Nepali Times Asian Paints
Guest Column
History and geography


Eight more kangresis have quit the party to join the MJF (Madhesi Janadhikar Forum). This time they belong to a mix of ethnicities: Tharu, Madhesi and even Pahadi and janajatis.

They may have been driven by pique over not getting tickets, but they said they wanted to "emotionally integrate the Tarai with the whole nation" and to "fight for geography". The MJF's Upendra Yadav has called it only the "first step towards inclusiveness to join the people of hill origin".

The MJF plans to hold a national convention after the polls to give itself a new name to ensure countrywide membership. For the first time in Nepal's history, a new national party rooted in the Tarai is being crafted to be led by Madhesi politicians themselves.

This development is also likely to take the wind out of the sails of Mahanta Thakur's Tarai Madhes Democratic Front (TMDF), hoisted with such flourish less than a month ago. Similarly, the Mahato-led Nepal Sadbhabana Party and the newly formed tripartite United Madhes Democratic Front (UMDF) may also lack relevance.

Even the Chure Bhawar Ekata Samaj (CBES), the upstream neighbours of Madhesis, may find it sensible to make common cause with the MDF because of their shared habitat.

Geography inspired recent defections, but how is the MJF going to deal with history? The defections by Mahanta Thakur & Co from the NC were justified on grounds that the parent party had failed to address Madhesi grievances. But their own advocacy of the Madhesi cause when they were kangresis never made headlines.

Besides, the simultaneous desertion by TMDF leaders from their otherwise mutually antagonistic parties suggests an unseen go-between at work. As reported by a blogger recently, NC vice-present Sushil Koirala chided Mahanta Thakur for having been guided by the Indians. Upon which Thakur reportedly tendered his resignation from the party and parliament only to be dishonorably discharged by the party in retaliation.

History shows us that the defecting leaders have been no less responsible for deprivation in the Tarai. The region's leaders generally come from the holy trinity of upper caste groups: Brahmin, Rajput and Kayastha, plus a creamy layer of Yadavs.

Together, they have appropriated economic and political power and privileges in the Tarai for generations despite their relatively small population size. Indeed, it is quite common to run into high caste Madhesi officials in the corridors of national educational institutions, judiciary and bureaucracy in the country. Their total number in the population is a fraction of the total number of three elite Pahadi groups: Chettri 3.6 million, Brahmin 2.9 million and Newar 1.2 million.

Many other Tarai ethnic groups remain historically deprived due mainly to caste-based exclusion, like the Chamar, Dhanuk, Mushahar, Dushad and the 30 or so others that together number over 6 million. Of the 24 different ethnic groups reported as \'educationally disadvantaged' in 2000, as many as 15 were Tarai-specific.

The 1.5 million strong Tharu community and the indigenous Rajbanshi, Dhimal and Kisan have continued to be dispossessed due to Nepal's clash of civilisations. Traditionally egalitarian, they have depended on a few large landowners and have been ill-equipped culturally to deter the perniciously acquisitive \'upper' castes which made inroads into their terrain in the past 50 years.

Privileged Madhesis on the other hand have hobnobbed with fellow Pahadi elites within the mainstream parties and did precious little to uplift the Tarai poor. The political parties failed the nation, but Madhesi politicians in it must share the blame.

The promised inclusiveness by the MDF must correct that historical wrong and reaching out to the vast multitude of geographically deprived groups both in the plains and the hills.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)