Nepal saw a synonymous voice of nationalism in parliament on 13th June, 2020. Parliament amended the constitution for the new coat of arms consisting Nepal’s new map. Madhesi leaders showed a transformation from regional nationalism toward mainstream nationalism. This blog elaborates on the possible reasons behind the shift in the madhes-based political parties.
Madhesh has long since raised the issue of renouncement of madhesi people in the state-building process. This renouncement has framed political agitations and formed regional madhesi political parties opting for equal rights and inclusion. The peak of this agitation was seen in the form of the “Madhesh” movements in 2008 AD and 2015 AD. These political parties demanded a longitudinal single “Madhesh” province sponsoring regional nationalism in the southern plains of Nepal. However, this regional nationalism contradicted mainstream nationalism developed on the foundation of the unification and geopolitical sensitivity of Nepal. The 13th June Parliament session of Nepal saw Madhesi parties shift from regional to mainstream nationalism.
The primary reason behind the shift is the possible political and systemic threat due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Nepal. The COVID-19 response is late and the facilities in most of the quarantines are lame. People died on the borders and quarantines which raised questions about the service delivery. In the meantime, the central government’s internal party conflicts and lavish irrelevant expenses became public. These worrisome activities, improper facilitation and uncertain lockdown frustrated people.
The frustration inflated after the fiscal budget was unable to provide an adequate direction. The public perception with the budget was reduction in current expenses. However, the budget reduced merely the allowances of the bureaucrats. It was not able to stop the money provided to parliamentarians. The budget could not justify the expanding current expenses, determined revenue structure and ambitious international support during the pandemic.
The political parties feared that the dissatisfaction would morph into a systemic agitation. People started questioning the viability of the 2015 AD political transformation to a republican, secular, and federal Nepal. The irrelevant expenses raised concerns about an irresponsible republic. The provinces’ activities and errands were not seen. The inactive provinces raised concerns regarding their viability. The dissatisfied mass and some intellectuals started raising questions regarding the benefit of 2015 AD transformations to the normal people.
The Madhesi shift towards mainstream nationalism is to balance the threat against the systemic transformation of 2015 AD. Madhesi political parties are prominent partners of this transformation though they had some resentments on provincial boundaries. The dissatisfaction of local people towards the system can only be addressed through synonymous polity. The Limpiyadhura border issue provided this avenue for all political parties to come together. This mainstream nationalism is necessary for the survival of the systemic threat of 2015 AD achievements. The Madhesi parties also joined to protect their achievements.
The second reason behind the shift is the change in political approach of the Madhesi parties. They have altered their outward looking approach into inward looking. In 2015 AD, Madhesh based political parties sought Indian support for aspired constitutional amendments. However, in the recent parliamentary process they supported mainstream nationalism by voting against Indian claims of Limpiyadhura territory.
In the 2015 AD movement, Madhesi parties assisted Indian blockade against Nepal. The agitators sat on the border restricting movements. Their stance helped India to establish a threat argument and limit transport movement. Interestingly, the agitation also stopped after the blockade ended. An Indian newspaper wrote that local Indian traders burnt the tents of Nepali protestors and cleared the barriers.
The relationship between Kathmandu and Madhesh was not harmonious. The Madhesi leaders accused Kathmandu of being a colonizer of Madhesh. The mainstream parties accused Madhesi parties of decoupling themselves from Nepali people by aiding an Indian blockade.
The outward looking approach of madhesi parties did not help to achieve their demands. However, a hibernated inward narrative was always present in madhesi society. The inward narrative meant convincing non madhesi Nepali people rather than a foreign country to achieve their demands. Ganesh Mandal, coordinator of Madhesh Unity Society, has argued that non madhesi Nepali people shall be convinced to end this problem. Alongside, the end of the separationist movement has made madhesi politics more competitive. Undermining the inward approach to convince non madhesi Nepali will constraint demand of regional nationalism.
Madhesi party’s shift towards mainstream nationalism can also be seen as a movement to develop this inward trust. The case of Limpiyadhura provided this opportunity. Their support to mainstream nationalism against Indian encroachment has already started to change the existing perception of Nepali people. However, the speech of madhesi leaders haven’t put an end to their demand of regional nationalism.
But, a major contradiction in this shift is regional nationalism and mainstream nationalism are non-convergent and refute each other. The mainstream nationalism sees a whole composite Nepal whereas regional nationalism incurs threat of separation to mainstream nationalists. It is hard to construct a zone of possible agreement between the two. Only time can tell whether the madhesi parties shift is blending regional nationalism inside mainstream nationalism or a transformed strategy towards achieving their idea of equality and participation through regional nationalism.