Even as the focus remains on the government-Maoist impasse, the Madhes is slowly coming back to haunt the ruling classes
Upendra Yadav announced a new movement last week, demanding the implementation of the eight-point agreement, the restoration of the vice president to his constitutional position, and recognition of Hindi. The simple cynical interpretation is that Yadav has locked himself into a position where he cannot join this government. Through the andolan, he wants to increase his bargaining power, and then push for a decisive stake in a future power structure.
This is a part of the conventional wisdom in Kathmandu that holds that the Madhes movement is dead. The Madhes parties are fragmented and have been co-opted into the establishment. The armed movement has faded away with slightly better public security. Concessions have already been made to the Madhes – “You have all the top posts, so many ministers, what else do you want?” is a common refrain. And the utility of the Madhes card for the Indians and others who wanted to weaken the Maoists is over.
This view has elements of truth in it. But it misreads the sense of rage that lies beneath the seeming disillusionment. It ignores the sense of betrayal that most Madhesis feel with both the state and their own representatives. It does not take into account the certainty with which both politicians and civil society in the Tarai dismiss the CA, for they are convinced that a strong Kathmandu lobby will block federalism, affirmative action, and structural change.
Kathmandu is once again forgetting how movements for dignity and rights evolve. The smallest slight can trigger a mass movement; a prolonged period of seeming peace can be followed by riots and disturbances; and when both the authorities and political representatives are discredited, locally active segments of the population will dictate the agenda and pace of protests.
The example of India is instructive. It seemed peace had slowly returned to Kashmir with a dip in Pakistan-sponsored infiltration. Then in 2008, a seemingly innocuous administrative decision to transfer land to the Amarnath temple board sparked off mass protests, and polarised the state communally. The alleged rape of two women by security forces in Shopian and the state’s efforts to cover it up then discredited the new Omar Abdullah government completely. In 2004, it was a single ‘encounter’ resulting in the death of an unarmed civilian woman in Manipur that triggered an agitation for the repeal of draconian security laws. The agitation was renewed earlier this year when another so-called encounter was caught on camera
The brutality of the security forces and the alienation of local populations are greater in India’s hotspots than in Nepal. But the capacity of the state to quell dissent, and use coercion and political persuasion, is also higher in India. In Nepal, a weak and unreformed Nepali state, reluctant to make any substantive change, faces an angry and restive population.
The Madhes movement is not over by any stretch of the imagination. The 1990s showed that as the interaction of the Madhes with the state increased, a constituency of young radicalised people was born who perceived and personally felt the humiliation of the discriminatory structures surrounding them. Politics may be going through a lull of sorts, but the churning on the ground continues. The radicalisation of the young, the intelligentsia, mid-sized landowners, families of migrant workers, and students has only grown in the last two years.
These groups are looking for a political platform. The established Madhesi parties are losing ground. The NC has been unable to regain their trust. The UML’s virulent anti-Madhesi mindset is now widely recognised. The Maoists are slowly increasing their base with an influx of newer leaders, their commitment to federalism, and the loyal Dalit-landless base, but remains limited. And the armed groups have become fragmented, discredited, criminalised,
If the state is more confident today, it is because of this political vacuum in the Madhes. It is not because of a change in heart among Madhesis, or their sudden love for the present establishment, or because state structures have become inclusive and won the loyalty of a broader social alliance.
The fundamental trust deficit between the state and Madhesi people persists, and it will translate into a confrontation. At that point, the fact that a Dr Yadav heads the state, even if he were to to run it, will be irrelevant to the Madhesi masses.
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