| Members of a UN monitoring team register Maoist fighters at a camp in Chitwan, southwest of Kathmandu. (AFP)
Kathmandu, Jan. 18: While the rest of Nepal is moving towards peace, Nepal’s districts adjoining Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (Terai region) are on fire and their inhabitants — the Madhesis — are restless. They are organising a series of strikes and burning the new Interim Constitution.
This could potentially become an inhabitants of hills vs Madhesi conflict. Royalists, in a rearguard action, are believed to be fishing in these troubled waters.
The Madhesis are often seen as “Indians” because of their names, castes, looks and the use of Maithili, Awadhi and Bhojpuri languages. Their lifestyle, culture and customs are a mirror image of their neighbours across the border in India. Nearly 40,000 of them have been without citizenship. Only after the peace agreement has the process of granting citizenship begun to those who can provide pre-1990 proof of residence.
The claim of the Madhesis — recognised by all political parties but granted by none up to now — is for a share in political power proportional to their 35 per cent population.
Two armed splinter groups — led by former Maoists Jwala Singh and Jaikrishna Goit and both called Jantantrik Terai Mukti Morcha — are ostensibly fighting for Madhesis’ rights. The Sadbhavna Party with its various factions claims to speak for Terai. Now, a Madhesi Janadhikar Forum has also been formed.
Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai’s view is that the so-called Maoist splinter groups are the creation of “some political parties and royalist elements”.
“These are fringe groups run by gangsters. Those who created them want to project that we have been weakened and ensure that the Constituent Assembly elections are delayed,” he claimed.
While admitting that “the problem of the people of Madhes is real”, he argued: “These gangsters are not their representatives — we are. We first raised the issue of regions and federalism and organised the people of Terai. We have definite information that royalists have infiltrated these groups and some landlords in Bihar are helping them — possibly without the knowledge of India. They are misusing the porous border to disrupt the Constituent Assembly election schedule.”
The systematic exclusion and marginalisation of Madhesis from political power in Nepal is evident.
“Except for the Sadbhavna Party, there is no political party in Nepal which has a Madhesi as president, general secretary or secretary. In the Nepali Congress central committee, nearly 50 per cent are relatives of Prime Minister G.P. Koirala. In the central committee of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) there is only one Madhesi and he too is a Brahmin. In the Maoist central committee, there is not even a single Madhesi. Matrika Yadav is only an alternate member,” pointed out political commentator C.K. Lal, himself a Madhesi.
“How is it that we are good enough to be doctors and engineers but not fit for government jobs' Why is there not even a single Madhesi heading the district administration in Nepal'” asks Anil Kumar Jha, joint general secretary of the Sadbhavna Party (Anandi Devi).
Jha is not against the armed groups in the Terai. “These groups have seen the example close to home of Prachanda achieving power through arms. We should support a deal with the Jantantrik Terai Mukti Morcha factions. Even if that fails, their existence itself might ensure that the Madhesis will get something,” Jha felt.
Senior leader of Sadbhavna Party Hridayesh Tripathi pointed out: “The process proposed for the Constituent Assembly will not give adequate representation to Madhesis. We have to discuss the issues being raised in Terai. Without that the Constituent Assembly elections will not be proper.”
The Maoists have raised the demands of the people of Terai. “But they have not been able to deliver. There are three Madhesi demands which must be met — proportional representation commensurate with their population, a federal system of governance and delimitation of constituencies to ensure equal number of votes decides the size of each constituency,” argued Amresh Kumar Singh, a Nepali Congress MP.