Peace deal with Madhesis

March 26, 2008 at 3:01 am Leave a comment

Peace deal with Madhesis

By Tushar Charan – Syndicate Features

Trouble has been erupting so frequently—often unexpectedly—in Nepal in recent months that the expression of joy and satisfaction after the signing of an eight-point agreement between the government and the agitating United Democratic Madhesi Front on February 28 could well turn out to be a bit premature. The only thing that may perhaps prevent another relapse into a bout of unrest is the speed with which the Madhesi parties have rushed to meet the revised deadline for nominating candidates for the April 10 constituent assembly polls, which they had earlier decided to boycott.

Under the terms of the agreement, Madhes and other regions will become autonomous in the federal democratic republic of Nepal. There will be constitutional provision for equal representation of all marginalized groups. The banned underground leaders of the Madhesis will be invited for negotiations. For the first time the Madhesis can look forward to proportional recruitment in the national army. They will also be eligible for government jobs hitherto denied to them unjustifiably. Those who had died during the Madhesi agitation would be accorded the status of ‘martyrs’. Victims and the families of those killed during the agitation will be entitled to compensation. Prisoners taken during the various agitations will be released.

It will remain a debating point in Nepal why the government allowed the Madhesi agitation to snowball when almost everything that has been conceded now could have been done at a much earlier stage. Much of the bloodshed and the bad blood that it generated as also the uncertainty over the future of Nepal could have been avoided if the ruling parties had sat down for some serious talks with the Madhesis.

The Maoists could have taken a leading role in dowsing the Madhesi fire instead of turning their back on the Madhesis. It will be wrong, however, to believe that the government in Kathmandu will yield to a show of force. Both the government and the Madhesis have said that they looked forward to peaceful polls. There is no room for further unrest in the country. Most observers are unanimous that another postponement of the constitution assembly elections, due on April 10, will be disastrous for Nepal.

Prior to the agreement the Madhesis had given a call for an ‘indefinite’ strike in the Terai region in southern Nepal which is home to most Madhesis. It had resulted in paralysing life in almost all of land-locked Nepal for two weeks, with trucks carrying many essential items like food and fuel from India frozen along the border. But it may be incorrect to assume that the agreement with the Madhesi parties became possible only because they had shown that they could cripple life in the land-locked Himalayan country whenever they wished.

The agitation by the Madhesis, who are sometimes reviled as being ‘Indians’ because most of them trace their origin to India and have close cultural ties and roots in neighbouring regions of India, has been principally about honour, dignity and justice. For too long they have been living as virtual non-citizens, deprived of their rights as Nepalese by the ruling elite that has been traditionally drawn from the upper castes in the hilly parts of Nepal. The Madhesis have had no representation in the armed forces and many government institutions and departments. Their languages and culture got no recognition. The poorer among them—the Dalits—were even more neglected than the comparatively better off ones. The nation’s parliament did not reflect the proportion of their population.

It was natural for the long suppressed anger of the Madhesis to burst into open after a Maoist-led mass movement in which they were willing participants heralded the end of two and half century of monarchical rule and the dawn of a democratic era. The Madhesis did not expect to be rebuffed by the new leaders who swore by a system based on justice for all. The April 2006 movement that humbled the king helped the Madhesis to be mobilised politically. They anticipated an end to years of discrimination and neglect.

But when an interim constitution was drafted it failed to take note of the concerns of the Madhesis. It offered no hope to the Madhesis that they would get a representation in the nation’s parliament that was in proportion to their population—about a third of the country. The government in the new republic of Nepal also looked like remaining hill-centric at the expense of the people of Terai.

The camaraderie between the Madhesis, looking for proper recognition and dignity, and the Maoists who had emerged as powerful centre of power, evaporated fast. The Madhesis took to the streets to ventilate their grievances. Inevitably, there was violence. The government did not hesitate to use force to break the spirit of the Madhesis even as more violence flared up.

The prolonged agitation by the Madhesis also saw a division among the leadership of the community. But that only meant more violence as the splinter groups began to raise radical demands, hoping that would bring them a larger following. The seven – party alliance (SAP) government got angrier instead of trying to sit down with the Madhesis to sort things out. The prime minister said the Madhesis demand was a major deterrent to constitution assembly polls that had been postponed twice.

The Madhesis had upped the ante by demanding a state of their own. Their slogan was ‘One Madhes, one nation’. That ‘nation’ was to exclude all other communities in the Terai region of Nepal. The unity of Nepal never looked more brittle.

Not surprisingly, the continued unrest among the Madhesis saw fingers being pointed at India. But it made little sense for India to meddle in the already messy Madhesis problem in Nepal. The utmost that India could hope to achieve was nothing more than use the Madhesi movement as a tool to pressurise Kathmandu into listening to the Madhesis grievances. The kind of violence and insurgency that the Madhesis, at least some sections of them, seemed to favour could only worry India.

The Indian region adjacent to the Madhesis population of Nepal—Bihar and UP– is already struggling to cope with a Maoists insurgency. And Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the Maoists pose the greatest threat to the nation. If the Maoists in Nepal have any friends in India they are in the deep jungles of UP and Bihar and, maybe a few other states and certain campuses too, but not in New Delhi.

– Syndicate Features –



Entry filed under: Articles.

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