Nepali Times
State Of The State
The tarai cauldron


To turn the impending peace talks in their favour, the Maoist leadership badly needs some new friends, additional allies and fresh fellow travellers. Comrade Krishna Bahadur Mahara of CNN fame and Comrade Dina Nath Sharma of Artless Drama notoriety are doing the rounds of established power places in the Valley to garner support for Baburam Bhattarai's claim to state power. The revolutionary agenda of forging an inclusive Nepali identity has suddenly receded into the background.

Exclusion of the majority from the political, economic and social mainstream was one of the main reasons our revolutionaries took to the armed path. But the prospect of power sharing seems to have transformed our firebrand comrades into confirmed status quoists. The elite everywhere clones itself with relative ease and survives regime changes to prosper all over again.

The dependable friends of the Maoists are all their old foes: Madhav Kumar Nepal, Kirti Nidhi Bishta and Sher Bahadur Deuba. Perhaps Marich Man Singh and Nava Raj Subedi will also get a visit from Maoist interlocutors one of these days. But Mahanta Thakur, Surendra Chaudhary and Chitra Lekha Yadav must wait. Madhesis haven't figured in the itinerary of the revolutionaries yet.

The Maoists negotiating team does have a Matrika Yadav, but what does Comrade Yadav have for his fellow madhesis? During the Madheshi Awakening Forum's public programs on Saturday and Sunday, the plight of people of tarai origin was raised again and again, but none of the participants expect much from the Maoists.

Even more than frustration, it's hopelessness that breeds extremism. In a society where nearly half the population is nursing grievances against the establishment in silence, this is a potential flashpoint of even more ominous proportions than the Maoist war.

Dissatisfaction is not unique to madhesis alone, dalits and janjatis are also excluded. The relative deprivation of a madhesi dalit compared with that of hill dalit, or that of a Tharu poor compared to a Gurung or Magar poor is glaring. The grievances of the tarai activists aren\'t just political rhetoric.

By appointing Prashu Narayan Chaudhary as the chairman of the Rajparishad, the king has honoured the indigenous population of the tarai, but a closer look at the list of members nominated to the royal council makes it clear that the madhesis haven't got a fair deal. The king is hardly to blame. It's the social milieu that doesn't allow the establishment to go beyond tokenism. Badri Prasad Mandal is officiating premier, but how many of his cabinet colleagues are madhesis?

Representation of ethnic madhesis in the political parties is no better. Among the 44 members elected to the Central Committee of the UML at its recently held convention at Janakapur, Ram Chandra Jha is the lone madhesi. Comrade Jha scraped through somehow-he is the last in the winners' list based on the tally of votes received-mainly because he was the prime host of the event on his home turf. Results of the Janakapur Convention show that UML continues to remain in the firm grip of the BCN (Bahun, Chetri, Newar) elite.

The composition of the bureaucracy is even more skewed. Bahuns dominate the administration, and their preponderance is growing. The Nepal Public Service Commission reports only one madhesi in the list of 77 persons recruited for the post of Section Officers. These are the people who will lead the Nepali administration in the years to come: Bahuns 85 percent, Chhetris 9 percent, Newars 2.6 percent and one each from the hill janjati and madhesi population.

The stranglehold of bahuns on Nepali judiciary is too obvious to ignore. Technically, there is nothing wrong in successive Upadhyayas succeeding each other, but the message that it gives to the excluded isn't that of merit reigning supreme.

Such views are often termed divisive and communal. Jostling for a share of the pie is an inherent part of the modernisation process-faster the pace of change, more the demands for accommodation in the mainstream. During the authoritarian Panchayat regime, emerging elites of marginal population groups were often quite happy with the crumbs of office. But in a democracy, everyone desires a place of honour at the central table. Anything less merely whets the appetite.

Fortunately for the ruling classes (but unfortunately for the ruled), the BCN grip over the national media is even tighter-editors of all major Nepali broadsheet dailies are bahuns. Hence, even an event like the public meeting of Madhesi Awakening Forum failed to make it to the headlines of any major newspaper. But in the long run, turning a deaf ear may set off an explosion that will blow all our eardrums. Injustice doesn't disappear just because the powerful ignore it.

When Colonel (Retd) Narayan Singh Pun sits down with Baburam Bhattarai to finalise the agenda of talks some time next month, here is what they should put at the top of their list-ensuring just representation of madhesis in all walks of life.

If a society is to institutionalise peace, its leaders must move beyond tokenism to real devolution. And if it is not done politically, the Maoists have shown that guns get the attention. Hidden from view, the grievances of the disenfranchised are simmering away underneath.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)