Nepali Times Asian Paints
By The Way


BIRGANJ -- Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal will not forget those last few hours of grilling political negotiations with UDMF when the Madhesi front refused to extend the tenure of the CA and warned that they would resign from the assembly and get Madhesi members to meet in Birganj. The Madhesi front even threatened the Kathmandu establishment that if their demands were not met they would declare a secession of Madhes declaring Birganj its capital.

It is doubtful if the UDMF would, or could, have pulled off all that because at three in the morning it agreed to the extension but stayed away from voting for the extension. The government incorporated their demands (Khanal's resignation and the inclusion of at least 10,000 Madhesis in the army) in the 5-point deal.

But here in the heart of a sweltering monsoony Madhesh, one is struck by the air of normalcy. This doesn't seem to be the kind of place that could be the capital of a new Madhes. It is hard to believe that the streets are the same that witnessed historic protests in the winter of 2007.

Back then, a strong wave of identity politics had galvanised people across the Tarai's economic and political background. In spite of criminal infiltration and violent upsurge in places like Gaur, Nepalganj and Butwal, the movement gained credibility due to an assertive presence of people from all walks of life. The burgeoning aspirations of the hitherto marginalised fuelled the movement and in the April 2008 elections, the Madhesis became fourth largest political force in the country.

But since then, Madheshi parties and their egotistic leaders have splintered, squandering those aspirations. Madhesi civil society stalwarts who had earlier played a crucial role in bringing leaders from different ideological backgrounds into a united platform, have now gone off on their own and are largely discredited in the eyes of their own people. There has been a re-amalgamation of some Madhesi parties, but it is uncertain how long this marriage of convenience will last.

Ask people in the "capital" of the proposed Tarai-Madhes Pradesh about Madhesi leaders, and there is a common refrain: "They are all the same." A 40-year-old rickshaw driver wiped the sweat from his brow with his gamchha and spiced his Maithili with a choice epithet: "People died here to put those ch**iyas in CA so that we could get a constitution that would end the centuries of humiliation."

Large sections of the Madhesi population does not foresee an overnight change in their fortunes. However, people here had counted on those who used Madhesi grievances to carve out political space for themselves in Kathmandu to deliver on some of their promises.

Foremost among them was security, but the criminalisation of politics in the Madhes actually worsened the law and order situation. One of the changes after 2008 was that Pahadis started treating Madhesis with more respect. But even that has changed.

"Before the Madhes Andolan people were rude, the police ate bananas and did not bother to pay," recalls a fruit vendor in the main market here, "for some time they began talking politely. But things are back to what they were, nothing has changed for us."

The constitution, if and when it is finalised, may have a trickle-down effect on rickshaw drivers and fruit sellers, but what is stopping the self-proclaimed messiahs of Madhes from taking the trouble of going down their constituencies to address everyday problems? Or is the political cock-fight in Kathmandu too exciting to miss?

1. Arthur
"The government incorporated their demands (Khanal's resignation and the inclusion of at least 10,000 Madhesis in the army) in the 5-point deal."

There was no mention of 10,000 or any other specific number in the deal. The UDMF was not a party to the deal and refused to vote for it so it is silly to claim that their demands were incorporated.

Apart from that, the article seems reasonable. It shows that the Madheshi parties will lose support in any future elections and does not suggest that the UMLs or Congress could gain that support.

The conclusion is obvious, namely that Maoists will gain significantly in Madhesh. Naturally that could not be spelled out or the article could not be publishable in Nepali Times.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)