Kathmandu, Jan 25 (IANS) Rejecting Saturday’s amendments to the country’s Constitution, the Madhesi Morcha in Nepal on Monday announced a fresh agitation programme and called for a broader alliance among the other forces of the Terai-Madhes region of the Himalayan nation.
The agitating four-party alliance held a meeting here on Monday to review the more than five-month-old protest and resolved that the stir would continue until their demands were met by the ruling elite in Kathmandu.
The agitation in the country’s terai region is spearheaded by the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM) — or the Madhesi Morcha, as it is more commonly known. It comprises four Madhes-based parties — Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party led by Mahanta Thakur; Sadbhawana Party, headed by Rajendra Mahto; Sanghiya Samajwadi Forum-Nepal, led by Upendra Yadav; and the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party-Nepal headed by Mahendra Yadav.
In a statement, the Madhesi Morcha asserted that their struggle would continue till all their demands were met in a package. The meet also demanded the setting up of a high-level judicial panel to probe the numerous instances of killings by the state in the Terai.
In its fresh programme, the Morcha has announced candlelight vigil at district headquarters on Wednesday as a tribute to those killed during the protests; regional assemblies on Saturday to inform people about the latest political developments; and interactions with professionals, intellectuals, labourers and traders on Monday next about the Morcha’s agenda.
Under pressure following the more than five months of unrelenting agitation in the country’s southern region, the government allies and the main opposition Nepali Congress on Saturday approved two amendments to the barely four-month-old statute relating to proportionate representation and allocation of seats in parliament on the basis of population.
The amendment were approved on Saturday night by a majority vote amid slogan-shouting by lawmakers of the agitating Madhes-based parties, who did not take part in the voting process.
As many as 461 of the 468 lawmakers participating in the voting voted in favour of the first constitutional amendment bill while seven voted against in the 601-seat parliament.
As per the amendment, ethnic clusters in Nepal have been decreased to 15 from the earlier 17.
A delineation commission will be formed to determine the boundaries of constituencies for the House of Representatives, the lower house, on the primary basis of population while geography will be a secondary factor.
The statute-amendment came within two days of Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa — who is also Minister for Federal Affairs and Local Development besides holding charge of the Foreign Affairs portfolio — inaugurating an ambitious NRs.5 billion Border Area Development Programme (BADP) in the south-eastern Mahottari district.
The five-year development programme shall initially target the development of proposed province number 2 — the heartland of the ongoing Madhesi agitation — and will seek to create physical and social infrastructures in the region that borders southern neighbour India.
BADP is targeted at one sub-metropolis, six municipalities and 109 Village Development Committees in Mahottari, Saptari, Siraha, Dhanusha, Sarlahi, Rautahat, Bara and Parsa districts which have been lagging behind in life expectancy, literacy and per capita income values as compared to other regions of the country.
The region chosen for the programme has villages and towns bordering India. It has been lagging behind in life expectancy, literacy and per capita income values as compared to other regions of the country.
Mentioning the objectives behind the programme, Thapa said: “Though the Terai is a plains area and accessible, it is backward in human development indices.”
Thapa’s statement was a frank admission of the discrimination that the region has traditionally suffered at the hands of the Kathmandu-centric ruling elite.
The Madhesis have been protesting against the perpetuation of this very discrimination in the new Constitution, adopted on September 20 last year.
Pressing for a more representative constitution, the Madhesi protestors are demanding, among other things, a redrawing of the boundaries of the provinces in Nepal as proposed in the new Constitution — promulgated on September 20 last year; 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.
At least 60 people have been killed in the last five months in the Madhesi agitation. Nepal faces a severe short supply of essential commodities, fuel and medicines due to blockade of major Nepal-India entry points by the protestors.