Nepal’s Madhesi on the boil again
Nepal’s terai region is on the boil again. This time, the residents around the Tarai region known as Madhesis are protesting the plan to hold local body elections. They have been demanding an amendment to the constitution on 11 issues, including reorganization of state boundaries prior to the local body election. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal had formed his government with the support of the Madhes parties and the Nepali Congress. He came to power with the promise that he would amend the Constitution to address the grievances of the country’s Madhesi population and the janjaatis. He also proposed an amendment bill on creation of second province in the terai region of Nepal and three other key issues:
- Representation in the Upper House
- Recognition of languages spoken in various parts of the country
However, he is in no position to ensure a safe passage of the bill as the amendment moved does not have 2/3rd support of the Parliament. Meanwhile, the government has announced that the local body elections will be held in the country on May 14th. This has upset the Madhesis of terai and they have given the Nepal Prime Minister an ultimatum of 7 days to postpone the election and warned him that they can withdraw support from the government.
Nepal has been ruled by the Brahmin- Kshatriya elite and the Newaris of Kathmandu valley for decades and the Madhesis have been treated like colonized people. Therefore, after the monarchy was abolished and the new Constitution was brought into effect, it is obvious for Madhesis to expect that there would be something or some power sharing for them as well which has been belied because the ruling elite of the country is unwilling to share the power.
The problems in the constitutional amendment issue are as follows:
- Opposition from UML as they don’t want anything adverse to happen in order to accommodate the tarai demands particularly the reorganization of states. Even within Nepali Congress, there are some strong constituencies which do not want accommodation with the tarai people.
- Implementation of Constitution is an issue as well for the Nepali Prime Minister as he is caught between these two parties.
If there is a United Terai Province, that would give more political power to the Madhesis. The way various divisions of Nepal have been worked out, it is ensured that there is a Madhesi component everywhere and the sources of water and land are divided in a way that Madhesis have equal stake.
There are 20 districts that border India which is known as the tarai. Out of that as currently stands, 8 of those districts have been put together to constitute one Madhes dominated province which is in the eastern part. The amendment proposal goes a step further and also takes a number of districts on the western side and puts them together to constitute yet another Madhes majority province. So, there would be two provinces with Madhes majority.
If Madhesi protest revives, it might take an extreme form which would be complicated. Local body elections have not been held for almost 20 years in Nepal. Unless the provincial boundaries are demarcated, it becomes difficult to conduct local body elections and their legitimacy because it will have an impact on politics of these local bodies at grassroot level. The ruling elite of Nepal does not want to share power and this is the crux of the issue.
The elections are not a constitutional requirement but this is more a question of division of responsibility. Prachanda did realize the importance of first pushing the constitutional amendment and therefore, he took consultations with the Madhesis to show his good faith. But now, Madhesis feel that he has not pushed the forward enough to get passed and this has angered them.
- India’s involvement in Nepali politics and the upsurge in Madhes have deep roots in history and unless resolved, the issue will complicate India-Nepal ties.
- The reason for India’s interest in Nepal is an open border and the concern that any instability in the Tarai will affect India as well.
- Madhesis share extensive cross-border ethnic and linguistic links. Today, they are asking for inclusion and like Tamils, they may ask for secession later.
There is a need to focus on pushing Nepal towards an inclusive polity by the leaders there and this will act as a catalytic force for peace in the country.