19-25 September 2014 #725

Extreme at both ends

Kathmandu’s neglect of the Madhes is being exploited by radicals in the plains
Anurag Acharya
On Tuesday, the Mohan Baidya-led Maoist coalition used a petty excuse to boycott the national conference that was supposed to thresh out contentious issues of the constitution drafting. It wasn’t a surprise: how can a party outside the Constituent Assembly be expected to help extricate it?

Indeed, not everyone waiting at the Lothse Hall in New Baneswor on Tuesday morning was surprised he didn’t show up. UCPN(M) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal had been in touch with Mohan Baidya earlier that morning.

After leading a decade long insurgency that set the stage for the end of monarchy and drafting of the republican constitution, Dahal would have certainly felt that he needed greater say in the process -- if only he had done better in November elections.

There is every reason to doubt Mohan Baidya’s demand for the revival of High Level Political Mechanism which he opposed only until a year back. After all, the present CA is not a level playing field for Dahal, and Mohan Baidya has only been watching from the sidelines.

But there are more serious tensions brewing elsewhere that could jeopardise the statute drafting exercise in Kathmandu. The electoral victory of NC and UML in districts of the Madhes last year had more to do with their regained popularity and incompetency of Madhes based parties. It wasn’t a mandate against the demand for recognition of Madhesi identity and self-governance.

The demand for a Madhes Pradesh, including the populist ‘one-Madhes’ demand we have discussed in this space, are just an expression of those aspirations.

Unfortunately, the NC and UML leadership have said or done little in the last ten months to reassure their constituencies of these. The electoral defeat of the Madhes based parties and the neglect of those who have won has now created a political vacuum in the eastern Tarai, where extremists like CK Raut feed on local discontent.

Raut was arrested by Morang police on Saturday, three days before a scheduled national conference. Although the Morang administration earlier claimed to have arrested him for his ‘anti-national’ activities, police only charged him for disturbing public order and peace.

“Until last week, he was just a guy who talked nonsense with little public support. They have just made him a hero,” a Madhes-watcher told me earlier this week. The Supreme Court has ordered the Morang district administration to present Raut on Friday. If the apex court holds him for treason, it will only make things worse.

In an interview with the BBC Nepali Service, constitutional expert and one of the architects of Nepal’s Interim Constitution, Daman Nath Dhungana said, “I don’t believe Nepal’s sovereignty is so weak that it cannot withstand comments from an individual.”

Those angered by Raut’s separatist comments should take note that Article 4 of the Interim Constitution declares Nepal an ‘indivisible’ and 'secular' state. But despite this historic declaration made by the first CA, there are political parties and individuals who have fought elections against it and are now lobbying for it to be scrapped in the present CA. Is it just co-incidence that we have been tolerating one kind of extreme voice while being intolerant of another?

Raut and his ilk are not yet a dominant voice in Madhes. With time, as people of Madhes enjoy greater say in their political destiny, such elements will be marginalised. But their growing presence should also be a warning to Kathmandu.

After 300 years in the United Kingdom, Scotland had a referendum on independence on Thursday. Kathmandu should be thankful that even after being treated like outsiders for generations in their own land, all a Madhesi is asking for is dignity and recognition.

@Anurag_Acharya

Read also:

Politics in a vacuume, Editorial

All together now, Anurag Acharya

A gathering storm

Preyed by the state

Fluid political landscape

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