Mahendriya Rastrabad, UML And Madhes
Ritu Raj Subedi
These days, the crusaders of ethnic and Maoist movement often regurgitate the phrase ‘Mahendriya Rastrabad’ (nationalism based on ideas of king Mahendra) in a derogatory fashion. Named after king Mahendra, the term is targeted against those, who talk about strong unity among the people of mountains, hills and Terai. Politicians, intellectuals and journalists who steadfastly stand for territorial integrity countering the formation of provinces on ethnic and regional lines face such an accusation time and again. Even those who strongly denounced the royal putsch king Mahendra orchestrated against the first democratically elected government to seize power are attacked with this tag. In particular, the bellicose Madhesi leaders, known for their distasteful remarks in public, are quick to hurl this term at anyone, who disagrees with their ethno-centric politics.
As the Madhesi and Maoist leaders are now putting themselves on the wrong side of history, the term is interestingly receiving a positive connotation. With anti-Indian sentiments sweeping a larger section of Nepali populace and Madhesi parties hell bent on creating two nations – Terai and hills, the notion of Mahendriya Rastrabad has gained currency and many people are coming out of woodwork in its support. However, many may have not known how the concept entered into political vocabulary. According to ex-brigadier general of Nepal Army, Dr Prem Singh Basnyat, India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru coined this phrase and his daughter Indira Gandhi frequently used it to criticize Nepal’s monarchy. “Nehru wanted to swallow Nepal but king Mahendra foiled all Indian designs by mustering support from various nations, including China. After Mahendra refused to come under his thumb, Nehru coined the term to describe Mahendra’s nationalistic stand,” he said in an interview with a news television channel recently.
The first democratically elected prime minister BP Koirala and king Mahendra sharply differed over the domestic political system but they held similar views and positions on the foreign policy front. During his kingship, Mahendra removed Indian security check posts deployed along Nepal-China border. He replaced the use of Indian currency in Terai with Nepali currency notes, and encouraged the migration of hilly people to Terai. These steps aimed at strengthening the Nepali state under the Panchayati regime irked the then Indian establishment, hence the coinage of ‘Mahendriya Rastrabad’.
Nowadays, some sections of Janajatis (indigenous people), Madhesi parties and CPN-Maoist Centre are accusing CPN-UML and its chairman KP Sharma Oli of following the path of ‘Mahendriya Rastrabad.’ Oli has now stood as steady as a rock against the plan to split hills from Terai in Province No 5. Oli towered over his contemporaries and won the hearts of the majority of people when he denounced the unofficial Indian blockade and defended Nepal’s right to self-determination. His pro-nationalistic position taken against ethnic nationalism and territorial disintegration made the campaigners of ethnic identity sick to stomach and they jumped to describe him as a backer of ‘Mahendriya Rastrabad.’ Ironically, these critics are knowingly or unknowingly bearing the repulsive legacy of Nehru, who wanted to keep Nepal under the security umbrella of India, and of his daughter, who wanted to annex Terai to India.
The UML’s hard position on constitution amendment bill, registered in the parliament to separate Terai from hills in Province No 5, has put it at loggerheads with the ruling Maoist Centre, Nepali Congress and Madhes-based parties. The Madhesi parties have projected it as anti-Madhesi force with their cadres even bracing up for barring the UML from organising its activities in Terai. This intolerant attitude amounts to social fascism and is sure to throw the nation on a collision course and further compound the tricky transition.
It is a big paradox that the Oli-led government allocated the biggest amount of national budget for the development of Terai but the Madhesi parties that suffered humiliating defeat during the second Constituent Assembly election denigrated the UML as anti-Madhesi party. This has put the second largest party in quandary despite garnering the second position in Terai.
“The UML would have been the most popular party in Terai for its government allocated unprecedented amount of budget for the development of entire southern plains. It is the UML’s weakness that it failed to market its works among the Terai residents,” Dr Rajesh Ahiraj told a phalanx of UML top brass, including Oli recently.
In a bid to dispel the rumours and racist slurs against it, the UML last week held an interaction ‘Madhes Problem, Illusion and Reality’ where leaders and intellectuals representing Terai/Madhes offered their suggestions to the party to gain a foothold there, especially in Province No 2. Dr Ahiraj, an independent analyst, wrapped Oli with gamchha, a small cotton shawl that is popular among the Madhesi people, and urged him to inform the Terai locals about his party policies and programmes aimed at ameliorating their socio-economic condition.
Lawmakers Lalbabu Yadav and Ram Chandra Shah, former minister Satya Narayan Mandal, Raghubir Mahaseth and Pradeep Yadav demanded that Terai must not be split from hills. Shah, Mahaseth and Yadav feared whether the local Madhesis would be turned into a minority if the naturalised citizenship certificates were granted to individuals of Indian descent at the current pace.
“As a matter of fact, the naturalised citizens and their descendents have dominated us. They are running amok behind the veil of agitation,” admitted Shah, a lawmaker from Parsa.
Pradeep Yadav, central member of Youth Association, questioned: “Why were the hilly districts separated from Terai in Province No 2? The Terai dwellers are demanding an answer from the leadership.” Yadav even suggested adopting stringent measures in distributing the citizenships, lest they would be in minority.
Now, the UML leadership has realized that it committed a terrible blunder while forming Province No 2 that excludes hills. A few weeks ago, Oli had admitted that the party made an inappropriate compromise on carving up this province, and warned of not making ‘the false precedent’ a basis to segregate hilly areas in other provinces. Now 11 UML lawmakers representing Province No 2 have intensified a campaign to mix parts of Sindhuli, Udaypur and Makwanpur with this Province to ensure that there will be an equal share of natural resources – rivers, land and forests - between the provinces. The current structure, according to them, will deprive Madhesi people of rights to use the resources of the hills.
These voices of UML leaders from Madhes debunk the fallacies and toxic myths manufactured by so-called Madhesi parties dead set against combining hills with Terai under the federal setup. Their accusation of Mahendriya Rastrabad does not hold much water. Nepal can see durable peace and prosperity if the three integral territories are kept intact. This is the conventional wisdom that must prevail, come hell or high water.