30 October - 5 November 2015 #781

Restraint, resolve and resilience

The movement is no longer about what the Madhes and Madhesis really want
Rubeena Mahato

The crisis in the Madhes need not be intractable. A resolution should be possible if the state concedes that Madhesi grievances are real and have to be corrected, their demands for rights and dignity have to be fulfilled and those who ordered and carried out torture and killings have to be investigated and punished.  

If a solution means a new compromise on federal boundaries and agreeing to proportional representation based on population, the state has to be flexible on these. 

But first the Madhesi Morcha has to end the blockade, dealign itself from interventionist forces and give up terror and violence. If they hope to bulldoze their way through unreasonable demands that seek to secure the interests of a neighbouring country than its own citizens, it will lose further legitimacy not just with the government but amongst the very people they claim to represent. 

The question is whether the Morcha and its backers from within and beyond the borders care. They have quashed international law and diplomatic norms, abandoned politics of principles and have resorted to force, intimidation and bullying to get their demands met.

What is unraveling in the Madhes is plain blackmail. What started as a movement for rights has morphed into something sinister. How can the constitutional appointment for naturalised citizens be a Madhesi demand? A bunch of discredited leaders who have no support amongst ordinary Madhesis and were defeated in the last elections are using violence and terror to hold the entire region hostage. 

There is a deliberate muddling of issues, valid and legitimate demands for dignity and rights have been hijacked by interest groups who are using the most divisive and violent means possible to do so, fuelling communal hatred and radicalism. 

There is no pretense left. The movement is no longer about what the Madhes and Madhesis want, there is geopolitics at play. Madhesis want dignity and rights, they want a stable and peaceful Nepal where they can earn their livelihood without disruption. 

Madhesis believe there is a constitutional and democratic means to achieve this and made this abundantly clear with their votes in the 2013 election. The Morcha on the other hand believes in terror, blackmail and raw power. It has no illusions, the alarmist calls for separatism hold no currency amongst ordinary Madhesis who know their interests and survival are tied to Nepal.

Working with a foreign country to enforce blockade against fellow Nepalis, inciting violence by offering cash prize for martyrdom, provoking police to react through targeted lynching, throwing petrol bombs at moving buses, setting people ablaze for carrying fuel are Morcha tactics. To support this group and say that it represents ordinary Madhesis and holds sole claim to their demands is deceitful and dangerous.

It is tragic that some are willing to support the Indian blockade just because they don’t support the constitution. They want to see Nepal forced to its knees and if that involves millions of people suffering and some losing their lives, it is a small price to pay. Businesses, industries and hospitals are affected, schools are closing down but this makes no difference to this delusional cohort. 

Supporters of the Morcha, amongst them self-declared intellectuals, are the same people who supported violent groups in the past and opposed demands for accountability of war-crimes. Elitist, removed from reality, they have a deep-seated distrust towards common people whom they claim to speak for. For them, violence is the means to an end.

They do not believe in co-existence or in legal and political solutions. The fact that this constitution was voted by more than 90% of elected representatives makes no difference because democratic processes mean nothing to them.  The fact that Nepal is actively appointing women and members from minority groups into positions of power and promoting inclusive policies through quotas and representation in state institutions does not impress them.  

Changes do not happen overnight and institutional reforms would gradually change mindsets and reduce inequalities provided there is stability for these processes to take root. The new constitution has flaws, but with amendments on controversial clauses, especially on citizenship rights, it can be improved. But to reject the entire document and push the country to another decade of uncertainty is criminal and malicious.

The Madhesi parties are doing a disservice to themselves and the Madhesi cause by allowing themselves to be pawns. One can only hope that genuine activists will break free of this unholy alliance, re-own the movement and bring it back to where it belongs: to the Nepali people and their government.

Despite all attempts to pit one group against the other, we have never been a communal country and we should do all we can to stay that way, even though some resentment has creeped in now. We Nepalis will have to show restraint, resolve and resilience in the days to come.

For far too long we allowed misguided people to get away unquestioned and unchallenged for the damage they have done. Let us hold to account those who created polarisation and pushed the country to the edge with their lies, misinformation and compromised silence. 


Read also:

Insult and injury, Rubeena Mahato

Messiahs of the Madhes, Jivesh Jha

Lose-lose, Kunda Dixit

A blockade is a blockade, Tsering Dolker Gurung

Carrot, stick and oil, Anurag Acharya

North and south, Puru Shah

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