Indigenous Madhesis Want Elections
Ritu Raj Subedi
Come a critical moment, the spoilsports of Nepal’s democracy and political stability have got exposed themselves. They have come to the scene to sabotage the local election that the coalition government announced after humming and hawing for months. The country is slowly but enthusiastically flinging itself into the preparations for the local election that has been in abeyance since 2054 BS. The election is gradually picking up its tempo, but at the same time the saboteurs are active to upset the election mood on one or another pretext. A fair, peaceful and quality election has universally been accepted as the lifeblood of democracy. It circulates oxygen into the body of democracy. It catapults the people to the decision-making platforms and transforms them into real citizens and the stakeholders of development works. It revitalizes, renews and legitimises the democratic system. Without periodic elections, no authentic democracy can be imagined.
No sooner had the government announced the date for the local polls than the Madhesi Front rushed to denounce it. They have put a string of irrational conditions to hold elections. In yet another brazen move, Naya Shakti Party coordinator Dr Baburam Bhattarai and Federal Socialist Forum chairman Upendra Yadav entered a deal to foil the much-awaited poll. Bhattarai and Yadav joined the anti-poll chorus immediately after the latter returned from New Delhi where he had reportedly taken some political counsel from the Indian politicians. Bhattarai and Yadav have put up a six-point demand, including the approval of statute amendment and all-party government before holding the election.
The posture of Front with regard to the controversial amendment bill is paradoxical. It has refused to accept the outcome if it is put to a vote. The bill is sure to be voted down as the ruling parties do not have two-thirds of votes in the parliament. The bill that seeks to split the Terai districts from the hill in Province No 5 has more opponents than supporters. But, the Front’s stance not to accept the result of vote on the bill goes against the grain of multiparty democracy. Voting is the final democratic process to sort out the substantive disagreements. Sticking to one’s own gun and rejecting democratic methods gives rise to unending political discords. In a tacit quid pro quo, the opposition let the House deliberate on the bill amidst the pandemonium. Voices are louder that the divisive bill should not be taken to debates owing to its anti-nationalistic contents.
The announcement of the local poll date has drawn overwhelming positive responses from the people but the Front leaders are swimming against the tide of public opinion. During the first Constituent Assembly (CA) election, the Madhes-based parties won a landslide victory as it was held in the wake of the Madhes agitation. However, they suffered a humiliating drubbing during the second CA election. Split into several factions, the Madhesi parties lost the rationale of their second round of agitation launched in the aftermath of the April earthquake. The tormenting movement exposed them before the people and now they lack substantial agenda for the local polls. They have all the time been regurgitating the toxic discourse that the ruling class comprising the hill-origin people exploited them without mentioning the progressive provisions of the new constitution that grants 31 fundamental rights to the people. If implemented, the new charter will bring socio-economic transformation to the life of all segments of population, including the Madhesi people.
The Madhes-based parties want to generate the heat of agitation before participating in the election. They hope to retake the lost constituencies amidst the political turmoil so they are protesting the polls and threatening to launch a fresh stir. Although the leaders are speaking against the local polls, their cadres have become enthusiastic because it offers them an opportunity to go to the people and climb the leadership ladder. It is wrong to assume that the Madhesi people will do what a handful of self-declared Madhesi leaders instruct them.
The Front’s anti-poll rhetoric has already triggered a backlash in Terai. Raithane Ekata Parishad (Indigenous Unity Council), a political organisation formed in Siraha district, had burnt down the effigies of some Madhesi leaders in Lahan recently for protesting the announcement of the polls. The Council has the representation from diverse communities, including the Madhesis, pahades (hill-origin people), Tharus, dalits and backward and other ethnic groups. It was formed about a month ago with a view to strengthen the local Madhesi people. They accused the Front of protecting the interest of naturalised citizens and weakening the locals. The Council has put forth a 10-point agenda, supporting the local elections. “The Madhesi people need the local polls as local bodies are run by the employees, who are not familiar with the local problems and development needs. The development budget has been frozen and abused in the absence of elected representatives. It is only with the local polls that this problem will be resolved,” said the Council.
The new statute has enshrined a lot of rights to the local bodies when it comes to the allocation and spending of budget. Once the vacant posts in the local bodies are filled through the election, it not only gives momentum to the development activities but also promotes local language, art and culture. The local polls send the Raithanes to the local government because their population forms the majority in the society. “Thus, the local polls naturally diminish the role of naturalised citizens, which in turn flattens the base of the Front,” claims the Council.