Means and endsAll the parties involved in the current conflict need to rise to the occasion and think about the people first
The key stakeholders in the crisis Nepal is currently in—the government, political leaders, agitating Madhesi parties and neighbouring India—are ruthlessly playing with the lives of the common people and the future of the country. The long anticipated and extensively delayed prime minister’s address to the nation on November 15 evoked feelings of nationalism and hopes for only those living in the comfort of power and not having to worry about their livelihood despite the alarming situation that prevails in the country. The speech did little to calm the nerves of the common people who are nearing their breaking point.
It was meaningless for those people who were brutally baton-charged by the police and dispersed after they had waited for four consecutive days in front of cooking gas outlets in the hope of buying half a cylinder of the fuel; or the 85-year-old man who was unable to buy the firewood that the government was distributing just because he failed to produce his citizenship papers; or the son who lost his father to a heart attack as he was rushing through the streets and hospitals in search of medicines which are rapidly disappearing from the market due to the Indian embargo. And yet, neither the government nor the protesting parties have shown any urgency to solve the deadlock and end negotiations “without even entering into the agenda”, as one of the members of the dialogue committee commented recently.
The Indian ambassador to Nepal shamelessly reiterates that India does not have any hand in the blockade and the consequent humanitarian crisis that it has invited. Meanwhile, India is openly allowing protesters to demonstrate on the no-man’s land between Nepal and India, and its people are feeding them. Nevertheless, it was the agitating Madhesi leaders that got India involved in Nepal’s internal affairs. But now, they are demanding that the government talk with them and not with India. Against this backdrop, the political leaders—who understand this entire conflict all too well—are approaching India and the UN to solve the crisis, ignoring their own fellowmen. But India’s Prime Minister Modi, who had sent his envoy to Nepal just before the constitution was scheduled to be promulgated to threaten Nepali leaders to hold it until it had been revised to fulfil Madhesi demands, remains silent on the humanitarian crisis caused in the name of the very same constitution.
The Madhes Andolan has turned into a mass movement from the agitation of a few political powers because the government consciously chose to ignore the protesting parties and pushed them into further desperation. The security forces resorted to unrestrained killing during the protests, which partly looks like revenge for the brutal killing of their fellow policemen and a toddler by the protestors in the unforgivable Kailali incident. More than four months into the protest, the families of those killed
in the protest are still seeking some sort of response and reassurance from the government for the loss of their loved ones. The anguish of a mother who carried her injured son through the fields amid the curfew to take him to hospital (the child had been shot in the head and later died in hospital), or the plight of the four children whose father was killed during the protest has made thousands of eyes well up with tears, but the government does not feel the need to reach out to these bereaved families or investigate the deaths. Even so, it is wrong of India to impose a blockade on Nepal.
The unequal relations between Nepal and India have always worked against Nepal. Now it is time to break away from this unfair relationship for good, but that depends entirely on the skills and determination of our leaders. An expert in international relations Yubaraj Sangroula had requested the government in a television interview to seek help from experts like him to internationalise this illegal blockade by India, and its direct interference in Nepal’s internal issues. According to such experts, Nepal is in a good position to win this dispute with India with effective backing from international legal provisions for a landlocked and sovereign country. Moreover, India has officially stated that the blockade will continue until the Madhes issue is resolved.
Put people first
But resolving the current Madhes conflict has become even more complicated because of India’s interference. Most people do not want Nepal to give in to the ‘India-backed’ demand of the protesting Madhesi parties for two exclusive Madhes states in the southern belt. This voice has become stronger as the long hush-hushed, but very popular, conspiracy theory of India’s ‘grand design’ to take control of Nepal and its fresh water resources—which will be made more convenient by the state demarcation proposed by the Madhesis—has found stronger ground due to India’s current actions. More importantly, Nepali politicians also recognised this as the main reason behind the entire scenario in Madhes, and for the first time in history, Prime Minister Oli sent out a message to India during his speech to not intervene in Nepal’s internal affairs.
In contrast, the agitating Madhesi parties have vowed to make this movement a decisive one, and have declared that their demand for two Madhes states in the southern belt is the bottom line to reach any consensus with the government. Since the government has already agreed to fulfil their ‘acceptable’ demands—proportional representation in all government organs, and constituencies based on population to a possible extent—the entire country is now looking at Madhes to give up its demand to alienate the region geographically from the rest of Nepal. This is a design which is clearly counterproductive for Nepal in the current geopolitical setting.
The news that the chairman of the UCPN (Maoist) Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is coordinating the political mechanism to resolve the current crisis, is in dialogue with the concerned parties over a revised demarcation of the federal states that fulfils the needs and aspirations of both, has come as a ray of hope to all Nepalis. Let this dialogue end the deadlock and help Nepal come out of this crisis stronger, but for that, even the Madhesis need to meet the government halfway. People, not the egos of the leaders, make a nation; so all the concerned parties in the current crisis need to think about the people first rather than their vested interests.
Parajuli is associated with the Nepal Youth Foundation