17-23 June 2016 #813

Trouble in the alliance

Once more, a clash of personalities among leaders undermines the Madhes movement
Navin Jha

Madhesi and Janajati leaders are on a relay hunger strike in Kathmandu, while the Prime Minister has sent another official letter inviting them for negotiations. And, predictably, differences have surfaced among the leadership of the Federal Alliance.

The main reason for the disunity is the infamous and chronic personality clash between the leaders. But there are also ideological underpinnings about which way the agitation should now go.

The Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party (TMLP) boycotted the relay hunger strike started by the Federal Alliance two weeks ago at the Khula Manch in Kathmandu. The party is preparing for its first convention, and said its leaders were too busy to fast. Insiders tell me the real reason is that the TMLP and the Sadbhavana Party leaders are unhappy with the leadership role played by the leader of the Madhesi Front, Upendra Yadav.

They don’t agree with the coordinator role he is playing in the Federal Alliance, which groups parties in the Madhesi and Janajati movements. Last year, the top stalwarts of the Madhesi Front had said they would lead the movement by rotation, but Yadav is accused of having unilaterally taken the decision to go it alone when the TMLP and Sadbhavana leaders were outstation.

To a certain extent this is also a clash of egos between various leaders, and it has demoralised the rank and file of the Madhesi cadre as well as the people of the plains. Although the agitation last year and the brutal crackdown of the state had rallied the Madhesi parties together and forged unity among them, public sentiment is once more turning against them.

The mainstream parties in Kathmandu will be tempted to take advantage of this disunity with the Madhesi leadership; however, they would do well to remember that if these senior and moderate leaders lose their support, there are younger and more radical elements waiting at the fringes. Rajendra Mahato hinted at this on Tuesday when he said the agitation could turn violent if the peaceful protests do not work.

Madhesi leaders are also disunited because they want to safeguard their own class and caste vote banks in the Tarai. They have their eyes on the next general elections, and perhaps even provincial elections. The Madhesi people and some intellectuals have moved on, but the leaders are still trapped in their mindset for short-term power.

The fraying unity among the top leaders ironically comes at a time when a social media campaign to ‘Say Sorry’ has gone viral, as some privileged Madhesis apologise to the marginalised and caste groups for generations of exploitation. The campaign has received a groundswell of support in the plains, but the Madhesi leaders in Kathmandu seem oblivious. At this rate, the leaders will soon find the rug being pulled out from underneath them.

All eyes are on the TMLP leader Mahant Thakur — the most senior and respected among the Madhesi leaders — to take the initiative to bring the various interest groups together. His party is going into its first convention next week, and that could be the forum where he can announce a bold step for unity. The convention is important for Thakur’s political future, not just as a leader of his own party, but also for the leadership of the Madhes and as a leader with national stature.

Read Also

Madhesis reject appeal for talks

Sadbhavana’s separate protests

Recognition and Respect, Navin Jha

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