The Big Three could have gone to Madhesh with Maithili, Bhojpuri, Tharu and Awadhi translations of constitution for Madheshi views on contested issues
If Madheshi Morcha does not come on board for local level (or any other) election, or if they boycott election in Madhesh (specially in Province 2), or again resort to the same ‘colonization’ narrative to foment unrest, as much as, or more than, Madheshi forces the Big Three—Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Maoist Center— will be responsible.
Needless to say, the Big Three went through the most difficult times until February 2016, when blockade was lifted and first amendment to the constitution was made. Madhesh was burning.
Emotions were high. People were being killed and the sense of hatred and anger against these parties was as intense. So if they followed India’s instruction as to what should be altered in the constitution, they would not only be seen as ‘surrendering’ to Indian aggression but it could also affect Nepal’s ‘national consciousness.’ If they went to Madhesh, confrontation was inevitable.
Naturally, since constitution promulgation and chain of unfortunate events that followed, Indian aggression and uncompromising attitude of Madheshi forces demanded so much attention from commentariat (including this writer), that the idiocy of the Big Three received little criticism. Let me take a break here, for it is never too late to reflect on where they blundered on Madhesh.
The situation had changed after ouster of KP Oli last July. Madheshi parties had returned to the parliament. After the government registered the seven-point amendment proposal in parliament last November, normalcy had been almost fully restored in Madhesh.
The Big Three could have gone to Madhesh with Maithili, Bhojpuri, Tharu and Awadhi translations of constitution to take Madheshi people’s view on three most contested issues of citizenship, language and province demarcation and asked common Madheshis which particular provisions they did not like and why. This would have given a sense of what common Madheshis actually want. They could have told them how constitutional limitation on naturalized citizens does not prevent indigenous Madheshis from contesting for top political posts. They would know what Madheshi people have to say about much-feared ‘design’ to give Hindi language the status of national language.
They could have explained to Madheshi people about difficulty of creating Madhesh-only provinces, or how provincial set up with both hills and plains could be more beneficial to them than one without hills. After February 20, when the government declared local level election for May 14, they should have appealed to Madheshi people to actively participate in the election. Even if top leaders could not visit Madhesh in person, they could have mobilized their local cadres to build a climate for local election, which aims to revive grassroots democracy in a true sense.
Madheshi leaders had told Madheshi people: The constitution does not allow Madheshis to become PM, to apply for government jobs and to vote and choose their own rulers. Failure of the Big Three to dispel such doubts created an impression that this must actually be the case.
CPN-UML could have used its ‘Mechi to Mahakali National Campaign’ as an occasion to educate common Madheshis about the merits (for there are many as one realizes by reading the list of fundamental rights) of the constitution. It made a mistake by turning the event, which could have been used to forge reconciliation with Madhesh, as a ‘show of strength.’ They seemed to be trying to invade the space of Madheshi parties.
Madheshi leaders quickly capitalized on this mistake. They told their cadres how top UML leaders had ‘insulted’ Madheshi people during the blockade and, as if that were not enough, how they were coming to Madhesh to further hurt and insult their dignity. With the death of five innocent people in Saptari, the claim that Big Three only know how to give orders to ‘shoot’ at the protestors not heed them got reinforced.
In 13 months since Madhesh came back to normalcy, how many times did the Big Three conduct surveys in Madhesh to know what the Madheshi people want? Madheshi leaders and activists are portraying a segregation-like situation as seen in the early 20th century America. When did the Big Three go to Madhesh to downplay this claim?
Since the fall of Sushil Koirala government in October, 2015 the focus of three parties has been on trying to prove who is ‘friendlier’ to Madhesh. Congress thinks it will gain by projecting UML as the ‘enemy’ of Madhesh. UML thinks ‘what if we lose Madhesh in the upcoming elections, we have huge hill constituencies in our favor.’ Maoist Center, whose leader goes about promising just about everything to everybody, seems to be struggling to chart its electoral agenda.
In this race to project one another as the ‘enemy’ of Madheshis, they have ignored even vital issues that could have made them feel that the Nepali state is not as hostile to them as was portrayed by Madheshi leaders.
In a conversation with me few months back, prominent Madheshi intellectual CK Lal had said “if proportional representation of Madhesh is reflected in the structures of political organizations, if genuine attempts had been made to lift Madheshis through reservation system, if situation was created whereby Madheshis saw themselves in state organs,” this could have addressed the grievances of Madheshi people to a great extent.
Past 13 months should have been used to prove to Madheshis that they can have fair share in politics. This did not happen. When 80 High Court judges were appointed early this year (more on partisan rather than merit basis), only four of them were Madheshis. When 14 ambassadors were recommended last month, there was not a single Madheshi. Ironically, even Bijay Kumar Gacchadhar’s Madheshi People Rights Forum (Democratic) recommended Saraswati Parajuli (a non-Madheshi) as an envoy.
So if Madheshi leaders go back to agitation to foil election, or to prohibit one or all of Big Three from entering Madhesh for electioneering, don’t be surprised if they use some or all of the following arguments to appeal to Madheshis.
One, they will point to deaths of five innocent Madheshis in Saptari. Didn’t the Congress-Maoist government intend to kill us all? How can we trust the parties that believe in suppressing us with brute force? And which of the Big Three leaders came to extend condolence to the victim families?
Or they will say more than 50 Madheshis were killed during 2015/16 protest. And these leaders of big parties stayed in comfort of Kathmandu. They agreed to provide compensation to the bereaved families, declare the dead as martyrs and provide medical expenses to the injured only when we exerted pressure.
They agreed to ‘inclusive proportional representation’ in principle but look what they have done in practice. They have not cared to appoint Madheshis in top judicial and ambassadorial posts.
Madheshis for them are not Nepalis. Is this not a proof of how this constitution discriminates against us? Is this not a proof of internal ‘colonization’ of Madhesh?
Colored in rhetoric (leaders have mastery over it) such arguments will appeal to Madheshis. Most likely, Madheshi leaders are going to use this rhetoric to convince voters not to vote for UML—the party that Madheshi leaders have projected as ‘number one enemy’ of Madhesh. But the sword of Damocles might fall upon Nepali Congress and Maoist Center as well.
As we are draw close to local level election, it is time for Big Three to go ask Madheshi people on which areas they have strong reservations. Their mistake is they have only been trying to woo Madheshi leaders. They have never asked Madheshi people if what they want is also what Madheshi leaders want.
Often, election is the time when parties in Nepal try to prove their superiority, not by merits, but by projecting their rivals as inferior, incompetent and ‘anti-people.’ They will most likely use the same old tricks to woo the voters this time as well, leaving the real issues behind.