After months of an anti-constitution movement and economic blockade, the Madhes-based political parties from the Terai region — and, in a historical first, the hill-indigenous (Janajati) groups too — have resumed the stir against the exclusionary statute of Nepal promulgated last year.
The renewed stir, coordinated by the Federal Alliance, now involves 29 political groups from the Terai and the hills, including the United Democratic Madhes Front which had imposed an economic blockade in the country for 135 days.
It is for the first time in Nepal’s history that the Madhesis and hill-Janajati groups have joined hands in a bid to oppose the government on the constitutional issue.
In the 26-point demands submitted to Nepali Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, the Federal Alliance has asked the government to redraw the boundaries of proposed states, ensure proportional representation in the state mechanism, reconstruct houses for the victims of the April 25, 2015, earthquake and, most importantly, rewrite contentious chapters of the constitution.
To pressurise the government into addressing their grievances, the agitating groups first of all organised a massive rally in Kathmandu on May 14, followed by two-day picketing of Singha Durbar – the country’s administrative complex — and one-day of picketing of the Prime Minister’s official residence at Baluwatar.
This was followed by massive rallies in different corners of Kathmandu Valley along with similar protests in Birgunj in the Terai and Pokhara in the western hills.
So far, the Kathmandu-centric agitation of the Federal Alliance has been peaceful. Except some minor scuffles between the protesters and the police, there have not been any major incidents.
And, despite efforts made by the government to obstruct the agitating groups from entering the Kathmandu Valley, people’s participation in the rallies has been overwhelming.
Initially, the government strongly criticised the protests of the Federal Alliance and called these “pointless” and a mere “drama”. But later, on realising the strength of the Alliance, the government invited different individual agitating groups for dialogue, which the latter flatly rejected. They have a feeling that the government has not been able to create a proper environment for dialogue.
During the Madhes movement between August 2015 and February 2016, the Madhesi and Tharu leaders held 36 rounds of talk with the government — but the government was least sensitive towards the issues of the historically oppressed communities.
And the amendment that the government unilaterally made in the constitution proved a mockery for its failure to meet the aspirations of the agitating groups.
Hence, the Federal Alliance this time has placed certain conditions for resumption of talks with the government. These include declaring all 58 people killed during the Madhes movement as martyrs, paying due compensation to all those injured and releasing the political workers put behind bars on trumped up charges.
Since the government did not show any flexibility in its stand with the agitating groups, the stand-off between the government and the Federal Alliance continues. It is likely that the Alliance groups would now declare a fresh list of protest programmes in their fight against the discriminatory provisions of the constitution more effectively.
The way the agitating groups have adopted peaceful means in their protests against the government and the constitution shows that they are integrationists rather than secessionists. Yet, the government has not taken the movement by the Madhesis and the Federal Alliance positively.
Giving rightful place to traditionally deprived communities like the Madhesis, Tharus, Janajatis, Dalits and the women in the constitution would create peace and stability and open new opportunities for development in the country.
But instead of doing so, the hill elite wants to perpetuate the historical discrimination and give continuity to the 250-year-old feudal system in which only the minority group of Arya-Khas Bahun-Chhetri castes of people have dominated each sector of state mechanism.
Ever since the time of King Prithvi Narayan Shah in the 18th century, the Madhesis and Janajati groups have been excluded in each sector of state mechanism.
The hill-Janajati groups have been made subject of humiliation and were openly called “Matawalis” or the wine-consumers.
However, of the two dominant groups of the Madhesis and Janajatis who together form over two-thirds of Nepal’s 27.8 million population, the situation of the Madhesis has been worse.
Unlike the hill Janajatis, the Madhesis and Tharus of the Terai face an identity crisis in the country as they are treated as foreigners in their own land.
With changing times, the Madhesis and hill-Janajati groups are no longer in a mood to accept the rule of the minority groups of hill elites. Therefore, the sooner the government addresses the grievances of the Madhesis, Tharus, hill Janajati groups, Dalits and women by rewriting the constitution, the better it is for the peace and prosperity of the country.
But the inability of the government to do so could only strengthen the hands of the radical forces and further complicate the issue.
(06.06.16 – Dr. Hari Bansh Jha is Executive Director of the Centre for Economic and Technical Studies in Kathmandu, Nepal. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at <[email protected]>)