Musing over Madhesi Demands
After series of negotiations with the other parties, warnings to resume agitation and self-realisation, leaders of the Madhes-based parties now seem to be ready to accept even if the constitution amendment Bill tabled in the parliament is endorsed as it is. However, they have been exerting pressure on the government, the ruling parties, because they are also a part of the ruling coalition as they have been supporting the government since it was formed, to revise the Bill and include some of the remaining demands. If we look back at how they rejected the Bill outright when it was registered in the Parliament on November 29 by the government and how inwardly eager they are to get it endorsed by two-thirds majority in the parliament now, we can see their u-turn and also a self-realisation regarding present political situation and their own demands. But they have even more and the real self-realisation to make in the days ahead because the leaders of the Madhes-based parties or the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) have failed to grasp the overall national sentiment and geopolitical situation of the country as a whole while putting forth their demands. Once such an insight dawns on them, they will start to work for early implementation of the federal republic constitution by holding three levels of elections within a year.
Because of ill-treatment, marginalisation and apathy by the successive governments even after democracy was introduced in 1950 and re-instated in 1990 with regard to their language, representation in the public employment and state apparatus, the people of the southern plains called Terai Madhes have developed a deep rooted anti-establishment sentiment. It was because of this sentiment that they had participated in the Madhesi movement in 2007 although the people's movement II in which they had also participated had already been successful and the parliament re-instated. But when the interim constitution was promulgated there was nothing for them to be happy with because many issues related to inclusion were missing and that issue of federalism omitted. Because the Maoists had spread a message that justice to all oppressed community and regions could be given by forming identity based federal structures and the Maoists had also seemed to have given up the idea, the Madhesi leaders had every reason to arouse the people for federalism. It was at this time that many leaders of Madhesi origin of the mainstream political parties had detached from their mother party and formed regional ones such as Terai Madhes Democratic Party. And it was a gain for them when federalism was inserted in the interim constitution, among their others demands.
Once in power after the first Constituent Assembly (CA) elections, the Madhesi parties or leaders did not perform as per people's expectations. Power corrupted them once again as they divided parties for power and did not help the Maoists although some of their demands could have been met had they supported the Maoists whole heartedly. It is up to them what detached them from the revolutionary force, but it did not do any good for them. Otherwise, the first CA could have promulgated the constitution. Along with the Maoists, the size of the Madhesi parties got downsized after the election for the second CA. And there were slim chances that the Madhesi parties would have all of their demands fulfilled. They did not realise the situation, but stuck to their demands of ‘one Madhes one province’. Later on they changed stance and said even two provinces would be acceptable for them but it was only after the Tharus hit the southern plains against the Madhesi movement.
Once the constitution was promulgated by the CA in November 2015, the UDMF launched another round of indefinite strike across the southern plains. They had been opposing the whole process after the draft of the constitution was presented including the process to collect public opinion even before the promulgation of the constitution. While the situation made it clear that the constitution was promulgated despite unprecedented pressures from India against it, the UDMF leaders sided with the Indian rulers. It was a blunder on the part of the Madhesi leaders to cover the Indian blockade by holding sit-ins at the borders. This simply made it clear that the control of the Madhesi movement was not in their hands. All the positive sentiment people in the hills had with the Madhesi movement evaporated when it was used to suffocate the nation that was trying to stand just after the devastating earthquake. Some of the UDMF leaders decried when the northern neighbor, China, provided fuels in grant at time of fuels crisis due to the Indian blockade. This also shortened the height of the leaders there.
In the historical contexts of Indian hegemony over Nepal, its micromanagement and high-handedness and annexation of Sikkim, the Nepalese people are always apprehensive of Indian interest and involvement in any political changes or movement. Now and again people blamed their own leaders for trying to sell the country. Sense of nationality of a leader is judged against how and to what extent he/she can stand in the face of the Indian pressure on various issues. In a way, to oppose Indian moves with regard to Nepal is to be nationalist here. But the UDMF leader did not understand it, and instead urged for Indian help to have their demands fulfilled. Moreover, they failed to understand geopolitical situation of the country.
Participate in polls
By now it is proved that the constitution is not so bad as denounced by the Madhesi leaders. And rights are not ensured only through number of provinces. It is illogical to stick to the demands for only the two provinces in the entire southern plains. It will also be illogical on the part of the Madhesi leaders to say that they will participate in polls only if the constitution amendment Bill, which also seeks to change boundaries of Province no. 4 and 5, is endorsed. Although this can be a pressure tactics for the time being, they should make up their mind to take part in elections to be held no matter whether the Bill is endorsed or rejected. Once the fate of the Bill becomes clear, it is hoped that the Madhesi leaders will accept it and announce that they are ready to participate in elections.