Madhesis must unite
Madhesis must unite
– Ashok K Mehta
All eyes are riveted on Kathmandu over the formation of the new Government — whether it will be led by Mr GP Koirala or Prachanda. Prachanda, who had declared himself as the “President of Hearts”, is Prime Minister-in-waiting. Conspiracy theories are churning out that the US and India will prefer Mr Koirala to continue as Prime Minister. The Maoists are hopping mad that given the people’s mandate, anyone should not try to snatch victory from them. Voted in as the single largest party, the Maoists are confronted by their first crisis: Forming an alliance Government with a common minimum programme. The mainstream parties have made joining the Government conditional to Maoists giving up their bad habits: Disbanding Young Communist League, dismantling the parallel Government and severing contact with revolutionary organisations. Deeds, not words, will allow the Americans to lift the terrorist tag.
A region of Nepal that does not grab headlines is Madhes (Terai). It is going to be critical in the restructuring of state and formation of a new Nepal. It contains more than one-third of the land area, nearly 49 per cent of the population, 90 per cent of industry, most of the granary and the hub of the communications network in a land-locked country. Bulk of industry, located in the Terai, is owned by Marwaris like Mr Binod Chowdhury and Mr Gulab Chand Golcha. Unilever India and Dabur India have faced a precarious existence during the Maoist ‘People’s War’ in the Terai. They could have second thoughts now.
This strategic underbelly — bordering two of India’s leading lawless States, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh — has been subjected to frequent convulsions paralysing movement into Nepal and the state economy. Jan Andolan-II in April 2006 dethroned monarchy returning power to the people. Jan Andolan-III in January 2007 in the Terai, Madhesis are quick to remind you, was about Madhes being counted, ruled by Madhesis, not Pahadis from Kathmandu and the hill areas.
The revolution in Terai started in Nepalgunj in December 2006 and took a Pahadi versus Madhesi turn. Early 2007, it spread to Lahan in the west but without any communal overtones when Maoists shot down Ramesh Mahto, triggering off the Upendra Yadav-led Madhes Janadhikar Forum, Jan Andolan-III, in which 27 Madhesis were killed. Nepal came to a standstill and it was not till Mr Koirala had met Mr Yadav that the siege of the hill areas was lifted. The MJF had forced the Government into signing a 22-point agreement, promising a federal autonomous State and other demands empowering the discriminated Madhesis. By December that year, at least five Madhesi MPs from the NC, UML and NSP had resigned and joined Mr Mahanta Thakur’s new Terai Madhes Democratic Party and the renamed Sadbhavana Party led by Mr Rajendra Mahato. Raised in 2007, the TMDP had earlier forged an 11-point agreement with Kathmandu. That was the season of “many-points-agreements” with different groups and parties that the Government willingly signed to stave off delay to the twice postponed election.
In February 2008, the idea of a pan-Madhes alliance of the three Madhesi parties fructified as the United Madhes Democratic Front. Following some friendly Indian persuasion, Mr Koirala accepted their eight-point proposal which included: Recognition of martyrs of Jan Andolan-III, autonomy, Madhesi recruitment in the Army, implementation of demands of the TMDP and the MJF and dialogue with armed groups in the Terai. In return, the UMDF called off all strikes and agitations for the election to be held on schedule.
Of the four major armed groups left in the Terai, the Jan Tantrik Mukti Morcha (Jwala Singh) is the strongest and the only one outside the reconciliation process. The smaller groups were bought off. Due to intense pressure of the Shasastra Sena Bal and the Bihar Police, the JTMM was unable to interfere in the election despite their threat to people not to vote. Mr Jai Krishna Goit, leader of the other faction of JTMM, is the oldest revolutionary, next only to the legendary Ram Rajya Prasad Singh, credited with hurling a bomb at King Mahendra at Janakpur. Mr Goit is demanding an independent Terai and had decreed no election will be allowed. He is staunchly anti-India, anti-Maoist and anti-Prachanda who annoyed the armed groups by saying they would be sorted out in 15 days.
The Maoists entered the Terai late during their war in 2001 forming the Madhes Mukti Morcha when Mr Goit was a key leader, along with the late Rambriksha Yadav, whose wife has won the election on a Maoist ticket. Mr Matrika Yadav soon became its leader and gave the Nepal Army a run for its money. In 2003-04, Madhesi armed groups were gaining strength and the MMM losing its sting. By end 2005, it became non-effective.
Given the fragility of the new Madhesi political players and armed groups, the election has thrown up an illuminating result. Of the 116 First-Past-the-Post seats, Madhesis won 79, the remaining went to Pahadis. In the 601-member Constituent Assembly, excluding the 26 seats yet to be nominated, Madhesi parties will be represented by 85 legislators.
Curiously, the UMDF did not fight the election as an alliance but as separate parties. Even so, they won 43 seats and the MJF emerged as a single largest party in Madhes. The Maoists won 19 seats; Tharus got five seats; the NC won 11 seats; the UML got four seats; and, independents won two seats. All the winners were Madhesis. The electoral arithmetic can change substantially in favour of the Madhesis in the next election through seat adjustment and poll alliance. The number of constituencies in the Terai has increased from 89 to 116. Of the 49 per cent population in Madhes and following the migration from the hills to the plains over decades, the current number of Pahadis is about 30 per cent of the Madhes population and they won 22 per cent of the seats. If Madhes is to be represented proportionate to its strength, and wage its cause more effectively, the UMDF has to be nurtured. The three parties have to unify, if not unite. This will also act as a foil to the Maoists.
Their most controversial demand is for an autonomous State — ‘One Madhes, One Pradesh’. They argue that self-determination and federalism go hand-in-hand. But the Maoists want the Madhes to be divided into four parts. Madhes accounts for 67 per cent of the country’s wealth, though it receives only 12 per cent of the state revenue. Given its strategic importance as a gateway to the Indo-Gangetic plains and its shared borders with Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Madhesi Nepal enjoys a pivotal role in shaping India’s security concerns.
An unstable and disaffected Madhes cannot only destabilise Nepal, but also carry the spillover into India. New Delhi must create some strategic space for itself in the south by encouraging the Madhesi parties to join the common UDF platform. Such a formation will benefit both India and Nepal.
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