14-20 August 2015 #771

Bound by boundaries

If the disputed districts must be recarved to bring the Madhesi, Tharus and Janajatis on board, let us do it.
Om Astha Rai

Before the Maoist insurgency escalated beyond the mid-western hills nearly 20 years ago, the separatist Khambuwan Liberation Front in the east had gone underground and taken up arms.

Founded by firebrand radical Gopal Kiranti, the group bombed Sanskrit schools, shot dead political rivals and threatened to chase away Bahuns-Chhetris after creating an autonomous Khambuwan Province.

After two decades, the Front no longer exists, and Kiranti is a staunch supporter of the Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal. When Dahal signed a deal with the NC, the UML and the MJF(D) on 8 August to carve out six federal provinces it obviated once and for all the autonomy that Kiranti fought for.

But Kiranti hailed the deal and urged pro-federalism forces to welcome the six-province model (see page 18). The transformation of Kiranti from a radical fighter into a pragmatic politician, is perhaps best explained by what Dahal said after the deal: “We had to compromise because we are now weak.”

Indeed, Kiranti contested the second CA elections from Jhapa and faced a humiliating defeat at the hands of the UML Chair KP Oli. Had Oli lost the 2013 election, as in 2008, the whole story could have been different. Kiranti would have probably not welcomed a deal that has led to violent protests in many western parts of the country. Or the deal itself would have not been possible.

The dynamics of CA-II are different from CA-I, and there is a growing realisation among the Madhesi and Janajatis that their dream of federalism is achievable. The Madhesi parties, except for the one that Upendra Yadav leads, have already given up their radical demand for a Single Madhes province. Even Yadav’s Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN) is not as vocal anymore, with its Janajati members on the verge of peeling off.

FSFN lawmaker Birendra Mahato says: “If the one Madhes province is not possible, we can accept two states in the Tarai. But Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari should be part of the eastern Madhes province.” Some other Madhesi CA members, even from the FSFN, admit that they can compromise even if the southern belts of just Sunsari–Morang, and not Jhapa, are integrated with the eastern Madhes province.

Second-wrung leaders of the MJF(D), the only Madhesi party that signed the 8 August deal, are also not happy with boundaries of federal provinces. The MJF(D) leaders Jitendra Dev and Ram Janam Chaudhary stopped their President Bijaya Gachhadar for eight hours from signing the deal. But they eventually relented and left the Singha Darbar, and a crestfallen Gachhadar finally did the deed.

Although MJF(D) leaders, apart from Gachhadar, are against the deal they are not with other Madhesi parties, either. Dev says they can accept as many as three provinces in the Tarai. And Chaudhary says they can accept the six-province federalism if Kailali is divided between Province 5 and 6. So their discontent seems to just stem from integration of the Tharu-dominated parts of Kailali and Kanchanpur with Province 6.

In the east, the Limbuwan groups now say their province is “too large”. That is a weak argument and the Janajatis are unlikely to descend to the streets demanding a smaller province. The protests in the mid-west are merely manifestations of anger over reckless division of the development zone and districts. Not a single major identity group is now on the streets demanding Single Madhes, Limbuwan and Khambuwan. The Tharus are the only ones who have a legitimate demand and have descended on the streets, but even here parceling out Kailali and Kanchanpur may pacify them.

The six-province federalism model looks like a workable proposition, but the four parties need to tweak it by snipping and tucking some district boundaries. If the Madhesi and Tharus own the new constitution if parts of the five disputed districts of the Tarai are given to them, the four parties should be ready for it. We are not signing a treaty with a foreign country by giving up our territory, after all.

Federating the country is just a process of strengthening unity. And as Kiranti says: “The battle for more rights will never end in a democracy. Even after the new constitution, the struggle will go on.”


Read also:

It ain't over yet, Anurag Acharya

Federalism deal signed, Om Astha Rai

No more bloodshed

Finally federalism

Map of federal Nepal

Protest over boundaries

Bordering on brinkmanship, Editorial

Twist in the tale, Om Astha Rai

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