Observers call Oli’s bid to woo Madhes with ‘dhoti rally’ a farceIf Oli, whose scorn for Madhesi people is no secret, is thinking about winning over some constituencies in the plains, he has completely lost the plot, leaders and analysts say.
In 2015, KP Sharma Oli, the chairman of then CPN-UML was the main protagonist in the push for the constitution, even as the Madhes region was burning. People in the plains were on the streets. At least 50 people died in the months-long protest. Despite being the leader of the opposition, Oli managed to have the upper hand in constitution promulgation, ignoring the Madhesi people and Madhes-based parties’ calls for halting the process.
Oli’s scorn for Madhesis has never been a secret.
Five years since the adoption of the constitution, Oli, who is now prime minister for a second time, however, has not given two hoots about either protecting the constitution or addressing the Madhesi people’s concerns–one of them being an amendment to the charter.
After dissolving the House of Representatives last month, Oli, who has called snap polls for April 30 and May 10, seems to have suddenly developed an admiration for Madhesis.
On Saturday, Oli’s Nepal Communist Party organised what it called a “dhoti rally” at his behest in Kathmandu, in what is viewed by many as his move to appease the vote base in the plains.
“Thousands” of people from the Madhes region were present in Kathmandu on Saturday in support of Oli, according to a leader from the Oli-led Nepal Communist Party.
“Today’s ‘dhoti rally’ is part of our plan that we care about people from various sections of the society,” said the leader who wished to remain unnamed.
According to the leader, Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel, Minister for Urban Development Prabhu Sah and Mahesh Basnet, a close confidante of Oli, were tasked with bringing people from the Tarai to Kathmandu.
Oli’s plan to hold “dhoti rally” in Kathmandu on Saturday also coincided with mass demonstrations by the Janata Samajbadi Party, a party with its vote base in the plains and leaders mostly from the region, in several parts of Madhes to protest against Oli’s House dissolution move.
“Oli cannot fool the Madhesi people anymore. He may have tried to win over the people by organising a rally, but he won’t succeed in his objective,” said Upendra Yadav, chairman of the Janata Samajbadi Party.
“Oli knows he is one of the most unpopular leaders among the people of Madhes. Everyone knows he is a master at deceiving people and that he is trying to hoodwink them now.”
Oli’s contempt for the Madhesi people had received widespread criticism immediately after the constitution promulgation when he demeaned those people who had assembled to form a human chain along the postal road as a continuation of their agitation.
Deriding the Madhesi people’s human chain, Oli had described it as “makhe sanglo”, widely understood as a chain of flies but could also mean a chain that is difficult to untangle. In March 2017, as the country was hedging towards its first local elections in 20 years, Oli’s UML party launched its east-west campaign. The Madhes region had its reservations against Oli and his party which was opposed to Madhesi people’s demand for constitutional amendments.
Oli’s party did reach Rajbiraj for a programme amid protests and warning. At least three people were killed in police firing. Oli was then again criticised for saying “it does not matter if two or four mangoes fall from a tree”.
Observers say Oli had neither in the past nor has today any sympathy for the Madhesi people and their cause. If he really cared for the Madhesis, the janajatis and other minority groups, he would have addressed their demands for constitutional amendments long ago, according to them.
Chandra Kishore, a journalist who closely follows Nepal’s politics from Kathmandu and Madhes, said Oli is using Madhes just like king Mahendra did during the Panchayat regime.
“I saw some pictures of the people participating in today’s rally in Kathmandu. It’s exactly the way Oli wants to show–that ‘I am the ruler and you are my subjects’,” Chandra Kishore told the Post over the phone from Birgunj.
According to Chandra Kishore, over the years since assuming office Oli has made all the moves to ruin the federal set-up, the constitution and obliterate the gains of various movements.
Various Madhes movements since 2007 have been for equal rights, dignity and identity of Madhesis and Tharus, Muslims and Janjati groups. While the Constituent Assembly was finalising the new charter, these communities were demanding that their concerns be duly accommodated. But that did not happen and has not happened yet.
Chandra Kishore believes Oli, who has almost captured the state organs, now wants to hijack the Madhesis and other marginalised groups’ identity politics as well.
Ever since dissolving the House, Oli appears to be confident about the elections on April 30 and May 10, disregarding the fact that as many as 13 writs against his move are being heard by the Supreme Court, which could possibly restore the House.
On Saturday, the “dhoti rally”, the name was cleverly given to identify the most common garment worn by males in rural Tarai plains, concluded at the Academy Hall, where Oli addressed the participants. He once again reiterated that elections would take place on the declared dates.
According to a leader from Oli’s Nepal Communist Party, people from districts like Mahottari, Sarlahi, Bara and Parsa were “brought” to Kathmandu—the elderly on Friday and the young ones on Saturday itself.
According to Tula Naryan Shah, a Madhesi activist, Oli’s entire politics has been advocating the cause of one particular caste or community.
“He was always indifferent to the demands of the Madhesi people,” Shah told the Post. “By holding this rally, Oli may be trying to give some political message.”
But observers say it will be wrong to think that Oli will succeed in his game by organising a rally in the name of “dhoti”, which is often used pejoratively for the Nepalis from Madhes.
“Oli fears the next movement could begin again from Madhes against him,” said Yadav, who despite having a chequered political career is known for launching the identity politics in Nepal.
It was Yadav’s party–then known as Madhesi Janadhikar Forum–which had burnt the interim constitution at Maitighar, thereby prompting the first Madhes movement in 2007, challenging the foundation of Nepali state and nationalism.
The movement sought wider participation of the Madhesi people in Nepal’s politics and policy-making, decisively setting the stage for federalism, an agenda Oli has always been averse to.
“If Oli has forgotten how contemptuous he had been to Madhesi concerns, he is wrong,” said Yadav. “He may be in a bid to cultivate some sections in the Madhes by bringing a handful of people from the region to Kathmandu. No one is going to believe in his such cosmetic endeavours.”
Despite his brazen contempt for Madhes and the people from the region, Oli returned to power in 2018 following the 2017 general elections, riding largely on the nationalism plank. His entire election campaign was based on anti-India rhetoric after Delhi not only refused to recognise the constitution, which was stitched up under Oli’s leadership despite the Congress’ Sushil Koirala being the prime minister at that time, but also imposed a border blockade.
Buoyed by his ultra-nationalist stand, Oli forgot that he was the prime minister of all the people of Nepal, including Madhesis, say observers.
Yadav’s then party Sanghiya Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janata Party had extended support to the Oli government in hopes that the constitution would be amended, but in vain.
Rastriya Janata Party withdrew its support to the Oli government in March 2019 after one of its lawmakers–Resham Chaudhary–was sent to jail on the charge of masterminding the Tikapur violence in August 2015. Oli has refused to treat the incident, in which at least nine people were killed, as a political one.
Yadav quit the government in December 2019.
Matrika Yadav, a leader of the Nepal Communist Party (Dahal-Nepal faction), said Oli is once again in a bid to disillusion the people of Madhes.
“If there is one leader who is against Madhes and the Madhesi people, it’s Oli,” Yadav, who was in the Oli Cabinet until November 2019, told the Post. “By his actions, Oli has proved himself to be an anti-Madhesi leader. He always stood in favour of one ethnicity, one language and one culture. If Oli is thinking he can claim some Madhesi constituencies by organising one such rally, he is daydreaming.”