Perceptions in the Madhes differ from the state restructuring agenda in Kathmandu, and this is one of the reasons for the deepening crisis in the Tarai. As the stalemate continues, the NC may be paying a price in the Tarai for cohabiting with the Maoists in Kathmandu.
The Madhes revolt of January 2007, in contrast to the people's movement of April 2006, was not led by a political party and wasn't cadre-based. It was fuelled by perceived wrongs and injustices rather than being motivated by an agenda, structure or program. It was popular movement that subsequently began to search for someone to lead it. Eventually, Madhesi figures of various hues tried to give it leadership.
The average Madhesi has a different take on the agenda of state restructuring. Opinion surveys have repeatedly shown an overwhelming number of Madhesis are for Hinduism being the state religion and favour a multiple official language policy. There continues to be relatively more support for retaining the monarchy. They overwhelmingly support turning the unitary state into a federal one.
In contrast, Pahadis have only lukewarm support for federalism. A large proportion of Madhesis like to be identified simultaneously as a Nepali and as Madhesi. This bodes well for national integration, contrary to what many non-Madhesis tend to assume. The category 'Madhesi' after all, does not have any political significance on the other side of the border.
Kathmandu has responded to Madhesi concerns by addressing only issues permissible within the ambit of the state restructuring discourse. Other issues such as that of secularism continue to remain non-negotiable.
The animosity towards Kathmandu in the Madhes is in large measure due to the presence of the Maoists in the coalition government where many believe it is the Maoists who call the shots. Unfortunately for the Maoists, many in the Madhes continue to perceive them as alien atheists who are intent on imposing a godless ideology upon the rich religious and cultural traditions of the Tarai. This negative perception was reinforced when the Maoists inducted local criminals into their fold when they expanded rapidly in the Tarai 2000-2005.
The disenchantment with the NC and UML, on the other hand, seems to be motivated by their perceived apathy towards Madhesi grievances. By flirting with the Maoists, the NC and UML seem to have overlooked the deep resentment the Madhesis have towards the Maoists.
The Madhes seems specially aggrieved towards the NC, a party that has historically had a soft-corner for the Tarai. NC leaders empathised with Madhesis, emulating them in their manners, dress, language and provided space for them within the party machinery. Many fondly remember how BP Koirala in 1960 projected Parsu Narayan Choudhary, a Madhesi-Janajati, as the next NC leader and prime minister-in-waiting. Choudhary, as others after him, hit the glass ceiling that prevented Tarai people from ascending the party ranks.
Just like UML cadre deserted en masse to the Maoists in the late 1990s, politicians and cadre have been abandoning the NC to join the new Madhesi front. In the short run this will be a serious setback for the NC in its vote bank as the constituent assembly elections approach. In the longer term, however, this very force could offer possibilities for a democratic front.
Sudhindra Sharma of Interdisciplinary Analysts was part of the team that conducted the Nepal Contemporary Political Situation-V public opinion poll in January 2008.