Madhesis gird up for long haul, as talks fail in Kathmandu

New Delhi, Dec 11 (IANS) As a fresh round of talks between the government and the Madhesi political parties — aimed at resolving a four-month-old agitation in the Nepali Terai against discriminatory provisions of the country’s new Constitution — yet again ended inconclusively in Kathmandu, the protest leaders braced for the long haul ahead.

“We are prepared to carry on our agitation for as long as it takes to secure our genuine demands… after all, we have suffered discrimination for almost three centuries under the Shah dynasty… what is some more years to achieve the desired goal,” Mahanta Thakur, president of the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party, and a prominent leader of the ongoing agitation seeking revision of the new Constitution, told IANS in an interview during a visit here.

Thakur was in the Indian capital earlier this week along with three other Madhesi leaders — Rajendra Mahto, president of the Sadbhawana Party; Upendra Yadav, chairperson of the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal; and Mahendra Yadav, president of the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party-Nepal — and was involved in wide-ranging consultations with the Indian leadership on the current situation in Nepal.

The Madhesi leaders held meetings with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, among others. Indian ambassador in Kathmandu Ranjit Rae was present at the meetings.

The Madhesi leaders also held confabulations with various Indian political leaders including BJP National General Secretary Ram Madhav, senior Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav, Nationalist Congress Party general secretaries D.P. Tripathi and Tariq Anwar, senior BJP leader and former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, Janata Dal (United) member of the Rajya Sabha and former Indian diplomat Pavan Varma and senior Congress leader Karan Singh, among others.

“It has been an uphill climb… and the summit is yet far… but we are committed to securing our rights finally,” said the 66-year-old Teraian leader who quit the Nepali Congress in 2007 — after an almost three-decade-long association — to form the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party.

Thakur said the major political parties in the Himalayan nation — the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxists-Leninists) and the Unified CPN (Maoist) — obdurately continued to ignore the demands raised by the Madhesi political parties and the indigenous groups of the southern plains of the Nepal Terai.

“The relationship between Kathmandu and Madhes might not last longer if the demands raised by the Madhesi Morcha is not taken seriously by the government,” cautioned the Madhesi leader, who is highly respected as a “moderate”.

“The major three parties are just doing drama in the name of negotiations… the government is ignoring the demands raised by Madhesis despite our having presented the demands to the government in written and oral forms time and again,” said Thakur who presided as Speaker over the lower house of the Nepali parliament following the restoration of multi-party democracy in Nepal in 1990.”

“I don’t know how many times I will have to say that the bottom-line demand of the Madhesi Morcha is demarcation of states… we need two federal states in the Terai region from Jhapa till Kanchapur, but this government acts like it knows nothing about it,” observed the soft-spoken Thakur.

Nepal’s Terai region stretching from the Mechi river in the east to the Mahakali river in the west and comprising Madhes in its eastern part and the tribal-dominated Tharuhat in the western region has traditionally suffered immense discrimination from the Kathmandu-centric ruling elite that predominantly comprises the Brahmins (Bahuns) and Chhetris of the Nepal hills.

The major agitation 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.

For almost 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.

The Madhesi protesters are demanding, among others, a redrawing of the boundaries of the provinces in the Himalayan nation as proposed in the new Constitution; restoration of rights granted to Madhesis in the interim constitution of 2007 which the new charter has snatched away; representation in Parliament on the basis of population — the Nepal Terai has almost 51 percent of the country’s population yet gets only one-third of seats in Parliament; and proportional representation in government jobs.

(Deepak Goel can be contacted at deepak.g@ians.in )

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