Ten Years On, Madhes Still In Unrest
The Nepali month of Magh marked the tenth anniversary of the first Madhes Movement which broke out in the southern plains in 2007. When the then seven-party alliance of the mainstream political parties and the CPN-Maoist jointly announced the Interim Constitution in 2007, it totally ignored the concept of federalism, the most desired political agenda of Madhesis and other marginalised communities. A day after the promulgation of the interim statute, a group of Madhesi activists under the Upendra Yadav-led Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum-Nepal (then a socio-intellectual NGO) burnt copies of the interim constitution at Maitighar Mandala, Kathmandu.
The MJF activists were arrested on the charge of conspiring against the state and detained in the custody. To protest their arrest, the Forum activists and others launched protest programmes, including demonstrations and vehicular strike along the East-West Highway in Lahan of Siraha district. The demonstrators blocked the movement of the CPN-Maoist leaders and cadres on the highway, who were heading towards west. One of the Maoist cadres fired at the agitators, killing a teenaged demonstrator on the spot. The bloody incident and the killing of the school boy, Ramesh Mahato, spread along the Madhes region like a wildfire and the spiral agitations were organised across the southern plains. This event is now remembered as the first Madhes uprising.
Of course, it was during this first Madhes Movement when the Madhesi people for the first time in the history of Nepal expressed their ire against the discriminatory state. The flood of resentment was targeted not only against the state, but also against the then revolutionary Maoists, which had explicitly betrayed the federalism-aspiring constituents like the Madhesi.
The Maoists, who had taken the federating agenda at the peak during their armed rebellion, skipped it while drafting the interim constitution. The Maoists had recruited thousands of youth militias from Janajati and Madhesi communities in their 'People's Army' pledging them several federal states based on the single identity. The bullying behaviour of the Maoists leaders and cadres particularly in Lahan against the Madhesi agitators was the second reason why the Maoists also became the target of the Madhes Movement.
The political awakening in the Madhes has a long history. It dates back to the time around the political movement of 1950/51 launched by the Nepali Congress. The educated youths from the Madhes had hugely contributed to the abolishment of the over century-long Rana Oligarchy and the establishment of democracy. However, when they felt that the Nepali Congress began ignoring the Madhesi people in terms of their due rights and representation in the state, a group of Madhesi leaders like Bedanand Jha and Ram Janam Tiwari deserted the Nepali Congress and formed a Terai Congress Party, the first Madhes-centric party in the country, in 1952.
The party had projected the three political agendas –the full autonomy of Terai within the Nepali territory, representation of the Terai people in all state organs based on their population, and recognition of Hindi as an official language. Although the Terai Congress could not win a single seat in the 1958 general elections, it managed to secure over 3 percent votes. The tragedy with the Terai Congress leaders was that most of the leaders could not survive the autocratic Panchayat regime and were co-opted by it.
Soon after the restoration of multi-party democracy in 1990, Nepal Sadbhawana Party headed by former Nepali Congress leader Gajendra Narayan Singh emerged as a sole Madhes-based party. The party shouldered the agendas propounded by the Terai Congress. It engaged itself with the electoral politics during the entire era of the parliamentary democracy. However, it failed to launch even a single mass movement. Carrying the old agendas, having its weak organisational strength and lack of strong political base at the grassroots are the main reasons behind the poor show of the then Sadbhawana Party in the national politics.
The third phase of Madhesi politics began with the Madhes uprising of 2007. The stormy movement established the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum a strong regional political force. Later, the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party and the new brand of the Sadbhawana Party under Rajendra Mahato took birth and joined hands with the Forum to stir the second Madhes Movement in 2008. Due to the compelling strength of the two consecutive movements, the three prominent agendas of the Madhes– federalism, proportional representation and population-based election constituency –were ensured in the Interim Constitution through its amendment.
From the first Constituent Assembly elections, the Madhes-based parties emerged as the fourth largest political force at the national level, securing altogether 83 seats. But the regional parties did not play their role responsibly as assigned by the people and voters during the two movements and the first CA election. They continuously indulged in the game of forming and toppling the governments at Singha Durbar. The then revolutionary UCPN-Maoist, which dominated the national politics during the first CA as the single largest party, also acted the similar sort of part, forgetting its historic task to draft a new constitution in favour of the common people. As a result, the first CA was dissolved without delivering the constitution.
The second CA reduced the Prachanda-led UCPN-Maoist and the Madhesi parties to the third and fifth positions respectively. It was the result of these parties' wrongdoings during the first CA. At the backdrop of the frail strength of the two forces, the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and other status-quoist parties wrote the constitution establishing distorted type of federalism, secularism and agenda of inclusion. The Maoist Party eventually followed the path of the NC and the UML and helped promulgate the statute with note of dissents.
However, the Madhes-based parties refused to budge from their stance. They launched the months-long third Madhes Movement following the promulgation of the constitution demanding guarantee of those agenda, which were promised in the two agreements signed after the two Madhes Movements of 2007 and 2008. They are still disgruntled and the Madhesi people are not satisfied. To pacify the situation, the current ruling parties have offered the regional parties a lollipop of the constitution amendment. But the chance of the amendment is fading due to the structure of the existing parliament. If the major political parties go to the local elections without fulfilling even minimum Madhesi demands, what will be the next strategy of the Madhes-based parties? Will they launch the next agitation? Will the Madhesi people support them or mainstream political parties or choose an extreme move? Even a decade after the first Madhes movement, the political scenario of the Madhes still looks volatile.