Madheshi Movement in Defense of Democracy and Madheshi Nationalism

March 22, 2007 at 8:41 pm 5 comments

Madheshi Movement  in Defense of Democracy and Madheshi Nationalism 

Madheshi movement has forced the politics of the country towards a  new direction.  The dynamics  generated by the movement have been  so powerful that it has  compelled the eight parties to accept the need of amending the  interim constitution within thirty five days of its promulgation. The step itself is admittance of the fact that political negotiations concluded earlier   are flawed and inadequate.   Earlier the dominant political elites chose to   call it a regressive movement.  Later on, they called it   unforeseen and unexpected. But that does not entail the truth.    

The Madheshi movement  is neither unexpected, nor unforeseen nor regressive. It is very much in defense of democracy and Madheshi nationalism. It is for the political acknowledgment   of   Madheshi nationalism within the widely divergent   Nepali nationalism.

The    movement   is as old as the democratic movement in this country. But till now the movement has been defined   as an   ethnic movement and the intrinsic nationalist aspirations of Madheshis   have never been  emphasized.   But the way the movement is enduring against all odds,    speaks loudly of   the deeper  meanings and emotional values that Madheshi people are willing to assign  to the movement.   It is due to Madheshi’s nationalist aspirations that an assurance  of enhanced representation  for Madhesh on the basis of population increase is not able to arrest or stop the movement.

The seeds of the movement   had been sown in the year 2008 when Tarai  congress was formed  within Nepali congress. The  development  at that stage  made obvious the  discriminatory  and  domineering tendencies of the   hill elites towards  Madheshi elites in a political party. The current madheshi  movement has made obvious again  the same domineering, exclusionary  and subordinating  attitudes prevailing against madheshis in almost all mainstream hill- centric political parties.  Consequently, for the first time in the history of Nepal an autonomous Madheshi movement has emerged from within  the people. Thus  a careful analysis of the movement is essential.


The  movement is essentially a nationalist movement and it  embodies   deep cry for political acknowledgement of Madheshi’s   identity and culture and political equality.  It embodies   goals of the creation of a  new inclusive nation-state and democratization of politics.  In the past, the process of democratization has always been thwarted by  dominant hill elites to maintain  their relentless  political grip over the image and reality of the Nation . That in turn has made both democracy and nation building,  failed projects in Nepal.

I intend to argue that 

.  the success of democracy and nation building will depend very much upon  the successful conclusion of the ongoing  Madheshi movement. I would also  argue that the hill elites, of varying beliefs and ideology across the political spectrum   have failed in institutionalizing democracy in the country so far not merely because of their exclusionary nationalist project but also because of  other specific trends and tendencies associated with their origin, life circumstances and resulting psyche. I would propose that   madheshi  perspectives   provide the best   solution for crises of democracy and nation building  in this country from political as well as economic angle. Adoption of federal principle for restructuring of the state is the first essential step in the direction.    

  Democracy as a political system can never survive for long if psychological, economic and cultural elements are not  conducive  and political structures not proper. The failure of democracy in Nepal so far is failure of hill perspective and hill psyche altogether.   The hill people are mostly familiar with   subsistence mode  of life. They have never enough in the hills to support their lives and dreams. The culture of war making   and migration is a consequence of that. They  lack  skills of entrepreneurship in lack of surplus in the hills. In lack of surplus,  labour has not much meaning in the hills. Thus the labor in the hills gets its value either by migrating or by joining warfare. Consequently the hill people lack  basic aptitude and attributes for capitalist development by nature.

  Their sense of nationalism is also disjointed because their attachment with their place of birth is emotional rather than both material and emotional. They understand that their space of origin would   not  provide them enough to fulfill common human aspirations.   Colonization  of the  Madhesh and strangulation of madheshi identity  became essential. Exclusionary nationalism became the foundation of Modern Nepali state.  Even the democratic hill elites founded democracy on the foundation of  Gorakhali nationalism. Before the advent of democracy, the  design of   Shahas and Ranas for Nepali state  have been imperialistic  and feudalistic in nature. The political elites after 1990 have further built on that.People in Nepal have experience of very limited democracy so far even in democratic rule. Thus the country suffers from three types of hegemonic traits : exclusionary  nationalism, colonialism and feudalism. Consequently, seizure of   power   in kathmandu and  con troll of  land in  madhesh  have remained indispensable for the emerging hill elites from  1950 onwards. While the seizure of  state power  provided the base for  political nationalism, the colonization of  Madhesh  provided the economic base  for reinforcing hill centric rule of the country. Thus from the very nbeginning, Madhesh has been placed at the service of the hills.

And still democracy led by hill elites   had not able to  work. According to democratic hill elites, the king has remained the main obstacle for democracy. But the explanation is not adequate. In the new scenario, the leaders of different political parties and the king   found themselves as rivals but the hill nationalism is the common interest that bound them   together. Also at times, when   rivalry among them for power become very intense, they do not loose sight  of this very vital interest. The  hill democratic elites  have not abstained from making the king active and authoritarian when they have perceived a threat to hill nationalism or when things had gone beyond that control. They have done so on occasions in the past when   rivalry   among  them for power had   become very intense.   Not surprisingly,  power in the past  has kept shuttling among the hill political elites including the king even in democracy. But the commonality of interest has kept the old network and old politics has remained   intact through out. Even today some parties are eager to keep the king as the lion in the cage who should be freed to wander and hunt for prey in most arbitrary and authoritarian manner, but should be brought back into the cage when mission is accomplished. The most ironical or interesting part of the design is that the lion will be made to blame for all the mischievous  deeds without responsibility and will be caged and  guarded by the same elites against any harm. “The  king must live on despite of everything and anything” in the design of semi democratic hill elite.      Therefore, from    1950 onwards,  Nepal has   democratic version of old Bharadari politics rather than genuine democratic politics where king also has been  a key player but with tacit consent of other elites. 

Not much has seemingly  changed after Jan Andolan II. The same dynamics of political game are still active. Nepali people are worst affected by such games played in the name of democracy as such political games thwarts the power to go  to the people in real terms. And large section of hill  elites do not intend  the power to go to people in real terms as that would damage the prospects of maneuvering and brokerage in the realm of power . Thus the institution of monarchy is indispensable for them. They need monarchy to keep in place the   conspiracy theories as that shield them from accepting responsibilities for wrongs done by themselves. The traditional hill elites would like to throw the King only when they would believe that they would be the ultimate winner in this country of diverse nationalities.

The emerging madheshi and janajati movement for democratization and assorted Nepali  nationalism  could be such a threat to them. So   one should not be surprised if the democratic exercise of constituent assembly election will be suspended in the face of emerging new political movements. Though the king and darbariyas will be blamed  in the name of conspiracy theory but such an act will serve the common interest of all the hill elites and of those madheshis who are co opted by them. 

The madheshi movement has emerged as the most serious challenge  to all  traditional hegemonic interest. After the emergence of the modern centralized state, the hill elites, through the control of state power   are virtually in control of natural resources such as forest and water resources. But they have badly failed in managing these resources for economic development. It is basically because of their “capture and seizure” mentality in the realm of governance. Because   they fear that development of water resources and loosening of control over forest to local political units  wouldempower madhesh and madheshi, the development of water resources is suspended. In this scenario, near absolute dependency upon foreign aid to run the state is a need of the Hill elites.

In case of land they have  faced  resistance of Madheshis from the very beginning. The rise of communist movement led by hill elites is a response to that. Regarding land holding congress  has not been much different from the communist parties. Madheshi jeemidars or landlords participated in the political revolution led by Nepali congress in 2007 because they wanted to get rid of Rana’s autocratic control over land in Madhesh. It was essentially a bourgeoise revolution as its success paved the way for having private property in land for the first time in Nepal. But the success of the revolution did not bring freedom  and power to them.  B. P. Koirala wanted to pursue radical land reform program along the principles of democratic socialism. His targeted was the land in madhesh and the madhesi elites. His   whole   idea was   to institutionalize peasant economy  in Madhesh as in the hills. Madheshi elites asked the question   that was B.P.willing to have   the same egalitarian approach for sharing of political power ? The answer was a big no.  Thus Tarai congress was formed within Neplai congress in form of protest. Land is the base of existence of Madhesis in Nepal. Because of their bonds with land  Madheshis  are more nationalist than any other hill group. It is not only emotional as in case of  hill people but also material as the   land only has provided sustenance and nourishment  to larger mass of madheshis of any class  against all sorts of  onslaught of the state. When B.P was keen on pursuing radical land reform, the madheshi elites were disgruntled.     King Mahendra and his allies understood the discontent and capitalized on that.  The royal coup was by and large unopposed in the Madhesh. But after imposing his absolute rule he initiated land reform programs that would essentially weaken the madheshi elites.   King Mahendra himself  was not sympathetic to  the  Madheshi elites as he had become aware of rebellion potential of madheshi eleites in 2007 revolution. His inner attitudes towards them was  essentially  not different from  democratic hill elites. He  used land reform and citizenship act  to weaken and alienatete all madheshis. Most of the land seized by the state has either been given to hill migrants known as sukumbasi or are with the state. Madheshi landless people were not identified by the state.  The dual ownership of land was another severe blow to the productive capacity of agricultural land. Because of dual ownership, people stopped investing in agriculture. Land disputes arose dramatically.  The citizenship acts barred huge number of  madheshi peasants and tenants to claim for land rights in the new regime.  Over period of time agricultural farms in Madhesh gradually turned out to be a means of subsistence rather than surplus product    A country which has been food exporter earlier became a net importer.  Population as well as poverty increased because of wrong land management policies. Land reform program  in the past has served no  other prurposes ( such as industrialization or economic growth)  than weakening the Madheshis  and strangulating Madhesh.

The worsening economic situation within the country  and waves of democracy in eastern Europe towards 1990 brought political  awakening in favor of democracy in the country in 1990. As a consequnce of  1990 movement  Communists ( led by hill elites) emerged as a formidable new   force. Revolutionary land reform agenda has been now their political agenda. But it would be naive to say that it was no more the agenda of Nepali Congress.     Prime -minister Sher Bahadur Deuba  has agreed to reduce the ceiling to 4 to  5 bighas from 11 bighas in Madhesh.  It was due to the movement led by  Nepal Sadbhawana Party and supported by madheshi elites across  parties that the government  dropped its agenda.

And now in 2007 they are the Maosits who have designed  to march ahead with their agenda of revolutionary land reform. It has explicitly been mentioned in the Interim Constitution. This time too, Nepal Sadbhawan Party (Anandi Devi) has written note of dissent against the revolutionary land reform program .  The  aim behind such an agenda is obviously  to enhance the control of hill centric state over madhesh. This is the  context against which the current Madheshi movement and its demands of republicanism, autonomy, self determination  and federalism should  be understood.  It is false to call  the present resistance movement merely as regressive movement.  Madhesi movement has brought forth some of the essential traits of Madhesh.

Madhesh  because of its land, culture, agricultural economy, and enterprenurship skills has been able to contain all forms of extremism, be it that of the king or of any political  ideology. And that is something that provides the best possibilities for success of  democracy  in Nepal, in case of madhesh is integrated on the basis of equality in the New Nepal. But the prior condition would be that  madheshi are given  political power on equal basis.

The concept of class struggle or class conflict will  not have much appeal for  madheshis as long as their nationality is not acknowledged within the new political framework. Madheshis participated in large number in the Maosit movemet not merely due to class appeal but because the movement gave them new hope for emancipation and equality.  The large chunk of caders and leaders of  Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha and Madheshi Janadhikar Forum have had linkages with Nepal Communist Party (Maoist).Madheshis are not willing to surrender their national struggle  for the sake of class interest. It is the call of nationalism which   is bringing all madheshis together. A correct approach towards  the movement will keep the country intact and pave way for economic development and sustainable democracy.  A wrong or biased approach might  lead the country towards  bloody ethnic conflict.

  Sarita Giri

Central Committee Member(Nepal Sadbhawana Party –Anandi Devi)

22nd March, 2007 


Entry filed under: Articles.

Madhesi Brothers, Stop Killing Each Other Time running out for Nepal

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jon  |  July 26, 2007 at 11:18 am

    The issue of discrimination against Madheshi is fair. I think the movement should be made more inclusive asking for rights of all ethnicities from all over Nepal. Above that, while supporting the Madheshi movement, please condemn inhuman killings at the same time. This is my reques t for all, and especially to those who are regualrly blogging. The problem is same whether u go to pahad or Madhesh, or even to India, or somewhere in Latin America. It’s about exclusion and discrimination of the weaks. While some Pahadis and Madheshis are quenching their private apppetite from public property, millions of others are being neglected. All this is the cause of Monarchy and feudal system. Let’s make Nepal a federal Republic. Then we can move ahead. Separation of Madhesh from Nepal is not a solution. It will be a problem. Don’t you think that a Madheshi is killing another Madheshi, and a Pahadi is also doing the same? Let’s hit at the root cause.

  • 2. Son of Tirhut  |  July 26, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    That’s right Mr. Jon why don’t you suggest these khasiya politicians to have negotiation with MJF and JTMM. It’s because they don’t want share it anyway unless weapon raised against them. This is happening not because they love to raise weapon it’s because theya are made to do so. These Khasiya Bahuns they love to rule Terai as colony as it used to be since Shah and Rana regime, am i right?

    Jai Madhes!!!!!

  • 3. Pradip  |  January 16, 2008 at 10:01 am

    The pahadis tyrrants from the very beginning strategically imposed their manipulating policies in the nations operations. Those things have been deeply rooted in their mindset. They still perceive themselves as the rulers and the madhesis as the ruled ones.. So the movement to remove all these shackles was inevitable.
    And this article by Sarita Jee is an eye – opener to one and all concerned for the upliftment of nepal as a whole.

  • 4. vijay sapkota  |  February 19, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    madhishey movement will never be a success ..u guys were vegetable sellers, and toilet cleaners and your coming generations will remain the same .the day you people declare any kind of independence all u madhesis and your politicians will be slaughtered and dead man makes no demands .accept through dialogue whatever u are getting, dont be very greedy.because u people will agitate ,ur ministers will be transfered some money in their account and they will be satisfied ,it is your house n life that will be burned .your politicians are not acting for you they have their own interests you dumbass,you are just a card in someones hand.have you forgotten the earlier terai movemnts and leaders who later became pets of the get educated learn nepali and change your indian titles to more suitable n traditional titles.lets face the truth you people are conquered people and conquered people are given no rights still we have give you so much and you are trying to stab us on our all were never nepalis.and infact when it comes to the feeling of nationalism you are more faithful to indian constitution and government wheread the do nothing for you.
    so my request is
    1. stop speaking bihari,hindi and other indian languages…
    2.try being more nationalistic.
    you see the banks in nepal or kathmandu dont give loans to people who will runaway to india when they will have problem.
    one madhesh one pradesh is simple out of question..and the right to self cannot be given to imbeciles otherwise the next thing you guys will ask is to change the name of nepal to madhesh on your population basis or even want bhojpuri,hindi or bihari as the national langusage..
    stop importing your bloody bihari relatives and calling them of ethnic origin to give them citizenships..
    and the last nightmare wouldd be a marsiya becoming the prime minister lets suppose champak prased yadav..god save our country…..

    be a nepali and stay in nepal or back to bihar/india where u came from..the will give yu more rights and you wont even have to ask for citzenship or respect for obvious reasons

    jai gorkhali !!

  • 5. readyforanewnepal  |  August 2, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Mr Vijay Sapkota,
    Man you have lots of issues. Let me address them one by one.

    >>madhishey movement will never be a success ..u guys were vegetable sellers, and toilet cleaners and your coming generations will remain the same

    Looks like that is not the case anymore as it is already on the route to success. The appointment of people from the Madheshi community as President and VP is a clear indication of the victory of the madhesi movement.

    >>so my request is
    1. stop speaking bihari,hindi and other indian languages…
    2.try being more nationalistic.

    Now don’t you think these are imbecilic requets. According to the statistics derived from Nepal’s 2001 census results published in the Nepal Population Report 2002 Nepal is a multilingual, multireligious and multiethnic society. Nepal’s diverse linguistic heritage evolved from four major language groups: Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman, Mongolian and various indigenous language isolates. According to the 2001 national census, 92 different living languages are spoken in Nepal . The major languages of Nepal (percent spoken as mother tongue) are Nepali (49%), Maithili (12%), Bhojpuri (8%), Tharu (6%), Tamang (5%), Newari/Nepal Bhasa (4%), Magar (3%), Awadhi (2%), Rai (2.79%), Limbu (1%), and Bajjika (1%). Now with about 51% speaking languages other than Nepali you mean to imply that those people are not patriotic. On second note you have also mentioned that madhesis should not speak other Indian languages. Well for your information there were 6,000,000 nepali speaking people in India in 1984(source: Far Eastern Economic Review) and Nepali is one of the official languages spoken in India. So, according to you madhesis should not be speaking Nepali as well as it qualifies into the category of other Indian languages. Isn’t that going to make them an Indian agent?

    >>the day you people declare any kind of independence all u madhesis and your politicians will be slaughtered and dead man makes no demands .accept through dialogue whatever u are getting, dont be very greedy.because u people will agitate ,ur ministers will be transfered some money in their account and they will be satisfied ,it is your house n life that will be burned

    As rightly said by Edward Abbey, “a patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” That is what people from madhesh are trying to do. The government so far have done nothing that would benefit the terai population or the country itself for that matter. So, its time that madhesis take the reins in their hands and demonstrate to their “pahadi” counterparts ways to run the government that would benefit all sections of the society and the country overall. As far as slaughtering all the madhesis is concerned all I have to say is a man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.

    >>and the last nightmare wouldd be a marsiya becoming the prime minister lets suppose champak prased yadav..god save our country…..

    Well, your prayers have been heard Mr. Sapkota. I guess you had a fair share of nightmare that you were hoping for because people from madhesh have taken the position for President as well as Vice President. Looks like god has finally saved the country from the villainous claws of so called “Staunch Nationalist” belonging to the pahadi community. Prayers made from the heart never go unheard as god always answers unselfish prayers.

    >>you all were never nepalis.and infact when it comes to the feeling of nationalism you are more faithful to indian constitution and government wheread the do nothing for you.stop importing your bloody bihari relatives and calling them of ethnic origin to give them citizenships..

    Labeling madhesis as Indians is just going to help the cause of India’s strategy (if they have one) to gain political control over greater Nepal. Now as a “true nationalist” as you would like to call yourself would you like that? Should not your nationalism be questioned when it comes down to trying to increase the gap between two factions of the same nation, namely pahadis and madhesis. From where I am looking at it people like you are a perfect candidate having the potential to start a civil war.

    >>be a nepali and stay in nepal or back to bihar/india where u came from..the will give yu more rights and you wont even have to ask for citzenship or respect for obvious reasons

    Madhesis used to exist long before King Prithvi Narayan Shah unified different states into a unified Nepal and the Shah dynasty came into being. Historians claim that madhesi people have their own culture known as mithila culture and language (Maithili, Bhojpuri, etc) as they used to live in the kingdom of King Janak, a madhesi by present standards. Janakpur was the capital city. Now it is a known fact that Janakpur is in Nepal. So, saying that madhesis are Indians sounds like a baseless claim made by someone having a poor knowledge of Nepal’s history and geography.

    Jai Madhesh, Jai Pahad, Jai Nepal.

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