UML Campaign And Reactive Madhesi Front
Ritu Raj Subedi
With the United Democratic Madhesi Front hell-bent on disrupting the CPN-UML’s Mechi-Mahakali National Campaign that kicked off today, the Terai politics is picking up tempo and tension ahead of local elections. The UML that was born in Madhes is determined to delete a negative tag labelled by the Madhes-based parties that it is an anti-Madhesi force. The accusation has upset the UML to the hilt and it decided to take the sting out of vicious polemics by interacting with the Terai residents themselves. In the 15-day political stump, the UML seeks to reaffirm its commitment to the rights of Madhesi people and development of the southern plains. The main opposition became the bête noire of the Madhesi Front after the former strongly denounced the divisive constitution amendment bill. In what may appear to be tribal mindset, the Front decided not to allow UML into Madhes. It claims as if the Terai region is its fiefdom, and any force that appeals to the genuine concerns of Madhesis turns out their natural nemesis. The irony is that the Madhesi parties rolled over during the second Constituent Assembly election and trailed far behind the UML that emerged the second largest party.
The UML’s consistent opposition to the amendment bill put it on a collision course with the Front that is also set to butt heads with the ruling Nepali Congress and CPN-Maoist Centre for their inability to get the bill approved in the parliament. The amendment proposal that seeks to split Terai districts from the hills has failed to draw support on both fronts - the parliament and the streets. As a result, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba proposed putting the bill on hold and joining the local polls to the ire of the Front. While forming the current wobbly coalition, Prachanda and Deuba had entered a 3-point deal with the Front. In it, they had promised the Front that statute would be amended to make it acceptable to all. The infeasible accord has become an albatross around the neck of the government. The amendment bill is sure to come a gutser if it is put to a vote. While the opposition group, led by UML, is firm on foiling the bill, the ruling Rastriya Prajatantra Party has declared that it would vote against it. When the PM told the Front leaders that the bill won’t be passed in the House in the current power equation, they just blew a fuse and began to cast aspersions on him.
Seemingly, PM Prachanda and the Front leaders are heading for a political divorce. Prachanda is more focused on holding the local polls than cajoling the Madhesi leaders. This has set the stage for a disturbing scene. A leader from the Front revealed that it was in favour of Deuba as a new PM in place of Prachanda to ensure its participation in the election. Raj Kishor Yadav, chairman, Madheshi Janaadhikar Forum – Republic, argued that if a new government was formed with the backing of the Maoist Centre, RPP and MJF-D, it would prepare the ground for the endorsement of the amendment bill. If Deuba is egged on to lead the new coalition at the instigation of the Front, it will throw a monkey wrench into the election and hurt the people’s aspiration to take part in a grand democratic exercise.
The Front’s decision to disrupt the election and UML’s campaign has added complexity to the national politics. On Friday, Front’s cadres smeared soot on the face of a local UML leader and stoned a vehicle of another UML lawmaker in Rajbiraj as part of frustrating its programmes. UML chair KP Oli is going to address a mass meeting in Rajbiraj on March 6 but the Front has called a transportation strike on the same day. The politics of negation and vendetta, resorted to by the Front, will be counterproductive for it in the long-run. It is wrong to bar other parties from conducting peaceful activities. In democracy, no party has the right to curtail the freedom of speech and association of the people. Non-violence, rational dialogue and communication are the best means to promote active citizenship and materialise people’s rights enshrined in the constitution.
The top UML brass has now landed in the Terai in a bid to remove rumours surrounding its loyalty towards the Madhesi people. The main opposition has pulled up its weight to make its crusade a success. It has mobilised around one thousand cadres for the road show that covers 22 districts and 35 mass meetings. The party claims that over 3.5 million people will attend the hustings. The UML has taken the right step to communicate with the Terai dwellers at a time it has been projected as anti-Madhesi and anti-federalist force. According to the party, the Mechi-Mahakali drive is for strengthening the unity between the Terai, the hill and the mountain.
Sense of sagacity
This is also a moment for the Front’s local leaders to engage in a critical discourse with the UML leadership. They can democratically grill the UML stalwarts over the Madhes issues and pin them down over the comprehensive development programmes for the Terai region. Only open and robust discussions allay confusion, misunderstanding and ingrained hostility. A feeling of bigotry and hatred poisons the socio-political milieu. Violence and vandalism is the enemy of democracy and the Front’s leaders need to demonstrate a sense of sagacity and democratic behaviour to avoid senseless affray in the public.