Nepali Times
Eyes Wide Shut


Maoist bandas are not the only ones around. There?s one as we speak in parts of the eastern tarai, called by Jwala Singh?s Jantantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha, an offshoot of the radical CPN-Maoist splinter led by Jay Krishna Goit. The Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandi) has called another banda on 25 December to protest the interim constitution. Madhesi intellectuals in Kathmandu are loudly voicing their objections to the restrictive provisions of the interim constitution, which limit their participation in the proposed constituent assembly.

If only someone would listen to these voices of dissent. They are signs of a realignment of forces that could flare into a conflict in later months. If genuine madhesi grievances, such as adequate representation in the constituent assembly, are not addressed, the divide between the hills and the plains will soon become a schism.

But our major political parties, including the CPN-M, are too narrowly focussed on the present to notice. The press and Kathmandu-centric civil society also appear myopic. Their talk about Nobel Peace Prizes ignores the political foment in the south that is a direct result of the proposed recipients? politicking.

Girija Prasad Koirala may deserve kudos for helping mainstream the Maoists, but what is the net benefit, if other potential conflicts continue to simmer?

In madhesi eyes, the SPA-Maoist peace process is a pahadi peace process by pahadis for pahadis. If this isn?t the case, they argue across the board, why have the parties not addressed discrimination against madhesis and their sense of alienation? Surely this can be done side by side with the perceived ?key? issues? not coincidentally both pahadi concerns?the status of the monarchy and democratisation of the army. Madhesi perception is that if the recently-enacted Citizenship Act was a step forward, the interim constitution has been a hamstrung step back.

Perhaps this perception is not entirely true, but it is powerful, and the less rush there is by the parties to take corrective action, the stronger it becomes. Can?t the politicians?all, including the Maoists?take some time off from the jockeying-for-power disguised as peace negotiations to listen to what madhesi voices have to say? To be fair, Pushpa Kamal Dahal did this recently, but the madhesi issues didn?t make it into the Kathmandu press. The SPA has not even considered such an interaction.

It?s bad long-term politics for mainstream parties if groups like the TJMM and Jwala Singh?s gain a foothold among moderate madhesis. For now, most people in the tarai deplore the extremist expression these groups give to genuine grievances of people from the region. But the longer these issues go unaddressed, the greater the chances that their separatist appeal will cross over into the mainstream.

Koirala and Dahal may be many things, but they are looking less and less like visionaries. Koirala wants to go down in history as the successful midwife and nurse of the peace process. His insistence on the June date for the elections, reasonable or not, is part of that. However, as another leader of Nepal said in another context, Koirala may die, but his nation will live on. Why should Koirala?s health concerns hold Nepal?s future hostage to a half-baked constituent assembly election time-schedule?

Dahal is focussed entirely on ensuring his party comes to power. A nice thing for a radical party, until you realise that he shows no signs of doing anything about the ethnic nationalism he and his party have unleashed.

Whether madhesi perceptions are true or not, the mere fact of their being held gives such beliefs real power. Koirala, Dahal, and the rest better sort this out before the constituent assembly elections. Or this country as we know it won\'t last.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)