Nepali Times
Mainstreaming the Madhes


In the summer of 2002, I took a break from college in Delhi. I had begun interning with a new local daily, but my sole aim at the time was to get published in Nepali Times- a paper I had read, admired, and wanted to be a part of since its inception.

I sent the editor a badly written, incoherent column on discrimination against Madhesis, which was rightly edited down and published as a letter to the editor. I realised an armchair rant would not get me a proper byline, and decided to visit Rajbiraj - notionally my hometown but a place I'd barely spent any time in - and did a story on the town's decay relative to neighbouring urban centres. The editors got interested, polished and used the story. Mission accomplished, I headed back to university.

My real immersion into Nepali politics began as the king took over, democrats and Maoists started talking, and a lot of politics shifted to Delhi. Jawaharlal Nehru University, where I was doing my Master's, emerged as a hub. Nepali leaders were to be seen hanging around dhabas; Nepali students provided them with logistical support; mid-level Maoists started making public appearances; and there was a concerted political and media challenge to Indian policymakers to dump their twin pillar theory.

During that period, I contributed sporadically to Nepali Times and some Indian papers on the evolving politics, while working with Himal Southasian magazine. Covering events revealed the emergence of Maoists as the principal game changers, the necessity of a sustained democratic consensus, and for an Indian policy in tune with the aspirations of the broadest segment of Nepali opinion.

In January 2007, as the Madhes movement shattered the old precepts of Nepali nationalism, Kathmandu was shellshocked. This paper gave me space to convey through a personalised piece how having a Madhesi background, even if one was from a privileged, upper middle class Kathmandu-based family, invited insinuations about nationality. The need at that time, and even now, is for established interests to empathise with those who have been deprived of dignity and rights simply because they come from a certain race, gender, caste, ethnicity, or class - not in a paternalistic, patronising manner, but as equal citizens.

After a brief, and unhappy, foray into the world of international NGOs back here, I returned to journalism in mid-2007 with a regular column in Nepali Times, initially called 'Tarai Eye'. Clashes between the state and Madhesis, Maoist and Madhesi parties, and Pahadis and Madhesis had increased. There was a fundamental realignment in all parties. The armed movement had picked up. Spending time on the ground in the Tarai, and with militants across the border, was a crash course into the exploitative Kathmandu-Madhes relationship, the intimate cross-border links, the stratification within the Madhes, the crushing poverty, and the blurring between politics and crime.

Of course, one cannot understand Madhesi party politics without getting a handle on national level dynamics. The elections were another lesson (perhaps forgotten) on the Maoist skill in building up a multi-class and multi-ethnic alliance. Given the fragility of the process since then, most writings have inevitably turned towards looking at Maoist ambition and dogma, the fear and insecurity of the other parties, the reversal in Indian attitudes towards the Maoists, the NA's rehabilitation, and the lack of progress in either constitution making or the peace process.

There have been downsides. I have got many things wrong- from specific election results, to how events in Tarai were expected to play out, to why a certain actor behaved in a certain way. The column has also earned me multiple, contradictory, labels I could do without - RAW agent, anti-India, Maoist sympathiser, pro-army, anti-UNMIN, UNMIN stooge, Madhesi chauvinist, pahadi dalal!

But writing for Nepali Times has been a delightful experience, not least for the paper's weekly dose of pluralism, and the fact that not one of my columns has been censored, even if they went against the editorial line.

The language of public discourse will continue to be Nepali. But English journalism cannot be dismissed as a sideshow anymore, given the importance of the diplomatic and donor community, the middle class, the diaspora, business elites, and some bilingual national policymakers. As Nepali Times celebrates its tenth anniversary, here's hoping for another decade of pluralistic, progressive journalism that will report and analyse events as honestly as possible. Nepal needs it more than ever before.

1. akeshkurmi
The sentiment of Prashant Jha is the true reflection of our society. The society which we called pluralistic and we boast of making it inclusive. But where in reality we are inclusive. Time and gain when ever any body write against us do not confront with the writer's original perception but we try to either physically harm him or give him some title like dalal, person affiliated to particular organisation or ideology.... and many more. The saddest part is that when a person of deprived community like madhesi write on any issue right now he is termed as anti nationalist or person working for RAW and what not.................. its now not a hidden fact that person who make alot of hue and cry about nationality are more anti national and opportunist. the subsequent statement by our leftist thinker and political leaders is enough to prove the fact as there is 360 change in their behaviour when they are in power and not in power. For such person national interest doesnot hold any meaning as they are in habit of cashing on people innocence and ignorance. Kudos to people like prashant jha and other who are atleast daring to write on issue which are more pertinent but has not catch the eye of our donor motivated scholar and journalist.

2. rishav
Prashant you have always impressed me with the style and way you write, even though I may not have always agreed with your views at times, but it is comforting to know there are journalists like yourself in Nepal who write without fear and demonstrate such professionalism. Long may you continue to write and long may you continue to write things which I may not always agree with you at times, it is a democracy after all.

3. Samina & the gang!
"The column has also earned me multiple, contradictory, labels I could do without - RAW agent, anti-India, Maoist sympathiser, pro-army, anti-UNMIN, UNMIN stooge, Madhesi chauvinist, pahadi dalal! Ha Ha ha...! We lup you man.

4. Paramendra Bhagat
Prashant Jha is one of the most promising young journalists writing in Nepal today. Keep up the good work.

5. Sargam
I love you all, Hum smooch, smooch!

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)