New Delhi, Jan 9 (IANS) A flawed resolution to the over four months’ old agitation in the Nepal Terai could have serious security implications for neighbour India, which has an almost 1,100-km open border with the southern plains of the Himalayan nation, a senior Madhesi leader has warned.
“The government in Kathmandu is trying to obfuscate the issues that face the country right now through constitutional amendments couched in long-winded legalese…,” Rajendra Mahato, Sadbhawana Party president, said.
“New Delhi should be careful about extending welcome to attempts to weaken the historic agitation that the six-million-plus Madhesis have been waging since August 16 last,” Mahato, who is also a prominent leader of the ongoing agitation seeking amendments to the new Constitution, told IANS in an interview during a visit here.
For more than four months, the plains of the Nepal Terai have been simmering with protests against the country’s new Constitution that was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on September 20 last year. The Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar share open border with the Nepal Terai, which allows people unfettered access to each other’s territory and religious, ethnic and cultural intermingling.
“If the ongoing agitation is sought to be defused without the Madhesis achieving their rightful goal, it may lead to an upsurge in violence and the Terai could emerge as a playground for forces inimical to southern neighbour India,” warned the 57-year-old charismatic Madhesi leader who has not flinched from leading the agitation from the front.
He was severely injured in a clash with the police at Biratnagar on December 26 while staging a sit-in protest at the Jogbani-Biratnagar India-Nepal border.
After receiving initial medical care at the B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences at Dharan in eastern Nepal, he was flown to India on January 1 and admitted to Medanta The Medicity in Gurgaon, New Delhi’s suburb in Haryana, where he received expert medical attention for his injuries.
“The Madhesis will no longer take it lying down… For them it’s now or never… Yeh aar ya paar ki ladai hai (this is a fight to the finish),” said Mahato stressing that a settlement to the Madhesi demands ought to be “proper”.
“Aandolan lamba ho to bhi theek hai… par settlement proper hona chahiye (It doesn’t matter if the agitation goes on for long… but the settlement should be proper),” asserted Mahato.
The Left-led Nepal government has held a number of rounds of talks with the leaders of the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha which has been spearheading the agitation for over four months – but without any breakthrough so far.
The Morcha has expressed dissatisfaction over the content of the new Constitution, including demarcation of the federal units, and called for an inclusive Constitution and citizenship.
The four major constituents of the Madhesi Morcha are: the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party with Mahanta Thakur as president; the Sadbhawana Party with Rajendra Mahto as president; the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal headed by Upendra Yadav; and the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party-Nepal headed by Mahendra Yadav.
Nepal’s Terai region stretches from the Mechi river in the east to the Mahakali river in the west and comprises Madhes in its eastern part and the tribal-dominated Tharuhat in the western region. It has traditionally suffered immense discrimination from the Kathmandu-centric ruling elite that has comprised predominantly the Brahmins (Bahuns) and Chhetris of the Nepal hills.
Madhesis’ major demand is for the formation of two provinces in the Nepali Terai — the Madhes extending from the Mechi river in the east to the Narayani river in mid-western Nepal and Tharuhat pradesh from the Narayani to the Mahakali river in the west.
The Madhesi protestors are demanding, among other things, a redrawing of the boundaries of the provinces in the Himalayan nation as proposed in the new Constitution; and representation in Parliament on the basis of population. Significantly, the Nepal Terai has almost 51 percent of the country’s population and yet gets only one-third of seats in Parliament.
The Madhesis also seek proportional representation in government jobs and restoration of rights granted to them in the interim constitution of 2007 which the new charter has snatched away.
Over 55 people, including agitators and police personnel, have been killed during the four months of the Madhesi agitation.
(Deepak Goel has been a Nepal-watcher for more than 25 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)