The main enemies of the Madhesi people are the present Madhesi leaders themselves.
It is now increasingly apparent that the second Madhesi movement of January-February happened only to generate a support base and ensure political survival for the three parties. Their demands (undefined autonomy, self determination) did little to help ordinary Madhesis. The promise of inclusion had already been made earlier, and was only reiterated.
All the three-week agitation did was channelise Madhesi discontent, and generate a wave. But in less than a week, the Madhesi parties blew it all away.
With elections three weeks away, the three Madhesi parties are not united and their votes will split. The best case scenario will be that for both the first past the post and proportional representation seats combined, the TMLP, SP and MJF will be lucky to get 50 seats.
It is largely traditional NC voters who are shifting loyalties to the Madhesi parties, so if anyone benefits from this fragmentation it is the UML. And the UML with its non-inclusive leadership embodies the worst kind of pahadi conservatism.
So how did the Madhesi parties throw it all away? A large part of the problem is the MJF, which tried to block negotiations during the stalemate in Kathmandu. It has now done its utmost to prevent an alliance. It has a relatively better organisation, brand name, and thus deserves a larger share of the seats, but the Forum has been the most rigid. And this has raised suspicions about who pulls the strings in the MJF.
Upendra Yadav is playing too many games: he has links with the palace, the Hindu right in India, the right-wing in the NC and the Americans. On the night he was flown in from Birganj to Kathmandu during critical talks last month, he disappeared for a few hours to meet two senior royalists. Bijay Gachhedar's entry into the party may help the MJF carve out an alliance of Yadavs and Tharus in a few districts of eastern Tarai, but it does show that the party has become the refuge of crooks and royalists.
Sharad Singh Bhandari attends a meeting at K P Bhattarai's residence to figure out ways to save the monarchy, and the very next day he releases the MJF manifesto declaring commitment to a federal republic. Being a royalist is not a sin, but being so wildly inconsistent is.
Before Upendra Yadav knows it, the MJF will be hijacked by the J P Gupta-Gachhedar-Bhandari combine. What makes the Forum dangerous is that it might emerge as the biggest Madhesi party, and in the name of Madhes, push a conservative agenda.
Mahanta Thakur can't be absolved of responsibility either. He does provide a respectable face to the Madhesi movement, but the absence of dynamism has allowed all kinds of elements in his party with dubious palace and business connections (the Sarbendra Nath Shuklas and Hridayesh Tripathis) to push their agenda. Thakur has not made an effort to be inclusive of all castes. He has not travelled in the Madhes or even his own constituency. His district leaders are local elites who have barely started campaigning. And he has not stopped candidates who are flirting with Madhesi militants in their constituencies.
The Sadbhabana is a marginal actor. The splits have really destroyed the party, and while the Mahato-Anil Jha combine is a hard-working lot, their ability to influence the debate or win seats is severely limited.
The weakness of the Madhesi parties, and their possible dismal showing in the polls, may make many in Kathmandu happy. But weakened moderate will only mean that the armed groups will be stronger. With a limited capacity to influence debate within the constituent assembly, the Madhesi parties will once again go back to the streets. And the next time that happens, the extremists will dictate the agenda.