Who are Madhesis?

No doubt the Nepali leader-ship had discriminated against the Madhesi people of the Terai region while framing the new Constitution. The Constitution adopted by that country has provided 100 seats for the hill people constituting less than fifty percent of the population; and only 65 seats for more than fifty percent people of the Terai plains dominated by the Madhesis. The electoral constituencies have been delineated in a manner that the hill people have majority in many constituencies of the Terai as well. The Madhesis have also not been given adequate representation in the civil services, allocation of land for the landless and other facilities. This despite the Terai region being the agricultural breadbasket, industrial heartland and the trunk route for transport.

The Government of India had engaged in backdoor consultations with the Nepali leadership during framing of the Constitution. India wanted proportional representation to be adopted. The Nepali leadership refused to toe the Indian line and shortchanged the Madhesis that are culturally close to India. The India-Nepal border is entirely porous. Large numbers of people from Bihar have migrated to Nepal. They have bought land that is available cheap. They have family relationships across the border in India. They attend colleges in India. Their first love is India. They do not have Nepali citizenship. Their situation is like that of the Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam. Large numbers of Bangladeshi people have migrated into Assam just as large numbers of Biharis have migrated to Nepal. The Nepali leadership distrusts the Madhesis for this reason hence they have deliberately ensured that they do not emerge as the ruling majority in the country. What is happening in Nepal is purely a Madhesi agitation. This is what New Delhi tells the world in so many voices. But popular perception in Nepal is that this Madhesi agitation is unlikely to sustain itself on its own for long unless they get encouragement from India.

India also wanted Nepal to drop the word "secularism" from its Constitution. It appears that the Nepali leadership has acceded to this request in content though not in form. The Constitution says "secularism essentially means protecting Hindu ('Sanaatan') traditions." Thus the commitment to the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra is loud and clear.

The third bone of contention was the dominance of the Communists in the Nepali Government. Now, India could not oppose their dominance within the democratic framework. India thus demanded that recommendations of the 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission' be implemented fully. This Commission was established to examine the atrocities committed by the Communists. Unable to hit at them directly, India has chosen to hit at the Communists through this indirect route. But for all practical purposes communists are a force to reckon with in today's Nepal.

For one thing India's policy is untenable on all three points. Legal niceties aside, India cannot insist that Nepal provide full citizenship rights to immigrants from India when India is not giving similar rights to Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam. Thus the case for securing full citizenship rights for immigrants from India does not stand. The demand on secularism has been met in content if not in form. The Communists have to be dealt with by more by addressing their concerns regarding land distribution, and caste discrimination rather than hitting at them mainly for the atrocities that were committed.

Irony is that about 200-plus Madhesi members of the Constituent Assembly had supported the new Constitution. They were carried away by their personal interests. The Constituent Assembly had 598 members. Of these 507 supported the Constitution, 25 opposed the Constitution and 66 abstained. It is clear that the Madhesis did not stand as a united group. Large numbers sided with the hill people.

This sellout of the Madhesi interests by the Madhesi people did not go down well with the Madhesi people. They started agitations.

Indian Government was already miffed with the Nepali leadership for not falling in line. The Indian Government supported the Madhesi agitators who blockaded that landlocked country. The supply of essential items like petrol to Nepal takes place mainly from India. The roads to Kathmandu pass through the Terai Region that is the stronghold of the Madhesis. India supported the Madhesi agitation. Supply of oil and other essential items was obstructed. This is clear from the fact that the route through Mahendranagar and Kakadvitta were open and not affected by the Madhesi agitation yet India did not take steps to supply the essential goods through these routes. Indian Government is perhaps thinking that it can repeat the more than one year long blockade of 1989. At that time Rajiv Gandhi had successfully forced the King to initiate the democratic process. But circumstances have changed much since then. China has since made highways to Nepal; and can easily make more if so required. In trying to repeat the 1989 blockade, India is pushing Nepal into the laps of the Chinese by pushing them against the wall.

Recently the Nepali leadership has agreed to two main demands of the Madhesis. They have agreed for proportional representation in the Parliament and for delineating the electoral constituencies afresh to take on board the concerns of the Madhesis. However, the Madhesi leadership has rejected the offer. They want the other two contentious issues of representation in the civil services and issuance of citizenship certificates to also be settled immediately. As a result the agitation continues. The hawks in New Delhi may push the Nepali leadership into the laps of the Chinese. Alternatively, India can persuade the Madhesis to accept the proposals on proportional representation and delimitation of constituencies and keep the issues of civil services and citizenship pending to be resolved later.

After all the hill people of Nepal are not India's enemies. But New Delhi's behaviour may alienate them. Surprisingly the left parties in India don't show any interest in the current Nepali turmoil that is intricately related to India's foreign policy orientation.

Vol. 48, No. 27, Jan 10 - 16, 2016