– ADV. DIPENDRA JHA
Today, Madhes movement in Nepal has accomplished a decade. In 2007, when the then Seven Party Alliance (SPA), under the leadership of late Girija Prasad Koirala issued the Interim Constitution, it shelved federalism despite previous agreement. Sadbhavana Party (SP), which was an in alliance with the incumbent government, hushed the matter under the carpet by giving out a half-hearted note of dissent such that it can continue remaining in the government. Eventually, the party’s decision to betray its own electorate proved to be suicidal. It was the only party with a long history of fighting for Madhesi people’s rights and with this single move, it lost its credibility among the Madhesi people. It gave rise to the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum under the tutelage of Upendra Yadav in Madhes politics. Perhaps, Sadbhavana Party is still repaying the cost for the half-hearted “note of dissent” once tendered by the party.
Then the Madhesi activists, led by Upendra Yadav burned copies of the Interim Constitution at Maitighar Mandala in the Capital. The government arrested Yadav among others. To protest the arrest, Madhes banda was announced. Agitating Madhesi demonstrators in Lahan stopped a vehicle of Maoist Party cadres and leaders, who under the leadership of current Communication Minister Ram Karki, were heading to participate in their party meeting. The agitators did not want to allow passage of the vehicle as protest. It led to clash between Madhesi protesters and Maoist cadres. During the scuffle, Ramesh Mahato succumbed to bullet injuries. He became the first martyr of the Madhes movement. The protests, following the death of Mahato, spread like wildfire across Madhes. The centuries-long anger against the single hill identity based nationalism and their hegemony upon Madhesis burst out and thus began the decade long uprising of Madhes.
Around 48 Madhesi youths were martyred in that movement which lasted for nearly two months. The Madhes uprising was spiralling out of control. Thereafter, the incumbent government under Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, was compelled to sign the historical 22-point agreement with agitating Madhesi forces. To be specific, the 22-point agreement guaranteed Madhes autonomous province, federalism, proportional inclusion, proportional electoral system, entry of Madhesi youth in the Nepal Army and multilingual state system.
Thanks to the 22-point agreement, federalism was ensured in the Article 138 of the Interim Constitution. The electoral system was changed and a 60 per cent representation through proportional electoral system was ensured. As a result, Madhesi political parties emerged as the key political parties in the first Constituent Assembly (CA) election. Madhesis were elected as President and Vice-President. The representation from Madhesi and Janjatis in the first CA were sufficient to bring changes. The first CA was striding toward the draft of the progressive constitution. Then, the conspiracies such as to split Madhesi parties, defaming them and to fail the first CA began. Major political parties together with some foreign actors were the architect of the conspiracies hatched to dissolve the first CA. Consequently, the first CA failed to pass the Constitution, and the task of writing the charter was handed over to the second CA.
The elections for the second CA was the start of regression. Madhesi parties were caught in this trap. In the second CA elections, Madhesi parties got a humiliating defeat due to split among themselves and motive to be in power among other reasons. Thereafter, the game of backtracking from progressive agenda started. The issues that the first CA had already agreed on during the first CA were ignored. Proportionate inclusion that was ensured in the Interim Constitution was dropped. Although there were only five disputed districts, the parts of Nawalparasi and Bardiya were annexed to the province in the hills. The autonomy and authorities of the provinces were taken away and brought about the control of local and federal units; multilingual policy for the provinces became controversial; and the discriminatory constitution was drafted putting the already privileged “Khas Arya” under the constitutionally reserved community. Madhesi parties lost elections due to their own drawbacks, but this largely affected Madhesi people. The much-awaited Constitution that was promulgated by the second CA curtailed the rights of Madhesis, bypassing all the regulations and procedure relating to the Constitution drafting, and putting aside one community.
Madhes once again pushed for the movement that lasted for a year. Unfortunately, Madhesis were forced to impose blockade along the Nepal-India border points. During the protests organized in the district headquarters, the protesters were deliberately shot at their chests and heads, and nearly four dozens of lives were lost in the state instigated atrocities against the agitators. Nonetheless, Madhes is still not in a mood to give up its struggle. Madhesis of this generation think that the next generation has to struggle more if they failed to fight against the discrimination and inequality. This has deepened a sense of alienation from the Nepali state among them. It seems unfortunate that Kathmandu is once again lingering to fulfill the aspirations of Madhes. Specifically, sloganeering the “Mahendra nationalism” by Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-UML) is leading Madhes to a ‘point of no return’.
Apparently, Madhes politics once again stands in the same situation as it was before 2007, even after a decade long history since Madhes movement. At this stage, majority of Madhesi youth have arguably reached a conclusion that they cannot achieve anything from the current Nepali state structure. The number of Madhesi youth believing in the CK Raut’s campaign is gradually increasing day by day, sharing their comments and reactions over social media. But, I believe, most of Madhesis rely on change of the existing state structure (recent appointment of judges shows 68 appointees belonging to Khas Arya among 80) through effective implementation of proportional inclusion by ending ethnic inequality . They still believe that there should be autonomous provinces and consensus rule at the federal level.
But to maintain their belief and views depends on the amendment of the Constitution now. The representation of Madhesi youth in various organs of state, including Nepal Army, is based on the principle of proportionate inclusion also depends on the policies. Likewise, it depends on the ruling forces either they move ahead to address the aspirations of Madhesis or push them to a point of no return. It also relies on Madhesi parties as they once again come together for the elections and emerge as the center of Nepali politics.
I am afraid of the tendencies of Bhim Rawal. When he was the Home Minister, many youth in Madhes were killed in clashes with police, and a great number of youth were falsely charged with arms and ammunition. At the moment, he is spreading rumours that Madhesis have started to split the country and conducted meetings in Patna. Such unsubstantiated conspiratorial statements by Rawal are alienating and creating distrust among the Madhesis. By doing so, he wants to portray himself as the only responsible person for safeguarding Nepali nationalism.
Mr. Rawal should visit Saptari and Mahottari to find out how Madhesis have protected the border encroachment. But, you could not protect our lands at Lipulekh and Kalapani. Yet, he is teaching Madhesi fellows the lessons of Nepali nationalism and sovereignty. Isn’t this country mine, or is it only yours?
In the prestigious meeting called by the President, he abashed the whole Madhesis community when he alleged that Madhesis are for planning the secession. You and whoever passed over this false-information to you have a problem of mindset. Those who never travelled Madhesis have illusions about Madhesis. You are spreading hatred against Madhesis in the hills for votes, but I would like to request brothers and sisters from Gulmi, Palpa and Arghakhanchi among other districts not to run after the illusions and doubts. Please be assured what the Madhesis are seeking is the equality and the end of discrimination against them. Like you all, they would also like to spend a dignified life. Please support them. Even if discrimination exists, the kitchens of brothers get separated, not the village.
Hence, talking about something that has never happened is like finding another excuse to repress the Madhesis. This will once again push the country into conflict. Nevertheless, there is no hope for justice for the 20000 people killed during the insurgency and those killed during the Madhes movement. There is not one single example of any incident being investigated properly and the perpetrators brought under prosecution. Gone are the days for the relevance of the Nepali proverb ‘Go to Gorkha if justice is not given’, it is no more. Instead, it will be apt to say: ‘Go to Nepal if you want to see injustice and impunity’. The consequences may be the worst if attempts are made to suppress the political agenda of Madhes with use of excessive force. Victor Hugo rightly said, “No army can stop an idea whose time has come”. Therefore, let’s find the path for negotiations, dialogue, partnership and co-existence, instead of repression, violence and use of force.
Maybe, Madhesi parties could be trapped under the strategy using any means; however Madhesi public can never be fooled now. As the consciousness among Madhesi people is on rise, false promise, assurance and formation of ineffective commission are merely irritating them. Therefore, it is better not to use any tool just to fool them; let’s address the discontented issues in sincere manner.
The CPN-UML says that it will not let the Constitution amendment take place. Some leaders from Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center) also hold the similar views. Let’s rethink once about the beneficiaries of the implementation of the Constitution. The Constitution amendment will benefit the continuity of Singha Durbar rule. This Constitution protects the interests of Khas Arya. The amendment will increase the acceptance of the constitution. If the constitution is not implemented, it will affect the elites in particular. It may affect some limited Madhesis, but there is nothing that will largely affect Madhesis. Even it will not affect them in any manner since they are not going to lose anything.
Let’s not forget that those seeking the constitution amendment will make the constitution a stable document. Had Nepali Congress sought amendment of the Constitution (2004 BS), democratic movement against autocratic Rana rulers could not have taken place. Had Nepali Congress and Communists sought amendment of Panchayati Constitution, multi-party system could not have been placed. Had Maoists demanded for amendment of Constitution (2047 BS), there could have been some improvements. But, constitutional monarchy could still have been in practice; Nepal could not have become federal democratic republic.
Therefore, the proposed amendment to the Constitution aims to create stability and continuity to the current system. Amendment is the only process to address the discontented issues. If the amendment is refused, Madhesis will one day say: We don’t need amendment; we don’t need this Constitution. The outburst of Madhesis then will not only change the Constitution, but many other things. Does the UML want to see the same thing to happen, by rejecting the Constitution amendment?