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10/31/2015

OvercomingthestasisinNepalTheHindu

OPINIONLEAD

Published:October31,201500:38IST|Updated:October31,201504:12IST
October31,2015

OvercomingthestasisinNepal
RakeshSood

AP
WhentheConstitutionwasfinallypassed,forsome,therewasjustasenseofreliefthatthesevenyearlongexercisewasfinallyreaching
aconclusionafterrepeatedfalsestartsforothers,therewasanairoftriumphalism.Nepalesepeoplecelebratetheadoptionofthe
countrysnewConstitution,outsidetheConstituentAssemblyHallinKathmandu.

TheimpasseinIndiaNepalrelationsduetotheovertIndiansupportfortheMadhesisandtheconsequentassertionofNepalinationalism
doesnotportendwellforacountrysufferingfromeconomicdifficulties.ReneweddialoguebetweentheactorstheNepaligovernment,
theMadhesisandIndiaisamust
ItisnowoveramonthsinceNepalpromulgateditsnewConstitution.WhentheConstitutionwasfinallypassed,forsome,therewasjusta
senseofreliefthatthesevenyearlongexercisewasfinallyreachingaconclusionafterrepeatedfalsestartsforothers,therewasanairof
triumphalism.However,fortheMadhesis,theJanajatisandtheTharus,whohavetraditionallybeenthedisadvantagedgroups,therewasa
senseofbetrayal.

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Intheweeksthatfollowed,theKathmandubasedpoliticalleadershipwaspreoccupiedwithjockeyingforpositionsinthenewgovernment
whilethesimmeringsenseofalienationinTeraiexplodedintoanagitationthathasclaimedmorethanfortylives.TheIndianpolicyofovertly
backingthedemandsoftheMadhesisledtoanupsurgeofNepalinationalism,coupledwithantiIndianism.Movementofgoods,including
essentialslikepetroleumproducts,cametoahalt.TheIndiangovernmentblamedthedeterioratinglawandordersituationwhileNepalis
accusedIndiaofimposingablockade.
Needformoderation
NowthatNepalhasanewgovernmentledbyPrimeMinisterK.P.Oli,andanewPresidentandSpeaker,theshapeofthenewpolitical
dispensationisemerging.ItistimethatallsidestheNepaligovernmentanditspoliticalleadership,theagitatingMadhesisandtheIndian
governmentclimbdownfromtheirstatedpositions,eschewrhetoricandopendialoguetoresolveissues..
NepalhasexperimentedwithfourConstitutionsandtwointerimConstitutionssince1948nevertheless,the2015Constitutionisuniqueasit
establishesNepalasafederalrepublicforthefirsttime.TheexercisewastobecompletedbyMay2010butreconcilingtheideasofaliberal
federalismwithMaoistideology,inaprimarilyconservativeHindunation,tookanadditionalfiveyears.
Duringthisperiod,theNepaliCongress,theCommunistPartyofNepal(UnifiedMarxistLeninist)[CPN(UML)]andtheMaoistsplayed
musicalchairswiththePrimeMinisterskursi.G.P.KoiralaandSushilKoiralafromtheNCPushpaKamalDahalPrachandaandBaburam
BhattaraifromtheMaoistsandMadhavNepalandJhalaNathKhanalfromtheUMLtookturnsatheadingthegovernmentbetween2008
andnow.Meanwhile,MaoistandMadhesiforcesthathadledthedemandforafederalrepublicfracturedandweakened.OnceexPrime
MinisterSushilKoiralaconcededthathewouldstepdownandyieldtheprimeministershiptoaleaderfromhiscoalitionpartner,theUML,
K.P.Olibecameimpatient.
Together,thebigthreepartiestheNC,theUMLandtheMaoistshadthenumberstopushthroughtheConstitutionandMr.Olibeganto
pushforfasttrackingtheprocess.UnwillingtotrustMr.Koirala,hestitchedupadealwiththeMaoiststosupporthisclaim.OnsariGharti,a
MaoistJanajatileaderandwifeofBarshaManPun,aPrachandaloyalist,wasbackedbyMr.OliforthepostoftheSpeaker.TheVice
Presidentspost,forwhichelectionsaretobeheldonOctober31,islikelytogotoaMaoistleader.
ThefactthatSushilKoiralabacktrackedonhisdealwithMr.OliandgothisowncandidatureforprimeministershipendorsedbytheNC
onlydroveMr.Olitofindotherimprobableallies,enoughtoensurehisvictoryintheelectionsonOctober11,makinghimNepals38thPrime
Minister.KamalThapasroyalistgroup,RashtriyaPrajatantraPartyNepal[(RPPN)],with25seats,hadvotedagainsttheadoptionofthe
ConstitutionwhileBijayaGachchhadarsTharuMadhesigroup,theMadhesiPeoplesRightsForumDemocratic[(MJFD)],with14seats,
hadboycottedthesessionwithotherMadhesigroups.BothjoinedPrimeMinisterOlisCabinetasDeputyPrimeMinisters.
Mr.OliisbothapragmaticanddecisiveleaderwhowasseenasaneffectiveHomeMinisterearlierandashrewdForeignMinisterlater,
tenuresduringwhichhebuiltagoodrelationshipwithNewDelhi.Havingstartedhispoliticalcareerinthe1970sasaNaxaliteandhaving
spent14yearsinjail,heemergedinthe1990sasapromisingUMLleader,committedtomultipartydemocracy,thoughheisnowperceived
asmovingmoretotheRight.
TheelectionofBidhyaBhandariasthePresidentofNepalonOctober28reflectsPrimeMinisterOlisgrowingclout.Ms.Bhandarihasbeena
closepoliticalcomradeofMr.Olieversincesheenteredactivepolitics,aftertheuntimelydeathofherhusbandMadanBhandariinacar
accidentin1993.MadanBhandariwasacharismaticleaderandasGeneralSecretaryoftheUMLhadplayedakeyroleinestablishingmulti
partydemocracyafterthefirstJanAndolanin1990.HisaccidentaldeathspawnedmanyconspiracytheoriesthoughaCommission
establishedtoinvestigatethematterconcludedthatitwasanaccidentaldeath.In200910,Ms.BhandariwasmadetheDefenceMinisterin
MadhavKumarNepalsCabinet,reportedlyatMr.Olissuggestion.
Meanwhile,thesituationintheTeraihasworsened.Economicactivityhasbeenatastandstillformorethantwomonths.Withfactories
closed,schoolsandcollegesshut,hospitalsrunningshortofsuppliesandacuteshortagesofpetrol,dieselandcookinggasforcingpeopleto
usefirewoodandcleanuptheiroldbicycles,thishasbeenoneofthebleakestfestivalseasonsthatNepalishaveendured.Madhesishave,
meanwhile,gearedupforthelonghaul.Thefactthattheyhavebeenabletosustaintheagitationdespitebeingtheworstaffected,without
anycoerciveapparatus,speaksvolumesabouttheiraccumulatedresentment.
ManyoftheMadhesileadersleadingthemovementweretaintedasbeingcorruptandopportunists,butwiththeagitationtheyhavecaptured
themoodofalienation.Thosekilledintheagitationarebeingcalledmartyrsandmartyrscreatecauses..FromEkMadheshekPradesh,the
MadhesishavealreadyacceptedtwoMadhesiprovinces.Today,thedisagreementisonlyoverfivedistricts,threeintheeast(Sunsari,Morang
andJhapa)andtwointhewest(KanchanpurandKailali).ExcludingSunsaritakesawaythekeybordertownofBiratnagarandtheKosibasin
whileKailalihasalargeTharupopulationwhichitshareswithneighbouringBardiya.Thesearenotinsurmountabledemands.
Theotherissuepertainstodefiningelectoralconstituencies.The2015Constitutionreducestheweightagegiventoproportional
representation.Teraiconstitutes51percentofthepopulationbutaccordingtocalculations,itwouldcurrentlygetonly62outofatotalof165
seatsunderthefirstpastthepostsystem,insteadof83,asperitspopulation.Thenotionoffixingelectoralconstituenciesaftertakinginto
accountpopulationandgeographywasintendedtoensurethatthesparselypopulatedtransHimalayandistrictsarenotleftoutofthe
democraticprocess.Theoutgoinggovernmenthadworkedoutacompromisesafeguardingtheinterestsofsixmountaindistrictswhile
raisingthenumberofTeraiconstituenciesto79.Mr.Olineedstorevivethisproposal.
Citizenshipandidentity
CitizenshiphaslongbeenanemotiveissueamongtheMadhesisastheyoftenmarryIndiansfromthenortherndistrictsofBiharandUttar
PradeshandspousesofNepalicitizensbecomenaturalisedNepalicitizens.However,thereisadiscriminatoryprovisionregardingthe
offspringofsuchmarriages.ChildrenofaNepalimalemarryingaforeignerareNepalisbydescentwhereasifaNepaliwomanmarriesa
foreigner,theirchildrenarenaturalisedNepaliswhichbarsthemfromimportantandpowerfulconstitutionalpositions.Thisisalsoanissue
thathasbeentakenupbywomensgroupsonthegroundsthatitviolatesthebasicprincipleofequalityguaranteedbytheConstitution.
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However,iftheperceptionthatKathmanduisjustbuyingtimetakeshold,Madhesidemandswillstartsnowballing,makingacompromise
moredifficult.
AsoftenhappenswheninternalpoliticsinNepalgetspolarised,Indiabecomesaconvenientscapegoat.TheperceptionthatIndiahas
imposedavirtualblockadeinsupportoftheMadhesicauseisunhelpful,forbothIndiaNepalrelationsandfortheMadhesicause.Deputy
PrimeMinisterThapasvisitlastweekdidnothelpmattersbecausehecouldnotindicatehowhisgovernmentplannedtoresolveissuesand
inwhattimeframe.
Meanwhile,Mr.OliisbeingeggedontoplaytheChinacard.Thegrantofa1000metrictonnes(MT)ofpetroleumproductsbyChinamay
resonatewellwithNepalinationalistsmomentarilybutMr.OliknowsthatitisnotasubstituteforoverahundredtankersadayfromIndia
whichusedtogettransportedthroughBirgunjeveryday.
Ontheotherhand,needlesslystokingperceptionsofantiIndianismishardlyconsistentwithIndianPrimeMinisterNarendraModis
neighbourhoodfirstforeignpolicy.JustasIndiahastobesupportiveoflegitimateMadhesiaspirations,theNepalielitehastocometoterms
withthefacteveryagitatingNepalipoliticalgroup,fromtheNepaliCongress(NC)inthe1950stotheMaoistsinthe1990s,hastaken
advantageof1800kmlongIndiaNepalopenborderforrefugeinIndiaandtoseekinterventionontheirbehalf.
WhilethefocushasbeenontheMadhesiagitation,theJanajatidemandsarenodifferent.UnliketheMadhesiswhoshunarms,theJanajatis
areusedtofightingandformedamajorchunkoftheMaoistcadres.AJanajatiagitationcouldthrowNepalintoaconvulsionastheyare
geographicallywidespread.
Mr.OlisfirstchallengeistoaddressthehurtsentimentamongtheMadhesi,theJanajatiandtheTharucommunitiestacklingtheactual
issueswillthenbecomeeasier.ThisiswhereIndiacanandshouldplayasupportiverole.Mr.Moditooneedstochangetracksfromthe
presentimageofaregionalbully,heneedstorevivethevisionthathepresentedlastAugustinKathmanduofafriendlyandgenerous
neighbourworkingtowardsmutuallybeneficialrelations.
(RakeshSood,thePrimeMinistersspecialenvoyfordisarmamentandnonproliferationtillMay2014,isaformerAmbassadortoNepal.
Email:rakeshsood2001@yahoo.com.)
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