Plain Politics – Prachanda`s protests
Plain Politics – Prachanda`s protests
– By Aditi Phadnis
The Maoist chief insists only rigging will defeat his party in the next elections.
Till some years ago, before the Electronic Voting Machine era of elections, when counting of votes went on interminably, round after round, the surest sign of impending defeat was when politicians would begin yelling that the elections had been rigged. A winner would never say the election had been unfair, only a loser.
A strong flavor of that era comes through in the statements made by Pushpakamal Dahal aka Prachanda, Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) about the elections to Parliament and a Constituent Assembly in Nepal, due on April 10.
Speaking at a public meeting at Morang, around 300 km from capital Kathmandu, Prachanda said last week that his party’s defeat in the elections would be “unacceptable”. The Maoists have so much support, he said, that the party’s defeat could only be caused by conspiracies hatched by “national and international reactionary forces”. In other words, if the people didn’t vote for the Maoists, they’d better watch out. And if the Maoists were defeated, India would be to blame.
This seems a bit rich coming from the chairman of a party that has 83 seats in the 303-seat Parliament – just about a quarter of the total.
And there are a plethora of issues the Maoists should worry about. Their lack of traction in the Terai (plains) in Nepal is the biggest.
Terai is a problem for all parties, not just the Maoists. But the fact that the Madhesis have taken up arms – that has so far been a Maoist prerogative – suggests there are deeper problems.
Twenty-two districts in Nepal are occupied by Madhesis who settled in the southern plains of Nepal, battling malaria and clearing forests to claim fertile land. Cheek by jowl with India, property and family knit the community inextricably with India. According to the 2001 Nepal census, they comprise 57 per cent of the population. More akin to Indian culture, they speak Maithili, Bhojpuri and Avadhi. They live with Tharu tribals in the mid- and far-western districts of Nepal. A majority of them are Hindu, though the Muslim population is growing. The Pahade – those who live in the mountains – consider the Madhesis an affront to Nepal’s ethnic identity. They are seen as collaborators who forced the Nepalese to cede Sikkim, Garhwal and parts of Kumaon to the British as part of the Treaty of Segowli (1816) because Madhesi landlords helped the British effort. As Nepal prides itself on never having been anyone’s colony, this defeat is a bitter fact of history for which every Nepali holds the Madhesis squarely responsible, whether it is the Maoists or the Nepali Congress.
The Madhesis consider themselves Nepalese residents but are angry that Nepal has consistently denied them their due. Hindi teaching in schools was banned by King Mahendra. Many Madhesis live in Nepal but don’t have citizenship or the right to own property. India will have nothing to do with them, although they consider themselves Indian by birth.
But more than 50 per cent of Nepal’s GDP comes from Madhes. Nepal’s biggest road, the East West Highway, runs through Madhes. An armed insurrection in this region is bad news because communication links are so good it will be impossible to control militants.
Madhesi militants are sui generis. They have banded together under Jwala Singh, as opposed to the relatively peaceful movement spearheaded by the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (Madhesi People’s Rights Forum) or MJF or MPRF, led by former Maoist leader Upendra Yadav. There is no love lost between them and the Maoists and they are indifferent to demands that Nepal repudiate monarchy and become a Republic.
It is in Madhes that the Maoists will face their biggest challenge – and they are getting ready for that defeat, which will then be visited on India’s head.
The hill Nepalese are not worried about the Maoists. They can deal with them appropriately. Some sections of the population, especially women, even think the Maoist movement is the best thing that’s happened to them because of the ban on drinking that Maoists enforce on the countryside from time to time. Extortion by the Young Communists League (YCL) continues but all it needs is village-level organisation to end it.
But the Nepalese have two big fears: one, the growth of Islamic movements in the countryside; and two, the ethnic powderkeg that the Madhesis represent.
The April 10 elections are to decide the complexion of Parliament. This body will convert itself into a Constituent Assembly and write the constitution of Republican Nepal. If the Madhesis are not given their due or if the Maoists are seen as obstructing/preventing the elections, it could make for an explosive situation in one of India’s strategically most important neighbours. For the Maoists, it is their credibility that’s at stake. For the Madhesis, it is their very existence.
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