The deep southWhen I was in Janakpur five years ago, people were worried by the uncertainty that hung over the region.
When I was in Janakpur five years ago, people were worried by the uncertainty that hung over the region. Armed groups were active, business and trade had dropped sharply, and there was frustration and fear everywhere. As a result, Bardibas, 36 km to the north, was being seen as an alternate destination. However, things have changed, and Janakpur is gradually returning to its bustling old self.
A number of big hotels have opened. Tourist arrivals to Janakpur have swelled. Trade and business has expanded, and wholesale readymade shops, small malls, hotels and hardware businesses can be seen everywhere. There are various reasons for this: the security situation has improved; a cleaning campaign launched by youths has helped to make Janakpur cleaner and more attractive; and according to locals, the visit to Janakpur by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee last November boosted the city’s confidence.
Despite the fact that many things are looking up, the roads are in a very poor condition. Dust in the dry seasons and slush in the rainy seasons have marred the scenic beauty of historic places like the Janaki Temple. Janakpur Cigarette Factory, the city’s pride in the past, has been shut down due to mismanagement and political interference. However, the infrastructure is intact and locals hope it will resume operations. Nepal’s only railway, the Jayanagar-Janakpur line, is under renovation and is being extended up to Bardibas.
The most important change, and one that is of national concern, is that relations between Madhesis and Pahadis have improved. Nevertheless, some political issues regarding the Madhes still remain unsettled, and this has made many Nepalis nervous.
The ground reality is that Madhesis are eager to integrate into the mainstream. For this to happen, participation in the state mechanism is important. The pattern of appointment of ambassadors and judges in the last few months has made a mockery of the principle of inclusion, and it has left many marginal groups, including Madhesis, disenchanted. Even in rural areas of Janakpur, people do not have a good impression of Kathmandu as they believe that the Capital’s unfair behaviour towards them is one reason behind the lack of development in the Madhes. Therefore, this feeling should be undone by implementing inclusiveness in the truest sense. As political scientist Dhruba Kumar has written in his book Social Inclusion, Human Development and Nation Building in Nepal, inclusion is also a tool to eradicate poverty.
Many Madhesis believe that the seven provinces were designed unilaterally by big parties who ignored the Madhesis as they were not taken into confidence during the promulgation of the constitution. Now Madhes-based parties have agreed to resolve sticking points with regard to federalism through the formation of a commission. Some people are usually found talking only about politics on the streets and in tea shops, but they themselves are confused about the issues involved. Some prefer to be silent on political issues and they point to the political parties. Almost all political parties at the local level have been strengthening their influence by chanting vague political slogans in the name of the Madhes.
Some people blamed the then president of Nepal and ministers hailing from the Janakpur area for doing nothing for the development of the region. Local politics is greatly influenced by the age-old hierarchical caste system in many respects. There are still gaps between the so-called high and middle castes in Janakpur and its suburbs. Meanwhile, the so-called low castes still lag far behind. Even educated and intellectual people have been accused of being biased on the basis of caste. According to culture academic Ram Dayal Rakesh, the traditional caste system has been a curse for the Madhes and it must be eliminated by eschewing ego and a feudal mindset.
Poverty and backwardness persist mostly in rural areas of the Tarai/Madhes. Urbanisation has become the common dream of the people because prosperity and security are attached to the urban concept. An end to political instability is the decisive factor for social development. The main thing that I found out during public consultations is that we are facing a lack of confidence which is the central part of political settlement. An environment where all parties can come to an accord is essential for the upcoming local election. It is believed that polls will end the uncertainty.
Local structures have been proposed in a way that will simplify access to social services and development. Local people are keen to participate in local elections. But they also emphasise the need to amend the constitution before the election in order to create a favourable environment for it to be held.
Chaudhary is the author of Tarai Madhesh of Nepal and Nepalako Madhesi Samaj