Federal map remains sticking pointDifferences over the federal boundaries continue to be the sticking point even as the government and Madhesi parties on Thursday inched closer to sorting most other outstanding disputes surrounding the new constitution.
Differences over the federal boundaries continue to be the sticking point even as the government and Madhesi parties on Thursday inched closer to sorting most other outstanding disputes surrounding the new constitution.
During talks held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both the sides remained adamant on their positions on the delineation of states, which is at the heart of the contention.
The government side agreed “in principle” to amend the new constitution in order to address the Madhesi parties’ demands for inclusive and proportional representation in all the state bodies and delimitation of electoral constituencies based on population, among others.
It has also agreed to address “legitimate grievances” over the federal set-up on the basis of the recommendations of a commission to be formed later. But it has refused to sign any agreement specifying the details of such changes.
Madhesi leaders, however, stressed that a categorical deal on federalism was necessary to resolve the current dispute.
“A deal without a detailed agreement on the federal structure is meaningless even if the government
fulfils all other demands. Such a pact is not enough
to end this protest,” said Hridayesh Tripathi, vice-chairman of the Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party. He stressed that the federal map had been a prestige issue for them.
The government has so far refused to discuss the federal agenda. Members of the government talks team said they would soon come up with a “clear cut” decision on the matter.
“We have promised them a clear decision on state delineation and asked them to come up with one as well. The major parties will hold internal discussions before making our position clear,” said Ram Janam Chaudhary, minister without portfolio. He said the government was likely to agree to “certain changes” to the federal boundaries.
Another meeting with Morcha is scheduled for November 1.
However, Law Minister Agni Kharel, a member of the talks team, clarified that allocating two states for the Madhesis was next to impossible as it could spark protests from the Janajatis. Moreover, influential leaders including Prime Minister KP Oli, Sher Bahadur Deuba, Krishna Prasad Sitaula, Bhim Rawal and Lekhraj Bhatta have vehemently opposed the demand, mainly to appease their constituencies among other reasons.
Madhesi parties, on the other hand, have demanded two states in the Tarai while agreeing to split some disputed districts between the plains and the Hill provinces. Tripathi said the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha was ready for flexibility considering the diversity of some districts and other complexities. He said that even districts like Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Mahottari, Nawalparasi, Kailali and Kanchanpur could be divided for the sake of consensus.
Another Madhesi leader said there could be consensus even if the major parties agreed to extend Province 2 by a few more districts to east.
Madhesi parties have criticised the government for what they call a deliberate delay in coming up with a concrete proposal regarding the revision to state boundaries. The incumbent government and the earlier Sushil Koirala-led coalition have failed to make any offer on the federal issue despite holding around 50 formal and informal meetings in past two months.
“The government is not serious about resolving the crisis. If the negligence persists, we will walk out of talks next meeting,” said Laxman Lal Karna, co-chair of the Sadbhawana Party. He hoped the major parties would now find time for resolving the Tarai crisis as elections in Parliament have been almost over.
Interlocutors said there are chances for the talks to reach a compromise soon as both the sides are increasingly wary of extremism brewing on the ground and the severe public hardship.