The Madhesi parties want to keep agitation in slow boil until the Oli coalition falls
A week ago Prime Minister K P Oli sent a letter to the Madhesi Front calling for negotiations
on its demand for constitutional amendments. Madhesi leaders, preoccupied with their street protests and in a bit of disarray themselves, ignored it.
Oli had hedged his bets and met Madhesi leader Mahant Thakur, formerly of the Nepali Congress, before sending the letter. Thakur had suggested the prime minister send a formal invitation calling for an all-party meeting. As it turned out, Madhesi leaders boycotted the meeting anyway, voicing varying reasons.
The real question is why the Madhesi Front has not bothered to reply to Oli’s letter. One line of reasoning is that it believes the lifespan of the Oli administration is limited and will not last more than a month. In fact the Madhesi parties are ready to join any coalition that will help bring down the present Maoist-UML coalition. But they have also been coy and said they do not want a berth in any future government.
Sources inside the Madhesi Front believe the time is not right for it to join the government after the six-month strike and blockade
, and the month-long protests in Kathmandu
. A hunger strike is planned in Kathmandu from next week.
The Kathmandu media has been rife with speculation that the agitation is losing steam
, but Madhesi leaders say it is their tactic to join forces with Janajatis and wait for the Oli government to implode from within.
“We have decided that the Oli government is not going to budge and respect our demands, so we will wait for it to be brought down from within,” one influential leader told me. “We sat for dozens of meetings, but the Oli government went back on its word. We felt humiliated.”
The so-called ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ for Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal to replace Oli after the budget is unravelling. And there may be a power struggle within the coalition that will lead to a change in government. Madhesi leaders feel it is better to let that game play itself out, while keeping the momentum on its low-intensity street protests.
It is after the Kathmandu power games bring out a new leader that the Madhesi groups are expected to move on the demands for constitutional amendments, the central among which is the issue of the two-province Tarai model that will include five contentious districts in the east and west.
Here, the Nepali Congress’s role will be critical. The NC is trying to woo the Madhesi electorate, and a Tarai-based leader from the party said last week he has sympathy for the Madhesi demand of two provinces encompassing the entire plains. This is a major departure from the NC’s stated demand for north-south provinces.
One Madhesi leader summed it all up: “Let’s wait for the Oli government to fall, then watch and see how the political map of this country will change. The game goes on.”
The restless Tarai, Navin Jha
Recognition and respect, Navin Jha
Why the Madhes movement failed, From the Nepali Press