As the Maoists sweep the polls, do not forget the Madhes. The hills may have swung the balance in favour of the former rebels. But it was the plains which ensured that NC could not catch up.
The Tarai results have revealed the potency of regional and ethnic politics, and given birth to a true multi-party system. The verdict has also shown the tactical brilliance of the MJF and Maoists, and taught the NC and UML a lesson for taking the Madhesi Street for granted. It has marginalised the armed groups for now, but opened fault-lines for future conflicts.
The Madhes has voted for Madhesis. For the first time, Madhesis, across party lines, are finding proportional political representation and the consequent access to power and opportunities. This is true not only for the eastern tarai, but also Banke, Nawalparasi, Kapilbastu and Rupandehi.
A historical injustice is being corrected in a democratic framework. The Koiralas, Aryals, Acharyas, Amatyas, Nepals Dhunganas and Mallas fought in Madhes constituencies and bit dust. At the same time, the demographic mix means that the results have been balanced. The 33 percent Pahadis in the Tarai also have their share of representation, largely from the Maoists and UML.
As expected, the MJF did better than other Madhesi counterparts. People identified the \'Forum' as having led the Madhesi awakening during the past year.Better organisation, the presence of established faces and experienced election manipulators, a strong Yadav base, and pockets of Tharu support helped. Despite being discredited and isolated, facing physical insecurity, and playing dangerous games with multiple power centres over the past year, Upendra Yadav has bounced back.
He will displace Mahant Thakur at the helm of the Madhesi movement. But the MJF's politics has its dangers. It is the most militant and hard-line of the three Madhesi parties. Its politics over the past year has almost exclusively been anti-Maoist. The Forum's huge funding and linkages are traced to conservatives in Nepal and India. And many who have won on its ticket come from a royalist, criminal, feudal or rampantly corrupt past. Nepal's Right has made a comeback through the MJF.
But the party also has enormous internal contradictions, and doubts persist if it will last as a unit. The Maoists have won a large share of seats in the Tarai as well. The Pahadi vote has shifted to them from the UML. The Tharus in the west and Rajbanshis in the east have voted Maoist. Smart selection of candidates based on precise caste calculations has ensured them a win in even hardcore Madhesi seats.
The Maoists also maintained their base among Dalits and the landless. They succeeded in breaking the stranglehold of a few locals over chunks of votes in a village, and reached out directly to the ground. Matrika Yadav and Prabhu Sah will continue to fight amongst themselves, but return as active players in Madhesi politics.
Politics makes for strange bedfellows. There is back-channel effort underway to get the Maoists and the MJF to forget Lahan and Gaur and work together. Upendra has made conciliatory statements. Sections in the MJF are thrilled at the idea of joining the government, and there may be a tactical alliance on certain issues in the constituent assembly.
But the Maoist-MJF relationship will be confrontational, with rivalry at the top and competition for space on the ground. The Maoist government, prodded by a conservative bureaucracy, will not find it easy to include Madhesis in proportionate numbers in state structures, Madhesi forces will be happy to pick the non-implementation of the ambiguously phrased eight-point agreement to oppose the government. The Maoist support base among Tarai janjatis means it will stick to its proposed federal model, the MJF will insist on \'samagra Madhes'.The Maoists will have to push for some land reform to deliver to its constituency, the MJF and other Madhesi forces will become the vehicle for resistance and backlash.
There is still a danger of extremist politics making a comeback. Competitive populism will continue, with each force trying to be more radical than the other. The armed groups will keep quiet for a while, but may pounce as soon as they sense Madhesi parties are on the defensive.
In their moment of victory, the Maoists would do well to counter possible identity chauvinism and militancy by reaching out to all Madhesi forces, and constantly engaging with them on common issues.