To test their strength and acceptability in the country’s capital, the Madhesi Front—an alliance of five Madhesi parties that are all in power now—staged a mass rally in Tundikhel on March 31. Malla K Sundar and Parshuram Tamang, claiming to represent Newar and ‘Adibasi/Janajati’ communities respectively, and a less known figure Surendra Chaudhary from Tharu community, also attended and addressed the function. The ethno-regional federalists that believe in the exclusivist theory of dividing people into ‘we’ and ‘they’ came down heavily on ‘they’ (the Khas ruling classes). Speakers warned of bloodshed and ‘seizure of whole Nepal’ if demand to create identity-based federal states was denied.
With the deadline to promulgate the constitution drawing near, the event also aimed at putting pressure on the big three parties to enshrine provisions of such federalism in the constitution. Besides, Madhesi leaders also wanted to use the subject to shift people’s attention from constant scandals and instances of their greed, selfishness, corruption and opportunism. Federalism has been the favorite subject of the Madhesi intelligentsia and elite groups, although the common man toiling in the scorching farmlands, factories and streets of the Tarai as peasants, laborers and rickshaw pullers may not have any interest or stake in it. Despite Madhesi parties’ efforts to make the rally a grand success and an issue of prestige, the turnout was at best modest. This has raised serious doubts both on the nationwide appeal of Madhesi leaders and their cause.
Of all those who addressed the gathering, Sadvabana Party leader and minister Rajendra Mahato humbly stated that a gathering in Kathmandu was essential and long overdue to be able to tell the people of the hilly regions about the ‘sufferings’ of Madhesis. But his humility was just an aberration during the rally. For instance, while most of the speakers spoke the language of threat, two of them—Mahantha Thakur and Mahendra Yadav—also spoke in Hindi. Madhesi leaders’ love for Hindi has always been taken by the Nepali speaking hill people as manifestations of their arrogance and a political gimmick. If they really wanted to tell Kathmandu their story, Maithili or Bhojpuri would have been more effective languages. Thakur—perhaps the only Madhesi leader not tainted by corruption—could have become a national leader like President Ram Baran Yadav, but he yet again missed the opportunity by limiting his role to that of a regional and communal politician.
Here are a few pertinent questions. Do the Newa, ‘janajati’ or Tharu leaders who shared the podium to express solidarity, also share the Madhesi demand that the whole of Tarai be made ‘One-Madhes-State’? If they don’t, what kind of solidarity is this? And, if they do, what is their position on the claim of the Limbus to include three districts, namely Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari of eastern Tarai, into their proposed ethnic state, Limbuan? How is it that those who pretend to be partners fighting for the same cause are advocating different standards for creation of states? For example, why are they in favor of states that are carved along ethnic lines in the hills but along regional (not ethnic) lines in Tarai? Do they at all have any common ground on mutually conflicting claims of various ethnic groups regarding borders and territories of the proposed states? What about the large Tharu community—the indigenous tribe of northern and inner Tarai—that refuses to be identified as, or even associated with, Madhesis? Can Madhesis persuade the Tharus to agree to be part of the Madhes state? If not, will Madhes be dissected into two highway-like states with both barely a few kilometers wide (north-south) but as much as 1700 km long (east-west)?
The truth is that the Madhesis, Newas or the so-called indigenous leaders do not have a common and logical solution to any of the above conflicts. Their only common agenda is an immediate federalization of the country, irrespective of the viability. They are happy as long as it guarantees the exclusion of the Khas community because this single largest ethnic group has no place in their proposed federal map. Repercussions of such exclusion aside, the proposed federalism will prove to be a non-starter because of its own inherent flaws and self-contradictions. While states that are not economically viable (which is the case with most of the proposed states) are bound to collapse, those mapped along ethno-regional considerations are only likely to face a backlash.
While it is true that the Tarai is different in terms of geography and culture from the rest of the nation, there has never been any hostility among the populace that lives there. Since the eradication of malaria half a century ago, hill inhabitants also started migrating to Tarai and are settled in large numbers in the northern part of most Tarai districts, especially in and alongside the forest belt known as char koshe jhadi. Hence, Madhesis and pahadis have been living together harmoniously in the region; although some extremist elements are clearly unhappy with such compatibility.
Madhesi scholars, activists and politicians often argue that there has been no reciprocal migration from Tarai to the hills and the influx in Tarai has been a well planned act of the Khas rulers that intend to reduce Madhesis into minorities in their ‘homeland’. This is nothing but a misplaced propaganda. Differences in living conditions and opportunities, rather than state policy, determine the direction of migration. And both are far better in Tarai than in the hills. In recent times, thousands of Madhesis have made Kathmandu valley their home, for the same reasons.
Whatever differences there may have been between diverse groups and communities, the latter have been recognized, respected and to an extent, reconciled, in democratic Nepal. Unfortunately, at a time when integration between regions, cultures and ethnicities was gradually taking shape and when socio-demographic fault-lines were being corrected, the Maoists sowed the politics of hate and distrust between communities riding on the back of revolution. Their intention was to win a losing insurgency but, now Madhesis and the ethno-lingual activists have hijacked their agenda and subsequently, their vote bank.
Inclusiveness and devolution of power are what our nation needs most; instead our opportunistic and selfish leaders have opened the Pandora’s Box of ethno-lingual-regional federalism and right to self-determination. They have also portrayed social evils such as discrimination against women and Dalits and self-alienation of certain communities (for example, their preference for jobs in uniform to jobs without one) as a case of political exclusion. NGOs founded or funded by rich countries and trusts, with little understanding of the ground realities of this country, found evidences to prove their political, social and cultural theories in those social evils and thus, the country became a social science lab.
The Maoist-Madhesi-ethno-lingual-NGO nexus has invented a mantra to further this and according to them, disaggregating a hitherto unitary state along ethno-lingual-regional divisiveness corrects all historical wrongs (never mind that the wrongs are mere perceptions). The theory has proved catastrophic elsewhere in the world, but continues to find takers in this country. The silver lining, however, is that people may have become wiser now, as evident from the scanty crowds at the Madhesi rally