structure is a time-consuming affair. Even with the best of intentions, it will be a while before we begin to see an adequate number of madhesis in the army, dalits in academia, or janajatis in administration. The wrongs of history take time to be corrected.
Still, demonstrated political will and a transparent display of sincerity and magnanimity can take dialogue forward. It’s time for the parties to start looking at the tarai as more than just a vote bank, and to seriously begin to redress historical wrongs.
Entry filed under: Articles.