Whither past deals?Ignoring Madhesi grievances will not make them go away; they have to be addressed
Two phases of local elections have been held, but voters in Province 2 are yet to go to the polls. The newly appointed prime minister has been trying to figure out how elections can be held as scheduled. “The government has a single target, and that is to conduct elections in Province 2,” he said during a recent interview. Many participants had asked him when the agreement signed between Madhesis and the then prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala would be implemented. But no rational response came from the prime minister.
The varied pacts signed with the government are all deeply rooted in the minds of Madhesis. Why has the state remained silent about implementing the pledges made to its own citizens? The state must surely understand the consequences of reneging on promises made to a big section of the Nepali population.
In this context, it may be relevant to recall an incident in world history. Turkey used to have a large Christian population in the 18th century. The government did not treat them well, and relations between the state and the Christian community became strained. Consequently, there was a rise in ethnic nationalism which was brutally suppressed by the state. After European super powers intervened, Turkey promised to address their grievances. Unfortunately, Turkey never followed up on its promise. The level of dissatisfaction increased, and Turkey saw a long period of upheavals.
There is a similar situation in Nepal. The state has made many agreements with the Madhes saying that their demands will be addressed, but it never fulfilled their demands. It does not appear that Kathmandu wants to paralyse the nation politically, but it can be said that the government has been manipulative. It has tried to dilute federalism by not increasing the number of constituencies on the basis of population.The so-called national parties are trying to run the country from the centre which is corroborated by the fact that recent local elections were held by the federal government.
Polls won’t appease
The Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal (SSF-Nepal) has decided to resume protests probably due to the unexpected results in the second phase elections. In this regard, I talked to Abhishek Pratap Shah, a powerful SSF-Nepal leader. He said, “The election is also a kind of struggle for us. Our party is a result of the Madhes movement, so we will do all that is possible for securing Madhesi rights in the constitution. Our struggle in Parliament and on the streets will be continued. “The Rastriya Janata Party (RJP), which boycotted the recent elections, has expressed similar views. Some other organisations like the Tarai Madhes National Council and others are educating the people on how this election is a trap to sideline the issue of constitutional amendment.
Under these circumstances, we can say that the Madhes is still in an agitated state. But the government and the main opposition CPN-UML in particular are vehemently opposed to amending the constitution. The present government made a futile attempt to amend the constitution. Some other issues like declaring martyrs and dropping charges against protesters are still in limbo. If this deadlock is prolonged and results in harm to the country, the state will be solely responsible. Of course, elections are central to democracy. The state has equated holding elections with implementing the constitution. But does completing elections mean that the grievances of marginalised people have been addressed? No, never.
In 1951, Vedananda Jha broke up the Nepali Congress and founded the Tarai Congress with the objective of seeking autonomy for the Tarai. His party participated in the election but failed to win any seats. Similarly, Gajendra Narayan Singh of the Nepal Sadbhavana Party fought a long battle for Madhesi rights. He took part in the elections many times, but the state did not address their demands. In 1996, Baburam Bhattarai submitted a 40-point charter of demands to the then prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, but the ignorance of the government plunged the country into a bloody decade-long conflict which crippled the economy. All these political incidents have kept the seed of conflict alive. And ignoring the constitutional grievances of Madhesis means prolonging underlying conflicts in Nepal.
When the constitution was promulgated, Madhesis had demanded amendments from the preamble to the annex, but currently they are demanding only a few changes. In order to address Madhesi grievances, the state should analyse past agreements and take the three-point pact into serious consideration. Most importantly, the CPN-UML should play a proactive role to amend the constitution which will allow it to show that it is really a national party. This is the one and only pragmatic way out of Nepal’s constitutional deadlock.
Chaudhary holds a Bachelor of Laws degree