Marxism In Madhes
Ritu Raj Subedi
In the 1950s, the Terai belt was the hub of a series of peasant movements and uprisings spearheaded by the undivided Communist Party of Nepal (CPN). It launched various agitations in support of the poor farmers and tenants who bore the brunt of exploitative feudal system that the country inherited from the century-long Rana rule. Some popular farmers’ actions included bhakariphor aandolan (breaking the grain stores and distributing the stuff), ji kaho aandolan (demand for decent address from upper caste people), jasko jot usko pot (land belongs to those who tills it) and tamsuk chyat aandolan (tearing the bonds of land transaction). The party resorted to these actions as there were no democratic mechanisms that would legitimately address the woes of small farmers, tenants and landless squatters. They targeted the local landlords, who acted as the agents of rulers at the centre. However, the CPN that later divided into several factions failed to tap the energy of these movements to expand the party organisation for the broader political and economic reforms.
Despite the popular support, the CPN could not eradicate deeply-rooted caste system that has hindered propagation of the values of freedom, democracy and equality. The Terai residents have been reeling from casteism, inequality, superstition, backwardness, abject poverty, ignorance, socio-economic discrimination and exploitation by the landlords. These are elements supposed to fuel the left movement but the Nepali communists could not employ proper strategy and tactics to increase popular bases to advance their cause. During the Panchayat period, the palace handpicked upper class elite Madhesi leaders so as to maintain the status quo in support of the regime. In the aftermath of the 1990 political changes, ‘bourgeois’ Nepali Congress ruled the roost. It racked up the highest number of parliamentary seats in several elections. While in power, the NC failed to address the ‘structural injustice’ meted out to the Terai people. With the failure of the communist blocs to organise and mobilise them on the progressive ideological line, it became the breeding ground for ethno-centric divisive and violent politics. The southern neighbour has used it as a ‘strategic asset’ while the western powers have exploited it to experiment ethno-centric identity politics to weaken the centre and plunge the Himalayan nation into perpetual instability. This has artificially given rise to ‘false consciousness’ among certain sections of the people, creating chasm and misunderstanding between the centre and the southern plains.
The ruling CPN has now ventured into Terai with a snappy catchphrase –‘Madhesma Marxbad’’ (Marxism in Madhes) coinciding with the bicentenary of Marx’s birth. It organised a symposium on Marxism in Birgunj participated in by its leaders and cadres from Province 2. The CPN leaders have claimed that Marxism can be an effective ideological instrument to carry out rapid economic development in Terai/Madhes. Marxism is basically a product of industrial revolution. It provides the most explosive intellectual weapon against the exploitative and unequal socio-economic relations. Terai is still an agrarian society where a complete set of Marxist ideas can’t be fully applicable. Yet, Marxism is the only viable ideology that enables the people and parties to overcome ‘false consciousness’ among the masses and democratise the society. As a social science, Marxism stresses on critical discourses which philosopher king Janak of the ancient city of Janakpur and Gautam Buddha applied to attain knowledge and enlightenment. Now the Marxist proponents need to restore the enlightenment tradition founded by Janak and Buddha; both of them were from Terai. They had adopted scientific thinking and rational approach in sorting out the vexing philosophical, political and social questions. They refused to accept things without their rigorous scrutiny.
In view of the attempts to divide the nation on ethnic line, Marxists should first deconstruct fallacious concept of ‘Madhesbad’ that negates the broader vision of development, unity and sovereignty. It is a parochial viewpoint that favours ethnos over demos. “Madhesbad is not any philosophy or ism but a sentimental feeling. Many movements rose in the name of Madhesbad because Marxism became weak. Now it is imperative for the party cadres to comprehend and apply it to resolve the socio-economic problems in Terai/Madhes,” said CPN leader Nagendra Chaudhari.
Another formidable challenge ahead of Marxist crusaders is to dismantle the venal cast system that stunted the class awareness among the poor, marginalised, backward and Dalit Madhesis. There has been a tendency to cast votes in the elections only after examining the caste of the standing candidates. Many people favour those candidates who are from their own caste/community no matter whether or not the latter share their ideology. Madhesbad and casteism are two facets of the same coin that deny universal values of democracy.
As it borders with India, the Terai mostly suffers from border encroachment, cross-border crimes and inundation resulting from the illegal Indian dams constructed along the Nepal-India border. But the voice against the encroachment of Nepali territory is lost in wilderness. And regional Madhes-based parties have never raised these issues to date to much dismay of the Nepalis. The Terai people are the defenders of national border so they should be prepared to take up challenges triggered by disappearances of border pillars, land encroachment, floods and unregulated border.
Province 2 possesses immense potential of development but Madhesi leaders lack clear development agenda and they often indulge in divisive petty politics. They often try to create rift between the Terai/Madhes and Kathmandu. At present, development should be in their priority instead of statute amendment that often causes dispute and division between the political parties. Terai/Madhes ranks lowest in the human development index. Bearing this in mind, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had allocated the largest amount of budget for infrastructure development of the province that has the capacity to feed the entire population of country. His government had also earmarked the budget to construct the postal highway and ring road in every district. And now development works are gaining momentum there.
With the unification of two erstwhile communist parties - CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre, the CPN is now the largest political force in Province 2. Even though it is out of government, it has the onus to play a constructive role in realising the aspirations of the province. The Madhesi people need dignity and development that is possible only when it witnesses economic transformation. For this, the province should work as a part of greater nation building campaign under the new dispensation.