Madhesi Movement in Nepal: Implications for India

August 31, 2010 at 3:39 am 3 comments

Madhesi Movement in Nepal: Implications for India

— Nihar Nayak
May 28, 2010

Fellows’ Seminar

Dr. Nihar Nayak began by offering some basic facts about the Madhesi movement. Although there exist a number of versions about what the word ‘Madhes’ stands for, the most popular or accepted version is that it refers to ‘Madhya-desh’, a region between the hills and the plains. Also known as ‘Terai’, Madhes region consists of twenty districts, all of which share their borders with India. Many Madhesis are of Indian origin and thus have strong socio-cultural ethnic linkages across the border. In the paper, Dr. Nayak flagged three questions: Is the Madhes issue likely to bring in deep-rooted conflict in Nepal? Can external forces take advantage of the situation to India’s detriment? How will Madhesi politics determine the future of Nepal politics and India-Nepal relations in the future? 

Over the years, Madhesis have suffered from a sense of discrimination and consequent deprivation. They also feel exploited and discriminated against by the upper caste Pahadi migrant communities. Hindi-speaking Indian Madhesis particularly feel discriminated against by the Nepali state due to the following factors. Firstly, Indian Madhesis, under the Citizenship Act of 1964 and the Constitution of 1990, were debarred from citizenship certificates, due to which they could neither acquire land ownership nor could avail government benefits. Although the Citizenship Law was amended in November 2006 making it possible for people born in Nepal before 1990 and those residing there permanently to acquire Nepali citizenship, it has been alleged that many Madhesis and Dalits are still deprived of citizenship. It has also been alleged that instead of taking into consideration the Madhesis’ cultural affiliation with India, the Nepali government has adopted a discriminatory attitude towards this group by trying to introduce compulsory Nepali language for both official work and as the medium of education in the Madhes region. Despite the fact that the Madhesi population constitutes nearly one-third of the Nepali population, their share at the level of gazetted level employees is merely 9.9 per cent. Madhesi people have also voiced concerns about the economic exploitation of the resource-rich Madhes region by the Nepali government. Although Madhes contributes 70 per cent of the agricultural production of Nepal, 65 per cent of the GDP, and 76 per cent of the country’s total revenue, the infrastructure in this region is considered to be much poorer than in the hill areas. Allegations have also been made regarding how during the monarchy, in the name of land reform, land belonging to Madhesi people were given away to Pahadis. 

A feeling of deprivation and exploitation made the Terai or Madhes region a hub of the pro-democratic movement during the 1950s and 1960s. During that time, perceiving India as anti-establishment and the Madhesis as India’s agents, and fearing that Indian immigrants in Terai might prompt India to claim it as Indian territory, the Nepali elite adopted stringent policies to curb the Madhesis’ activism. But this led to the emergence of identity-based movement in Madhes, particularly with the formation of two groups: the Nepal Terai Vongress led by Vedanta Jha in 1951 and the Madhesi Mukti Andolan led by Raghunath Thakur in 1956. At present, numerous political parties and non-state actors are involved in the Madhesi cause. In this context, examples of Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), Terai Madhesh Loktantrik Party (TMLP), etc., can be particularly cited. There also exist a number of major armed groups in the Terai region, such as the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM), Terai Cobra, Nepal Defence Army (NDA), Nepal Janatantrik Party (NJP), and Chure Bhawar Ekta Samaj (CBES). Although all these forces are involved in armed revolution in Nepal, there seems to be a divergence in the goals each of them aspires to achieve. While JTMM demands the establishment of an autonomous Terai region, and Terai Cobra aspires to launch an armed separatist struggle for a sovereign Terai state, the objective of NDA is to form a Hindu army with suicide bombers to fight against religious extremism, conversion, as well as Maoists. Similarly, while as a royalist outfit, the NJP aspires to retain constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy in Nepal, the CBES basically demands the establishment of a Chure Bhawar federal region in Terai and is opposed to ‘one Madhesh one Pradesh’ demand. 

There are reports of ‘internal tensions and lack of clarity on immediate demands and long term strategy’ of Madhesi groups. While the Madhes-based parties take a soft stand on the issue, the armed groups are demanding nothing less than sovereignty. Moreover, the Madhesi political parties are in a dilemma especially regarding whom to take sides with among the major parties. They cannot support a liberal democratic government in Kathmandu as their autonomy demand would be lost. They cannot really support the Maoists basically due to the prevailing fear of losing a multi-party democratic system in Nepal under a Maoist led government. In the meantime, due to their involvement in kidnapping, killing and extortion, some armed groups involved in the Madhesi cause are often dismissed as criminals by most Madhesis themselves. In this scenario of diffused leadership and objectives, the future of the Madhes cause remains uncertain. 

In his presentation, Dr. Nayak tried to draw attention to the fact that unstable Nepal, particularly the border regions of Terai, can provide avenues for both China and Pakistan to encourage anti-India elements there, through arms and fake currency trafficking, madrasas, terrorist outfits, etc. Reportedly, China has already extended its support to the faction of the MFJ led by Upendra Yadav. In recent time, the United States too has taken particular interest in the developments of Madhesi region. Although it has listed JTMM on the US terrorist list, it granted a visa to Upendra Yadav to attend the Terai Diaspora event held in Washington. 

Over the years, while treating Madhesi issue as an internal matter of Nepal which can be resolved by accommodating minority rights within the new Constitution, India has largely taken a stance of non-interference. Even then, the Pahadis often allege India of encouraging the ‘one Madhes, one Pradesh’ demand. According to Dr. Nayak, if such perceptions gain further ground, it would aggravate the prevailing anti-India sentiments in Nepal and consequently give more space to China and Pakistan to use Nepal as a hotbed for anti-India activities. Ironically, the Madhesis accuse India of neglecting the Madhesi movement. Recently, in June 2009, allegations were raised regarding India’s involvement in engineering divisions in the MJF. Debate has also been brewing in the Terai that the Madhesis have failed to take any concrete decision about their future because of India’s support for the liberal democratic parties opposed to ethnic-based federalism. 

According to Dr. Nayak, anti-Indianism of the Madhes movement is likely to affect India’s economic interests in Nepal. Frequent protests will affect India’s trade and commercial relations with Nepal. It will also affect India’s hydroelectric projects and the business operations of Indian investors in Nepal. Since the Terai is the link between India and northern Nepal, a troubled Terai may affect “every major highway, custom point. The industrial, economic, and other fertile resources of Nepal are in Madhesh, helping circulate trade relationship.” 

Under the prevailing circumstances, India is faced with certain difficult choices. Any constructive attempt by India to salvage the Terai situation through proactive involvement is likely to be interpreted as unnecessary intervention in the internal affairs of Nepal and upset its Pahadi constituency and Nepal Army. At another level, passive indifference to developments in Terai will be misconstrued as shirking of responsibility by observers at home as well as by the Madhesis themselves. India cannot possibly afford to ignore developments in Nepal and especially the discrimination in Terai. At present, the best approach for India seems to be to work as a positive facilitator to strengthen the capacity of various democratic institutions to resolve the social tensions in Nepal in general and in Terai in particular. Given India’s leverages in Nepal, India could also make an earnest effort to bring all political parties together to have a dialogue on the contentious issues. 

Important points raised during the discussion of the paper: 

  1. From a topographical point of view, Nepal is vulnerable to both India and China. Terai is not only important for India, but also for Nepal itself. Over the years, the Nepali government has been trying to make this place inhabited by people ‘friendlier to them’ and people who look like them. The sentiment behind taking such stance by the Nepali government should be respected by the Indian government.
  2. In this paper, more space should be devoted to analyse the impact of the Madhesi movement on India.
  3. India’s concern about the Madhesi problem cannot be anything more than neighbourly.
  4. Nepal suffers from paranoia of being encircled by India. But it does not seem to have a similar problem with respect to China. India has to understand this psyche among the Nepalese.
  5. The Madhesi problem should be studied in relation to the challenge of governance that Nepal is currently facing.
  6. The strong sense of opportunism among Madhesi leaders makes it difficult for India to get involved in this movement.
  7. Indian policy vis-à-vis Nepal since the Maoist uprising in 1997 has been to keep other players out of it. But this policy seems to have misfired particularly because of the involvement of so many external actors in it.
  8. Geo-strategic importance of the Terai region should be analysed in the paper.
  9. There is a need to mention the Jan Andolan III.
  10. The clash between Madhesis and Maoists in which 21 Maoists were killed should be mentioned.
  11. Due to Madhesi identity, Maoist influence in Terai has weakened considerably. Madhesis are expected to become future kingmaker of Nepal. India needs to take that factor into account.
  12. With the advent of democracy, the Muslim vote bank in the Terai has become important.
  13. The paper needs to clarify the significant factors for the potential of conflict in Terai. Those factors are basically identified as intra-Madhesi conflict, Pahadi-Madhesi conflict, and elements of communal violence.
  14. India should try to harmonize Madhesi politics. It should particularly take interest in brining about economic development in Terai region.
  15. India’s role in brokering the 8-point agreement between the Madhesis and the government should be highlighted.
  16. Future of Madhesi politics should be analysed in the paper.
  17. The paper also needs to bring out ordinary Madhesi people’s perception about India.

Report prepared by Pranamita Barua, Research Assistant, IDSA



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The Mithila attitude Madhesi activist claims discrimination and gross misconduct of security at Nepal’s international airport

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. shekh mohd shahid amani  |  September 22, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    India seems to have lost the battle for influence in Nepal. Once the Big Brother that controlled every aspect of of Nepali life, Delhi has little influence on decision making in Kathmandu. When Delhi tries to force its will, the Nepalis don’t listen. Nepali Maoists fought a long and protracted war of independence from Indian interference. The people of Nepal won, and put the Pro-Chinese Maoists in power.
    ..a leading US thinktank concluded that Nepal’s political problems could create trouble for India while being beneficial for China which has continued to expand its influence into Nepal.
    “China is more interested in preventing India from monopolising foreign influence in Kathmandu, while New Delhi would rather have Beijing stay out of India’s perceived sphere of influence,” said Stratfor said in its analysis of the latest development in Nepal. Economic Times. India Times
    India is now trying to put in place a pro-Indian government and keep the Maoists out of power. This could be very dangerous, because it could lead of widespread Anti-Indian riots. Already the Indian companies working Nepal face an uphill battle. Various project have been put on hold and trade is in jeopardy.
    Delhi is surrounded by problems of its own making. It is hated in South Asia for good reason. The “Indian Union” has had wars with all her neighbors, and it constantly interferes in the affairs of all of them. It calls all of them “failed states” proposing a raison d’etre under which it can absorb them into this huge behemoth called “Akhand Bharat“–an land mass which encompasses most of Asia– from Kabul in the West to a mystical land called Raj Kilhani, which is east of Bali in Indonesia. This is the “Bharat” that religious Bharatis dream of.
    The ongoing political strife in nearby Nepal threatens to affect Indian companies working out of Nepal while India Inc continues to fight the global downturn. Hindustan Times
    The Sri Lankans hate the Indians for supporting th the LTTE terrorists. The Bangladeshis are fed up with the “Rakhi Bahni” which tried to rule Bangladesh under an Indian general. The Burmese would rather be isolated than deal with a Delhi bent upon making it a protectorate, The Maldives almost drowning don’t want a lifeboat from Bharat. The Chinese have huge boundary disputes with Delhi. In the early days of independence Delhi thought that it could grab Tibet and thus bifurcate China into small pieces, perpetuating the colonial division of China. Mao Zedung would have none of that and took over Tibet, Aksai Chin and told Delhi to lay off Tibet. Then of course there are the Pakistanis, a huge impediment to Bharati hegemonic designs in West Asia.
    India is walking a diplomatic tightrope as Nepal tries to form a new government, aware that excessive meddling in its traditional “backyard” could risk pushing the fragile Himalayan democracy closer to China.
    India has always seen Nepal as part of its strategic sphere of influence, but that has been challenged in the past year since the election of Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda, who before he resigned last week had edged closer to Beijing. India treads fine line in Nepal’s political crisis By Krittivas Mukherjee. Friday, 08 May, 2009 | 02:12 AM PST KATHMANDU:
    Even though Nepal is Hindu, the people of Nepal have been struggling to get away from the yolk of Delhi. For years, Delhi supported the brutal monarchy which had signed “the treaty of peace of friendship” which made Nepal a protectorate of Delhi. An insurgency ensued for decades. The Maoists looked towards Beijing. Nepal’s former Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, or Prachanda (“fierce”) has publicly stated that is policy would be to equidistant his country between Delhi and Beijing. This sort of talk keeps analysts up at night. A neutral Nepal gives huge headaches to Indian defense analysts. A Pro-Chinese Nepal is catastrophic for Delhi. A Nepal which is more friendly to China eliminates Delhi’s access to Tibet, and puts pressure on Sikkim and Bhutan. A hostile Nepal places the Indian union in jeopardy because it is a Damocles sword on Delhi. At the drop of a hat Nepal could choke Indian access to the seven Indian states in the Northeast which are already up in arms against Delhi.
    General Katawal deserved the boot. A devotee of Nepal’s deposed king, Gyanendra, whose office was abolished last year to draw the Maoists into Nepal’s first post-war election, he has never hidden his hatred for his former foes in a decade-long conflict…The general’s insubordination conceals a more serious disagreement: over how to dispose of the Maoists’ former fighters. Under the terms of the peace agreement, negotiated between the Maoists and their political opponents under India’s aegis, some of the 23,000-odd corralled must be recruited into the army. The instrument of a power grab by Gyanendra in 2005, the army must meanwhile be made less elitist and more accountable. But General Katawal, with India’s blessing, has resisted these reforms. The Economist. How fierce will the Maoists be now? May 7th 2009 | KATHMANDU
    Its payback time for Delhi. During the Beijing Olympics India had tried to create problems for China in Tibet. After messing with the rising Northern Red Dragon to the North, in Tibet, India will face blowback from the Chinese in Sikkim Bhutan and all along the Naxalite belt in Central and Northeastern India. Already Bihar and Orissa are up in arms against the central authority of New Delhi.

    India’s Security nightmares: Naxalites, Mioram, Tamilland, Khalistan, 7 sisters of Northeast, 450 million Untouchable Dalits, Kashmiris, 150 million Muslims The Maoists recently quit the government protesting Indian interference. Peace is in jeopardy in the Himalayan state. The issue–getting rid of a pro-Indian general who had refused to listen to the Pro-Chinese Maoist rime Minister. The Maoists are a huge migraine headache for Delhi. The Maoists support the Naxalites which control 40% of the Indian landmass. Once in power the Maoists continue their links with the Naxalites. Red Nepal: Clear and present danger to India
    the Himalayan nation might set up economic zones along the border where business houses, including Indian corporate giants, could set up shop to process goods, including semi-finished or knocked down products from China.
    Nepal’s exports to India fetch just about 40 billion Nepalese rupees (Rs 1 = 1.6 Nepalese rupee), compared with imports from India worth 80 billion Nepalese rupees.
    Imports from India include petroleum products, medicines, plants and machinery.
    The officials said the new treaty was also in response to huge concessions which China was giving.
    China was not only offering better trade terms but also finalising a treaty, which would respect Nepalese borders and promised not to attack the country. In return, Nepal would not allow its territory to be used by Tibetan emigres for anti-China activities.
    The pact with China — dubbed the peace and friendship treaty — would have been signed by the Prachanda government but had to be cancelled after the constitutional crisis broke out in Nepal.
    Most of the investments from India, which account for 44 per cent of FDI in Nepal, have been in ready-made garments, hotels, hospitals and food and beverages. The Telegraph India
    The current crisis in Nepal arose because India tried to interfere with the decisions made by the Maoist Prime Minister of Nepal Prachanda. PM Prachandra had apparently fired the pro-Indian Chief of Army staff, and India tried to reverse that decision. Prachandra resigned.
    Former guerrilla leader Prachanda quit on Monday after his dismissal of the army chief was blocked, sparking a political crisis and dealinga blow to Nepal’s peace process after a decade-long civil war that saw the Maoists lay down their arms.
    Prachanda blamed “external forces” for his downfall, a likely reference to India and a sign of a growing backlash against its bigger and more powerful neighbour.Reuters. Dawn. India treads fine line in Nepal’s political crisis By Krittivas Mukherjee. Friday, 08
    The Maoists are mad at Delhi for the interference. If India continues its diktat, the Maoists could retreat to the mountains and begin the war once again. China has a lot of influence in Nepal.
    India, aware the former rebels are still the main political force with 40 per cent of seats in parliament, could look for a counterweight to any pro-China tilt in a ruling coalition.“India has to do business with the Maoists, so they will have to do a nice balancing act – not anger the Maoists while backing the forces it thinks are favourable to it,” said Lok Raj Baral, head of the Nepal Centre for Strategic Studies think tank.
    “The Maoists know anti-India rhetoric now has quite a bit of appeal among the Nepali people. If India is perceived by the Maoists as too intruding it could push them more towards China.” Reuters. Dawn. India treads fine line in Nepal’s political crisis By Krittivas Mukherjee. Friday, 08
    India has lost Nepal and is trying to get it back. The clear andpresent danger fro Bharatextends beyond the threat from the Maoists in Nepal. The fact remains that New Delhi for the past several decades has opposed the Maoist guerrillas fighting a complacent, corrupt and complaint pro-Indian appendage of a government in Khatmandu. Now New Delhi’s enemies are in power.A ‘Great Game’
    Landlocked Nepal depends on India for trade and crucial supplies of food and fuel, the two nations share a Hindu culture and many Nepalis cross over the border to work in India.
    The problem for New Delhi extends beyond Khatmandu and Nepal. The Maoist victory in Nepal serves as a lightning rod to the Maoist and Naxalites that are active in more than a dozen Indian states–from the Seven sisters in the Northeast, all the way down to central India and thenhooking up with the Tamil Nadus. The Naxalite insurrection in India has been named the number one security threat to the union right after Kashmir and theNortheast secessionist movement. India surrounded on all sides with insurgencies. India has horrible relations with all her neighbors-stealing territory from all of them. Much to the chagrin of Bharat, even Bhutan is now negotiating with China directly in the Chumbi valley.
    “As usual, India interfered,” said Maoist party foreign department head Chandra Prakash Gajurel, adding that the Indian ambassador to Nepal met Prachanda several times to ask him not to fire the army chief. “We are not sure what India’s agenda is.”
    That agenda may be warding off China. Some analysts say Beijing has encouraged a nationalist front to counter India.
    Those fears gained ground in New Delhi after Prachanda travelled to China last year for the Olympics closing ceremony, departing from a tradition which has seen incoming Nepali leaders make New Delhi their first foreign port of call.
    India has also nervously watched China’s rapid inroads into Nepal with plans of a rail service from Lhasa to the Nepal border. A dozen high-level Chinese delegations, including two military teams, have visited Nepal since last year.
    “The increasing level of bilateral engagement also indicates that China is wooing Nepal as a new strategic partner,” Nihar Nayak wrote in a recent paper for the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
    Chinese interest in Nepal mainly centres on containing pro-Tibet politics. The battle is also for control of key passes in the Himalayas used by Tibetan separatists to go to India. Reuters. Dawn. India treads fine line in Nepal’s political crisis By Krittivas Mukherjee. Friday, 08
    It used to be that the Naxalites from Andhra Pradesh used to support the Maoists of Nepal. Now that the Maoists have their own state, the trail of support will run both ways. The Nepalese revolution in eliminating the pro-Indian King will provide succor to the 89 insurgencies raging in the poor and disenfranchised sectors of “India.”
    RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) manipulation of the Nepali elections failed. The unexpected results of the Maoist landslide has baffled the Indian establishment. Alarmed Indian politicians have taken a deep breath and tried to spin the serious situation on their Northern border with tall tales of democracy and respecting the electorate.
    India and China has fought a war in 1962. Nepal is a flashpoint.

  • 2. muhmad khan  |  September 28, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    This is a disgrace that a independent and responsible Press-man, Rajesh Ahiraj is being prosecuted for bringing the unheard voice of Madhesh by the Government, whose constitution guarantees “TOTAL PRESS FREEDOM”.
    He has been booked for “Conspiracy against State.”

    The silence of major Political parties,indifferent media houses, and the uninterested Human Right clearly indicates their collusion in the conspiracy against the indigenous people of Terai.

    The verdict of Special Court restored the constitutional spirit by releasing the bold media person. But, the issue is Does it end here? Will it be guaranteed that media person will be protected?

    Plato once said “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Madhesh is facing this problem. The general availability of stupid politicians in our country (no offense for good leaders) will lead to chaos. Why didn’t the Madheshi leaders fought when voice of madhesh is being crushed systematically by the Government.

    Time has Come for good and right people to stand up and speak. Time has come that we remain united as Nepali and fight against all bigotry. Time has come that the leaders, political parties and concerned authority answer to the general public for their actions and in-actions.

    Hope you will raise the issue and create a momentum for the justice.

  • 3. ProHindiBlog  |  October 18, 2017 at 5:49 am

    Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Many thanks, However I am experiencing problems with your RSS.
    I don’t know the reason why I am unable to subscribe to it.
    Is there anyone else getting identical RSS problems?
    Anybody who knows the solution will you kindly respond?

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