Influential donors and lenders have long been involved in manufacturing knowledge in Nepal. Since 1996, sponsored scholarships have sought to identify the causes behind the insurgency. Later came possible remedies to counter leftwing radicalism.
Latent tensions between Bahun-Chhetri-Newar (BCN) elite and janajati aspirants has been minutely mapped. Donor support has been channelled for dalit consciousness, gender rights activism, identity politics, social inclusion, and the kamaiya struggle.
Yet, the Madhes Uprising last winter took everyone by surprise. The international community was asking who these madhesis were and why they were so angry. Magnus Hatlebakk of CMI, Norway, was one of the 'experts' asked to find an answer.
Hatlebakk has been studying the economics of the eastern tarai for nearly a decade. In the past, when he approached donor agencies for research funds, all he'd get was a polite hearing. Now he was asked to do something double-quick. The sense is clear in his rushed report. Hatlebakk also isn't too sure what he has stumbled upon. His researcher lingo is qualified with conditional qualifiers: it depends, may be, possibly.
Hatlebakk uses information from the Nepal Living Standard Survey to show that the farmers of the eastern tarai have the resources to continue with the political agitation. They have the time and inclination to pursue political goals and are unlikely to settle for any compromise they might consider unfavourable, he concludes. A year ago no one would have believed his pessimistic prognosis that the tarai conflict could be long drawn-out and intractable if not handled carefully, but today it sounds like conventional wisdom.
The study misses one major dynamic. Almost as an aside, Hatlebakk finds that the Yadav's landholding makes them one of the tarai's most influential population groups. Since the cost of agricultural labour is low and productivity is high in the eastern tarai, big farmers (pahadi bahuns and chhetris but also Yadavs) who own land worth, say, half-a-million rupees can afford to explore other avenues. That is why Yadavs dominate tarai politics.
Look at the names: Upendra Yadav heads the MJF and Sitanandan Raya is his political mentor. Rambaran Yadav is the second most prominent madhesi leader in the NC after Mahantha Thakur. Jai Krishna Goit leads the separatist JTMM. Matrika Yadav is the public face of Maoist madhesis. NC-D looks more inclusive for having Chitralekha Yadav but he has resigned this week. The UML is making amends for its weak madhesi policies by promoting the interim cabinet's Minister for General Administration Ramchandra Yadav even though he is a very junior party member. There are Rayas, Yadavs, and Goits among both rightist former panchas and the communists in the leftist alliance.
As is often the case with number-based findings, Hatlebakk can't comprehend the reasons why comfortably placed Yadavs are so enraged. The realisation and frustration that their social and political standing isn't commensurate with their economic status seems to have fuelled madhesi identity consciousness. Traditional clashes over scarce resources are now complicated with identity conflicts.
The sociology of identity conflict is much more complex than that of class contestation. When identity groups feel discriminated against and denied respect regardless of their economic status, violent conflict becomes inevitable. It could be easy for the state to deal with the Yadav aristocracy they have too much at stake to risk losing everything. But if the landless Chamars, Doms, Dusadhs, and Mushahars were mobilised for the madhesi 'cause', Hatlebakk's worst fears will begin to look optimistic.