Nepali Times Asian Paints
Plain Speaking
Three years later



This week marked the third anniversary of the Madhes movement. Over three weeks in January 2007, the spontaneous uprising in Tarai rocked the foundation of Nepali state and nationalism, challenged established forces, ensured federalism, and reconfigured politics. At a time when the Madhes is weaker and more fragmented than it has been since then, it would be instructive to look back at the lessons from the plains.

Here is what the Madhesis told the existing Nepali state: change or perish. In specific terms, this meant political representation, substantive inclusion, reframing symbols of nationhood, and treating citizens who wore dhoti, did not know how to speak Nepali, and had kinship links across the border with dignity and not scorn. If the Kathmandu establishment refused to do so, it would cost the state its legitimacy and erode political authority among one third of its own people. Despite the hiccups, resistance by sections in the capital, and the entrenched social prejudices, the Madhes has won this battle politically and intellectually. What remains is transforming it into institutions.

The second message was to the Maoists: beware of what you have unleashed. Though the Maoists had sowed the militant Madhesi consciousness, the movement itself acquired a strong anti-Maoist tilt. This was due to the failure of the Maoists? to push for federalism in the interim constitution, the recklessness of the Maoist Madhesi leadership, the class character (mid-sized landlords), political orientation (anti-communist), the caste mix of Madhesi leaders, and the perception that the Maoists were a part of the same Pahadi club.

The Maoists have since become more careful, but a similar pattern of ex-Maoists turning to ethnic radicalism can be discerned in the western Tarai. The Maoists and most Madhesi parties remain at loggerheads, but in some ways their commitment to federalism now makes them natural allies.

The people also gave a clear signal to the Nepali Congress, which the grand old party failed to read: reform or shrink. Instead of making the Madhes agenda its own, the NC misread the public mood entirely and felt that the andolan would only hurt the Maoists. The NC home minister (Krishna Sitaula) was seen to have suppressed the movement.

Leaders like Ram Baran Yadav spent all their time in bashing Madhesi leaders and claiming it was sponsored by reactionaries. And the party was a late and reluctant convert to federalism. The failure to innovate meant life was tough if you were a moderate Madhesi NC leader. This breed, led by Mahant Thakur, waited for a year but then left when the pressure from below became intense. The NC's rout in the elections was a result of its failure in the Madhes.

But the starkest message was to the new Madhesi political class that had created, and capitalized on the Madhes movement: be inclusive of all communities in Tarai, and fight for us in Kathmandu. Through the past three years, the trend has been that as any Madhesi leader or party has come close to Kathmandu or joined the government, it has lost legitimacy and credibility back home in Tarai.

Instead of using the period to build an organisation, and force issues, the leaders have been extremely amenable to co-option, and making a quick buck by looting the state. A glance through the last names of the martyrs reveals that people of all Hindu castes, Dalits, Muslims. But the structures of the Madhesi parties reveal they adopted exclusivist and discriminatory practices and did with Dalits, Muslims and Tharus what hill elites had done with them. This is why the various communities are now finding their own ways of political articulation.

The last year has not been good for the Madhes. Its most powerful party split. It has been unable to force the vice-president back into his position, and get language rights recognised. Madhesi reactionary leaders who had nothing to do with the movement have been able to corner all the advantages and win a share in the power structure.? The distance with the Tharus, who are actually allies in the battle against the old regime, grew. The inclusion bill was never operationalised. And India (by splitting the MJF and not backing the VP) showed that it will happily sacrifice the Madhes if it clashes with its interests at the centre.

But history's twists and turns should not make us ignore the larger picture. It is far better being a Madhesi in Nepal in January 2010 than it was in January 2007. That is the Madhes movement's biggest achievement.

1. rishav
The Tharus are more closer to the Pahade ethnic groups than other ethnic groups in the madhes, so it was natural that they would want to split away from the stounch Madhesi parties, their fight is true discrimintaion and cause is totally different. The Dalits are 2 groups one which are pahade who share ethnic and physical appearnace as the same as any pahade brahmin would so still there is a natural closeness despite the obvious history of discrimination. Obviously, the Dalit person from one of Madhesi ethnic back ground groups have their own issues and aggrieviances in their own societies as well.The Muslims would naturally also would want to side with the pahades due to historical reasons, receiving a certain level of tolerance which they would not have been shown if they had lived in India and also have this doubt with other groups in the Madhes.

2. Keshabraj Pokhrel
Prashant, you were just about to get to the point when you decided to stop. You spend too much time restating the obvious and too little time reflecting. Just think. If the idea of Nepal as a common garden of 4 castes & 36 varnas seems contrived then the idea of Madhesh is even more contrived. There is neither a coherent madhesi identity nor a deep sense of community among the so-called Madhesis. The idea of Madhesh is based--primarily--on the stereotypes that the peoples from North--or hill origin people--have about the peoples from south. Just as it's been said that the Nepali nationalism is a propaganda manufactured by upper-caste hill people--it can be said the ballyhoo surrounding Madhesi self-determination is the creation of certain upper-caste clans in the Terai. Sadly, the lower-caste poor people of Terai will continue to be taken advantage of. I'm pretty damn sure they don't feel any better in 2010 than they did in 2007.

3. Madhesiputra
Rishav and Keshav What you are saying is a typical example of the rulers who try to divide the colony once they realize that perks and Privilleges they were getting was going to be chopped off. I can just advise you to go through some history books and talk to Tharu people leaving in Pahadi dominance along the EW highway, they will tell you who are their Enemy no. 1. And Muslims alligning with high caste Pahadis is just your flight of imagination. They have not forgotten what treatment they got from Pahadis after Iraq kand.

4. Bhuvan KC
I wd rather go with the prose and the idea put forward by Prashant. The madhesi uprising is due to the prolong exploitation of the lower and backward class of terai by the hill and the upper class terai elite. We can't just say that there is not any sense of Madhesi community. The idea of 4 cast and 36 sub-class is just vague and is given by the neo-ruler class from Gurkha. The counter and semicolonial culture gurkha or the then Nepal imposed to whole of the state is the main root. We can't deny that Terai has been prolonged ruled by the hill elites, and the landlords who migrated to this land or have been given this land by the then ruler. Proplong oppression, suppression, discrimination, marginalisation is the root cause. The non-conducive and non-inclusive nature of the state further deteriorated their condition. I do agree those who led the movement are the oppertunistic and they lured for the political share but the aspiration for madhesi sor fedralism, equal participation in states power and stake can't be denied. Finally having a distrust in Madhes is like distrusting your own wife, if you think madhes is a NAtion state of Nepal it must be given all the due it want.

5. shayam
I would like to see the madhesi party champaioning for the opressed masses of lower caste, dalit etc. What this uprising done is more power to the madhesi elite who actually benifetted from the all those panchayat and democratic era. Ethnicity based politics always bring doomsday to any nation because all it does it identifies some imaginary opressed class or people and tries to have bigger national resources to them benifits for few at the expense of others. I would like to ask why few madhesi parents sends thier children to school. why they marry girls at earlier age and why the spends so much in dowry? Why for example barahthwa muncipality in sarlahi doesnt have good road or infrastructure. The truth is in pahadi area people are more conscious and even if there is corruption some people are against it and at least they do something with their budget while in madhes corruption is celebrated. Dont blame kathmandu for your every ill in the community. Where the last time villegars beat witches?

6. Arthur
Interesting article! What I understand from the conclusion "It is far better being a Madhesi in Nepal in January 2010 than it was in January 2007. That is the Madhes movement's biggest achievement." is that there is a greater sense of capability to change things as actual participants in shaping the outcome for Nepal replacing an earlier status of hopelessness as oppressed and despised "outsiders". If that understanding is correct surely it is a good thing rather than a bad thing that so many of the "Madheshi political class" have discredited themselves by joining the existing KTM power structure to share in the loot. As mentioned, that leadership was (inevitably) mainly the middle sized landlords who had traditional local power and "respect". Naturally they would prefer a chauvinist movement directed against "others", especially Pahadis and this would also result in greater "distance" from Tharus etc. Surely real change in the Madhesh can only come with land reform and some of the pre-conditions for that have now been established by awakening the poor to a sense of themselves as political actors while discrediting their previous "natural" leaders, the landlords?

7. Anonymous
Deifinition of "Kathmandu establishment": an undeclared class coalition of landholders from Terai such as Jha, Mishra, Yadav, Upadhaya, Singh ; purets and adminstrators such as Sharma, Panday, Dixit, Adhikari from the Valley; businessmen such as Newars -Shrestha, Singh, Shakya, Malla; army and police personnel- such as Rana, Thakuri, Panday, Basnet, Thapa, Shah. Add a couple of dozens or more of NGOs, INGOs -UN agencies, the foreign embassies (hiring mostly SETAMAGURALI), and the bunch of human right organizations and the so-called civil societies (mixed ethnicities). One encounters these very old tired faces in every meeting in five -star hotels or Reporter's Club. They have been ruling Nepal over the last fifty years in the name of development, democracy, human rights or federalism (lately!). In the post-monarchy Nepal the NC, UML, CPM-U and some Terai-based parties have constitued the core of the "Kathmandu Establishment". One wonders why our comrades and so-called democrats prefer to live a life of luxury in the Valley rather than in their own consituencies. From Prthivi to Prachanda whoever 'conquered' the Valley never again returned back to his own place. A Jyapu-farmer from the Valley, a riksha-puller from Madhesh or a kanchha from Pahad never had a voice in Nepal's politics. Is class consciousness dead?

8. ST
The ills of past cannot be rectified by disintegration of a nation and social structure. Surely there has been abuse and discrimination in the past by so called elite and the people of lower economic state. This is not a unique case with Padhe and Madhise. It was and has been widely been prevalent in all caste and ethnic groups. I think that any human should raise the issue of rights abuse irrespective of ethnic or socio economic state but it seemed the writer is very comfortable in playing victim card rather than addressing the real rot and degrading discrimination in the society. Have you ever thought that there are more un-privileged people in hills than in terai..!! I have not seen why do feel so comfortable now... because so many people from non-madhese background are harrased ,chased away or murdered . Is it an achievement to brag about...? If that is a casue of your happiness then I doubt your motivation. I feel that it is same as it was before, one group of opportunistic elements taking advantage of another. Mr. Prasanth, there is a thing called reconcialliation, without which nothing can be acheived. I believe evey one is equal and we have equal responsibilites in ensuring the human rights of each individual in society. We have to work togather to overcome the past ills and discrimination in a constructive order rather than fake nationalism and invented happiness. I think you being a journalist have to broaden your horizon and understand there are real issues with poor people not only people of madhse.

9. Krishna
Prashanth, This is one of your worst article if not the. There is no national cohesion in your conclusion and sadly it is a bitter truth that intellects like you and CK Lal can easily brainwash two third of these ignorant Madhesis. If you continue writing in this path, you are no other than Prachana or Baburam, responsible to destroy a country taking advantage of innocent people. You and all sensible writers and leaders should stop out casting pahade from national spectrum. You have shown what you could do in your 2007 movement and you should be asking yourself where you are heading now. Where were you getting instructions and money from? Stop crying because India is not supporting VP and Madesh state. The day you realise you are not part of India and the day you are ready to detach yourselves from India, integration of all Nepalese irrespective of ethnicity, caste, religion, and location, would be much easier than bogus heroism you enjoying in 2010.

10. jange
The problems of Madhes are largely internal to Madhes society. They have found a convenient scapegoat in blaming Kathmandu/Pahadis/Maoists/Indians/etc/etc but the real problems are not being addressed. Imagine that all the ministers are from the Madhes. How does that solve the problem? Imagine again that all the civil servants are also from the Madhes. Problems solved? I doubt it. Imagine all the police, army teachers are also from the Madhes. Problem solved??? Prashant should tell us what POLICIES would be changed or new policies implemented with the new faces. Same with the inclusion mantra. Just a change of face does not solve anything.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)