A tale of two partiesGovt and Madhesi parties have two alternatives to find a common ground
The major parties and the Madhesi parties have held several rounds of talks in recent weeks, and the negotiations have become stuck on an old issue. The former want to pass a constitutional amendment dealing with proportional representation and constituency delineation now while leaving the crucial issue regarding the delineation of provincial boundaries for resolution by a political committee in the future. The Madhesi Morcha rejects the proposal. It states that the parties should either reach an agreement on the delineation of borders immediately, or should provide a guarantee that there will ultimately be two states in the Tarai.
This concern has a historical context in Nepal. The government has signed agreements with agitating groups at various points, only to discard them in the future. From the Madhesi parties’ perspective, they feel that they have built up a great deal of leverage through their protests in recent months and that that if they agree to a deal that postpones the delineation of boundaries, they could squander their advantage. For, when the time comes to resolve the boundary issue in the future, the ruling parties could once again get away with refusing to make any change. Madhesi leaders might feel that they will need to generate pressure from the streets again at that time, which might be difficult to do.
This is a sorry state of affairs. Fundamentally, at the heart of the issue lies the mistrust between the government and the Madhesi population. In a way, this is just one manifestation of a much wider distrust between various sections of the population and the government. There are also some differences within the Madhesi leadership, with Mahanta Thakur, Upendra Yadav and Rajendra Mahato offering different bottomlines to resolve the crisis. Still, they all share deep distrust with the major parties.
In order to find the common ground and to resolve the current crisis, there are two options before us. First, all the parties should invest energy and initiative into finding an immediate solution to the problem of delineating boundaries between provinces. This alternative could end the standoff once and for all. However, this might not be possible for some reasons. Due to the currently polarised circumstances, both the sides (major parties and the Madhesi leadership) may find it difficult to immediately back down on their positions.
The second alternative is to agree to as many of the details as currently possible while leaving the remaining few for future resolution. In this scenario, the government will have to make certain guarantees that will satisfy the Madhesi parties. Given their history of breaking promises, this might be difficult for the government. Nonetheless, if senior government figures express genuine commitment in addressing Madhesi concerns, tensions between the two sides could be reduced and a common understanding could be reached. The deal does not necessarily have to state that there will be two states in the Tarai. It could be sufficient for the two sides to commit to ensuring that the ‘disputed districts’ will be divided according to a formula that takes Madhesi sensitivities into account.