Focus on Stable Madhes: Nepal PM Deuba’s Visit to India

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is visiting India today (August 23, 2017). This is his first abroad-visit after he assumed the office of Prime Minister in June this year. It is a ritual of a goodwill visit by Nepal’s new Prime Minister after assuming the office. Such a visit reflects what the southern neighbor hopes from Nepal and how confident it is about its relations with Nepal.

In his book, India’s former Ambassador to Nepal M Rasgotra has quoted India’s late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as saying that Nepal’s Prime Ministers only make pledges but did not walk the talk.

I will not be surprised if PM Deuba assures India on certain issues, but does not implement them. CPN-Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who became the Prime Minister with the same assurance of bringing the Madhesi forces into mainstream and to address their demands, did not fulfill his pledges. On the contrary, he tried to malign the Madhesi forces.

The ruling parties have already forgotten the three-point agreement that the Nepali Congress and the CPN-Maoist Centre had signed with the Madhesi forces last year.

As India has always advocated democracy and social justice during all the democratic movements that have taken place in Nepal, Nepalis should not take it otherwise.

As far as Madhes issues are concerned, Kamal Thapa, who was the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs during KP Sharma Oli’s premiership, had given a four-point road-map to the former Ambassador of India to Nepal Ranjit Rae. PM Deuba can remember the same road-map. Had the political forces become sincere to act as per that roadmap,the issues of Madhesi force could have been settled.

Later, CPN-MC Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal also followed the same roadmap but he failed to take the process to a logical conclusion. Likewise, PM Deuba has tried to follow the same roadmap and has tried to put the constitution amendment bill to vote. It was already obvious that the UML does not support the bill and this bill cannot be passed. Even Nepali Congress and CPN-MC leaders did not want to pass this bill. They were only trying to deflect blame on the UML for the failure of the bill for electoral gains in Madhes.

It is apparent that  major three parties use the agenda of Madhes for electoral gains. These parties that easily shared the quotas of political appointments would not have shown division on the constitutional issues, nor would have these parties that showed unprecedented unity in promulgating the new constitution, shown divided on the constitution amendment.

If the NC and the CPN-MC were serious about addressing Madhes issues, they would do solid things to address Madhesis’ demands. Madhesis wonder why those leaders of NC and the CPN-MC who frequently said that they will amend the constitution to address Madhesi issues, could not do so.

At this political juncture, Madhesi forces are not in a situation to influence much to the nation’s political events. Consequently, India is not giving due priority to Madhesis anymore. Madhesis are numerically behind other forces in the Parliament and therefore, they are not treated as a significant force in Nepal’s politics now. But no one should think that numerical strength is the only yardstick to measure the issues of rights and social justice.

It is true that India supported Madhesis when they imposed a border blockade. Madhesis were launching their movement on their own but India chipped in to extend moral support to Madhesis, and to those who championed the cause of democracy and social justice. Now, Madhesis are frustrated with India and there is anger in Madhes against India. India should understand this situation.

At present, India and China face standoff at Doklam tri-junction between India, China and Bhutan. In other occasions, India have always helped the ruling class in Nepal due to India’s own strategic calculations. India and China are are deeply engaged in a competition in the international arena. India is trying to maintain its traditional influence in the South Asia region whereas China is trying to reduce India’s influence in this region.

India is making all its efforts now to keep the current coalition of the Nepali Congress and the CPN- Maoist Centre intact because it wants to keep the CPN-UML away from power as the UML played China card against India.

Against the backdrop, India should understand that if it wants to see sustainable peace and stability in Nepal, taking Madhesis into confidence is necessary. India should care about long term advantages rather than the short term advantages. India should care about the advantage of the entire South Asia region, and not only of its own advantages. If India ignores the cause of democracy and social justice in its neighbourhood due to its own national interests, then India which is rapidly developing its strategic and economic power, and the country which aspires to be a permanent member of the United Nation’s Security Council,  cannot project itself as a champion of democracy and social justice.

The situation of Madhes has become worse with change in India’s policy in Nepal and its stance on the issue of Madhes.

We will have to wait and see how Deuba tries to address and negotiate Madhes issues during his India visit and what policies India tries to adopt so far. If India tries to strengthen the current coalition by awarding some projects and giving some assistance to Nepal during Deuba’s India visit, and if India ignores Madhes, then there won’t be peace and stability in Nepal.

When earthquake struck Nepal in 2015, India sent its rescue team within two hours and this time when floods wreaked havoc in Madhes causing huge loss of life and property, India did not announce any assistance immediately. It was only after visiting Chinese Vice-premier announced one million dollar assistance for floods and landslide victims, that India called Nepal’s Prime Minister and announced an assistance of Rs 250 million, which was too late.

If India did not say anything about Madhes during Deuba’s visit, then it would be proven that India which supported Madhesis to impose blockade at Nepal-India border points admitted that its previous stances were wrong. While it may be understandable for India to take Nepal’s rulers into confidence due to Doklam issue, it will be wrong for India to ignore Madhesi force, that have emerged as a new force. If India ignores issue of Madhesi during Nepal PM Deuba visit, it will be seen as Nepal-India friendship restored over false assurances.

The above piece is translation of what was published in Nepali language in the Kantipur National Daily.

Dipendra Jha

An Advocate practicing at Supreme Court of Nepal.