[The resurgence of the MJF and the other pro-Madhesi parties did not sustain for long. By the time of the next election to the Constituent Assembly in November 2013, many of these political outfits had imploded and, like the cosmic Big Bang, created multiple entities that shone bright and not so bright. There were as many as 15 Madhesi parties registered with the authorities in 2013; the figure at the last count was over 30. This is in contrast to just four main Madhesi parties which contested in 2008. The result was that the pro-Madhesi groups slumped electorally, winning just 50 seats, and that too largely through the Proportional Representation system; the First-Past-The-Post gave them 11 seats.]
By Rajesh Singh
On July 26, during her first visit to
as Union Minister for External Affairs, Ms Sushma Swaraj told leaders of pro-Madhesi
parties that they must complain less and work more to unite for the cause they
espoused. Either by way of a rebuke or a friendly advice, the Minister had
touched a raw nerve, because the lack of unity among the parties has been the
main stumbling block in the progress and prosperity of the Madhesis.
One has to only look at the parties that attended the meeting with Ms Swaraj to realise how they have not been able to coalesce. Three factions of the prominent Madhesi Janadhikar Forum were represented — MJF (Loktantrik), MJF (
and MJF (Ganatantrik). A united MJF would have had a greater leverage and been
more successful in securing the rights of the Indian-origin Nepalese they
represent. Various factors, primary among them being the ego of leaders, resulted
in the fragmentation of the Forum, making it easier for the main political
parties, and earlier the monarchy, to manipulate them. Madhesi leaders such as
Upendra Yadav, Bijay Kumar Gacchedhar and Raj Kishore Yadav have turned
adversaries representing the same cause.
The MJF is not the only pro-Madhesi group to have split. Another prominent political outfit, the Sadbhavana Party, which has been fighting for the Madhesi people for many years, even before the MJF burst on the political scene, stands divided. Rajendra Mahato leads one faction while Anil K Jha heads another — and both were represented in the talks with Ms Swaraj. The Sadbhavana Party, which began as a non-political organisation by the name of the Rashtriya Sadbhavana Parishad, which came into being in the 1980s, frittered away a golden opportunity to effectively lead the Madhesi cause after beginning on a right, if strident, tone. In the 1990s it called for elections to a Constituent Assembly, insisted on the demand for a federal Province in the Terai region for the Madhesis, and said that power must move from
(the hills) to the plains. These are goals that the Madhesi outfits are
battling for even today. The Sadbhavana Party splintered due to its poor
showing in the elections and growing factionalism.
Given this backdrop, it was natural for the Indian External Affairs Minister to ask the leaders to get their act together. The proliferation of pro-Madhesi splinter groups has made it that much difficult for New Delhi to deal with them, especially when settling personal clashes among them rather than discussing a tangible plan of action for the political, social and economic uplift of the Madhesis, has become the main recipe on the plate.
It is not that the Madhesi leaders do not see the writing on the wall. But they have yet to act in a manner that consolidates rather than divides their strength. In the 2008 election to the Constituent Assembly — more known for the unprecedented and largely unexpected victory of the Maoists led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and Baburam Bhattarai — the main Madhesi parties secured impressive gains, winning as many as 83 seats (49 in the First-Past-The-Post system and 34 in the Proportional Representation system).
This was partly due to their relative cohesion and partly because of the massive unrest of 2007 and early-2008, which they had managed to drum up in the Terai in opposition to the continuing marginalisation of the Madhesi citizens of
Interestingly, the movement had also to do with the high-handed conduct of
Maoists workers on the ground, when the latter went about terrorising the
Madhesis in a bid to contain the latter’s growing influence at their cost in
The Maoists were also rattled by the exodus from their cadre in the plains because the workers who were leaving were doing so because the Maoist leadership was seen to be ambivalent at best in addressing the Madhesi concerns. One among those prominent leaders was Upendra Yadav. The “turning point”, as author Prashant Jha says in his book, Battles of the
was the gunning down by a Maoist of a young boy, Ramesh Mahato in January 2007,
following a scuffle between a group of Maoists and MJF activists. 16-year old
Mahato had joined a bunch of elders to protest, in Jha’s words, the
“Constitution’s silence on federalism” and had participated (although he had no
real political affiliation) in an agitation by students. New Republic
The resurgence of the MJF and the other pro-Madhesi parties did not sustain for long. By the time of the next election to the Constituent Assembly in November 2013, many of these political outfits had imploded and, like the cosmic Big Bang, created multiple entities that shone bright and not so bright. There were as many as 15 Madhesi parties registered with the authorities in 2013; the figure at the last count was over 30. This is in contrast to just four main Madhesi parties which contested in 2008. The result was that the pro-Madhesi groups slumped electorally, winning just 50 seats, and that too largely through the Proportional Representation system; the First-Past-The-Post gave them 11 seats.
It was a wake-up call for the pro-Madhesi parties. They had to not only gel better (if not merge) but also seek the support of the larger mainstream parties to push their agenda of ‘identity-based federalism’. A couple of weeks ago, six of them — Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Loktantrik), Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Nepal), Terai Madhes Loktrantrik Party, Sadbhavana Party, Federal Socialist Party and Terai Madhes Sadbhavana Party — came together and formed an alliance with the Prachanda-led Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). It remains to be seen if this understanding sustains or blows apart like it did after two years of existence, in 2013, before elections to the Constituent Assembly.
The issue of the nature of federalism has been one of the main reasons that have held up the final shape of the Constitution. While the Madhesi parties want the creation of Provinces based on dominant ethnic composition, others believe such a categorisation would go against the purpose of meaningful integration of Madhesis who comprise more than 12 per cent of Nepal’s population (if only non-Dalit caste Hindus are included). In his essay titled, ‘Ethnic politics and the building of an inclusive state’, which forms part of the book, Nepal in Transition, edited by Sebastian von Einsiedel, David M Malone and Suman Pradhan, Mahendra Lawoti offers this solution: “To break the hegemony of one ethnic group, Nepal should strive to establish a model with a higher number of federal States, which would give more number of ethnic groups a plurality status in their respective Provinces.”
The Madhesis are more empowered now than, say, a decade ago during the monarchy. But the hurt of being considered ‘outsiders’, and being constantly questioned over their loyalty to
will not go away easily. Jha mentions “King Mahendra’s abiding gift to the
Nepali nation” — the insult that a poor Madhesi faced when he visited a pahadi
officer for redressal of his grievance. “And the only response he would receive:
‘Oye saale dhoti, go back to where you belong’”.
(The accompanying visual is of Jeetendra Sonar and other Terai Madhes Democratic Party leaders paying tribute to Ramesh Mahato, killed in a Maoist attack in