Madheshi Movement in Defense of Democracy and Madheshi Nationalism
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.
Central Committee Member(Nepal Sadbhawana Party –Anandi Devi)
22nd March, 2007
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