Madhes protest is within Nepal; don’t seek solution outside: Gagan Thapa [Interview]

In our honest attempt, to alleviate the public discourse in Nepal, and bring about the varied voices, Madhesi Youth recently met Nepali Congress lawmaker Gagan Thapa on the eve of Chhath festival. We interviewed him regarding the agendas of Madhes.

Lawmaker Thapa is one of most popular political leaders in Nepal among  youths. He is a member of Executive Committee of Nepali Congress Party. He is widely followed on social media, and appreciated for his oratory skills to communicate with masses.

Overview of the Interview:

“There are multiple aspects to this ongoing Madhes Andolan. Hence, we cannot reach a meaningful conclusion if we analyze it in isolation” quips Mr. Gagan Thapa. The historical events such as the development of open socio-political culture after the advent of democracy in 2046 B.S., Maoist Andolan, the revolution against monarchy 2062/63 B.S., Madhes Andolan I and II, then the rise in politics of identity and rights and the interim-constitution, etc. are the background of the present day protest in Madhes. Once cannot understand the ongoing Madhes Andolan without understanding the contemporary history of Nepal.

Mr. Thapa emphasized that the lack of trust and communication between various stakeholders of constitution and also lack of enthusiasm to talk-out differences are the roots of the problem. He conceded that the old school narrative of Nepal must change to accommodate the diversity and multi-ethnicity of new Nepal. He also pointed out that although the constitution and laws accommodate the diverse Nepal, the society at large is yet to adopt to the idea of a new Nepal.

Repeated betrayal of previous agreements and dishonoring of their own political manifesto by political parties has led to trust deficit between the Madhes and the major political parties. There is a fear of constant erosion of their rights and representation amongst Madhesis. There were differences, which could have been resolved but in haste of making the constitution via “fast-track” process, the process became a game of number. We often hear the argument that 90% of the constituent assembly members voted for the constitution, hence it is a majority support. Mr. Thapa aptly put it, “There is a general public participation in Madhes Andolan. Those who voted for congress, those who voted of UML, those who voted for Maobadi, have withdrawn their support and jointed the Andolan. While we keep flashing the number of those public representative on the government’s side, those who voted to get these public representatives have already joined the Andolan.”

He acknowledged that most of the demands of Madhes can be resolved via serious and meaningful table-talks. A decisive conclusion can be reached on almost all agendas of Madhes, except for the demarcation of the states. For there is no basis of current demarcation of states other than few high level politicians who want to keep their constituency intact or a group which believes any deviation from present demarcation will lead to disintegration of Nepal. Since the present demarcation is root of all the problem, he emphasized that a fresh dialogue on demarcation of state is required. The arbitrary demarcation, even if we make nine states, is bound to create problems.

The notion that sooner or later this crisis will be over, will leave a deep scar in the Nepalese society. Mr. Thapa expressed his concern over the growing polarization. Space should be created for the moderates, to create an opportunity for a win-win situation. He further added, “Some of those who stay in Kathmandu (pointing at some Kathmandu as Establishment, Government, and Elites) have been insensitive towards those martyrs of Madhes, and there are some in Madhes who want to blur-out the honest and legitimate demand of Madhes by demanding a separate state. They both are extremists. They are complement for each-other. They pretend to act nationalists by making ultra-nationalistic comments.”

It is required to know the demands of redefine the Nepali Nationalism, and what does it mean to be Nepali. We must accommodate the diversity of Nepal such that any section of Nepali society need not prove their allegiance to the nation now and then, as if they are some ambassador. There is protest inside Nepal, not outside, hence it is the duty of Nepal Government to acknowledge the protest and resolve the crisis.

When we asked about the major demands of Madhes as per his understanding, he pointedly categorized the demands as:

  1. Population based electorate, although certain geography with sparse population should be given special consideration such as Humla, Dolpa etc.
  2. Proportional representation in state mechanism mandated by law.
  3. The political leadership of Nepal should exemplify the diversity of Nepal, but currently we can see most of politicians at national level from one social group, which will change once the federal system becomes functioning.
  4. Respect, and an aspect of this protest is emotional aspect which cannot be undermined.

Finally, Mr. Thapa also condemned the violence perpetrated by both the state and the civilians during the protests and stated that we are facing a huge humanitarian crisis. However, he optimistically said that his friends who have initially sympathized with the government’s reluctance towards the protest have begun to change their view to address the failure of the government to address the crisis. He is hopeful that Nepal will empathize with its own brothers and sisters in Madhes and unite to pressurize the government to address the current issues and put nation first. At the same time, he wishes that Madhes will continue to demonstrate peacefully.