30 October - 5 November 2015 #781

Messiahs of the Madhes

It's time for the Madhesi people to think about who their real friends are
Jivesh Jha
Pic: Bikram Rai

The movement in the Madhes against provisions in the new constitution is now dragging into its third month. Plains leaders have successfully whipped up anti-Kathmandu sentiments, building on their past grievances. They have sown dreams of utopia, of how the Tarai will turn into Switzerland once it has federal autonomy.

But in the process they have undermined their own agitation by making the Indian establishment such a close ally. Moderate Madhesis are reluctant to express their views for fear of being ostracised, but the reality is that most plains-dwellers are against the blockade. They want to fight their own fight with Kathmandu, not have a foreign country intervene on their behalf.

Madhesi leaders are now trying to brand Kathmandu as being pro-Chinese, anti-Indian and anti-Madhesi just because a desperate government in Kathmandu is trying to find alternate sources of importing fuel supplies from China. They have been warning of anti-Chinese protests if Kathmandu imports petroleum from China.

Amid all this, the self-declared messiah of Madhes politics, Rajendra Mahato of the Sadbhavana Party, told an Indian newspaper, “what is good for India is good for Madhes” and that “only a strong Madhes can weaken Kathmandu’s anti-India drive”.

Neither anti-Indian nor anti-Chinese sentiments are good for the country. What did India expect by imposing a blockade on Nepal? That Nepalis would roll over and welcome it? It may not be practical to source fuel from China, but that doesn’t prevent Madhesi leaders from echoing the ongoing hysteria in the Indian media about “Chinese entry into Nepal”.

As positions harden on both sides, Madhesi leaders are trapped by their own rhetoric. More than 45 people have been killed since August, and there is deep resentment in the public in the plains against state security forces, but also against Madhesi leaders for stepping on the bodies of the martyrs to get to power. The silent majority feel that they have been made to suffer for the past three months just so corrupt Madhesi leaders can improve their bargaining power to get plum posts in Kathmandu.

The constituent parties of United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF) had asserted that they resigned from the Constituent Assembly (CA) on moral grounds. However, they never explained why they suddenly appeared in the CA to vote in favour of Sushil Koirala for prime minister last month. Even the man on the street in any Madhes town will tell you that they did so at India’s behest.

Now, there is another contest looming: the election of the president and vice-president. There is a feeling that Ram Baran Yadav must be replaced by another Madhesi face. Does India have a preference there, too? Why would New Delhi want to micro-manage Nepal’s politics for mere ceremonial posts?

Today, half the young men of the Tarai are in Malaysia or Qatar. The economic collapse caused by the agitation in the past two months will push even more to go abroad, the only thing stopping them from flying out of Kathmandu is the lack of public transport. Yet, Madhesi leaders have nothing but empty slogans and false promises for their own people. Words do not fill stomachs. Destabilising the Nepali nation state as they have done by inviting open Indian intervention will not do the Madhesi people any good, nor will it be in India’s own strategic interest. We, Madhesi people want development and jobs, and we want an immediate end to the blockade.

Negotiations are going on in Kathmandu between Madhesi leaders and a government team led by Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa. From what we hear the government is playing hardball, while Madhesi negotiators come up with ever more outlandish demands that have no relation to the new constitution.

The best move Madhesi leaders can make now is to call off the agitation for the Chhat festival, say no thank you to the Indian blockade and work with the government for agreed amendments to the constitution. This is what the Madhesi people want, it would be in India’s interest and it would serve the cause of democracy and justice in Nepal.

Let’s be smart and figure out who the real enemies are: leaders who allow themselves to be used by Big Brother for its own interest. It is time for the Madhesi people to figure out who their real friends are.

Read also:


A blockade is a blockade, Tsering Dolker Gurung

Carrot, stick and oil, Anurag Acharya

Restraint, resolve and resilience, Rubeena Mahato

Insult and injury, Santa Gaha Magar

Fighting our own battles, Jivesh Jha

Masochism in the Madhes, Jivesh Jha

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