Madhes crisis: What next?
Kundan Kumar Jha
Madhes has weighed heavily in Nepal’s political arena ever since the people’s revolution in 2007. The revolution demanded change in social structure of the nation, claiming equal rights and privilege for ethnically dominated people living in the southern region. It forced the government to amend the Interim Constitution 2007 for the third time to declare the state as federal republic. The federal state was described to be based on identity of dominant ethnic group initially but was cut down to size in Constitution of Nepal 2015. The term Madhes for many replaced the identity of Tarai.
After almost a decade of political transformation, Madhes looks politically unstable and socially divided into many groups. This instability has raised serious questions about how the region can flourish and at the same time assure peace and security to the people of the region. The promulgation of Constitution of Nepal prompted regional political groups to call for protests against the government, leading to series of mass demonstrations. It further worsened the situation when Indian establishment opted to seize border and enforce economic blockade against Nepal. The blockade seized the attention of government towards ongoing protests in Madhes but it also projected Madhes as a group supporting the Indian government.
This development clearly suggested that sovereign sentiments of Nepal were cornered and Madhes was blamed for the hardships brought about by the blockade across the country. Political leaders from Madhes were found visiting the neighbouring country seeking help to support their protest. The way this national issue was dealt with clearly showed how poor leadership can affect the national interest. This incident might have temporarily benefitted political sentiment of Madhes but it clearly divided the nation in two ideological groups. The threat that was imposed by India took back seat when CPN-UML government remained firm over its stance of constitutional amendment.
Madhes protest fizzled out when India lifted the blockade. This ultimately broke the pattern of protests led by political groups in Madhes. The protests which almost lasted for six months took more than 60 innocent lives while many remained severely injured. The government lacked adequate planning to deal with the crisis and was heavily criticised for its inappropriate measures to tackle the protest. Human rights violation became common practice for all the governments during the period which further escalated tensions. The internal crisis which has often been described as one of the process of state building during the period of political transformation has brought together with it the danger of division of the nation. The division has now challenged the pattern of national integrity, sovereignty and most importantly national security.
Political immaturity from leaders of Madhes allowed India to gain an upper hand in internal matters of Nepal. It not only compromised sovereignty of the nation but also clearly suggested that Madhes can become a weak link to hamper national security of the nation. The leadership that was supposed to bring peace and prosperity into the nation only ended up dividing the socially diverse groups, thus compromising the national interest. Today Madhes stands in a position where neither any political party has gained absolute majority nor has it been able to manage the power structure in coalition.
People across eight districts in Province-2 have widely accepted regional political parties in the recent elections but leadership still remains the major problem. While people have voted for change and inclusive social structure, leaders have shifted their interest towards power. Diverse groups have already started a new debate for name and capital city of Province-2 which may further induce another series of protests.
Lack of political awareness due to poor education has already shown how leaders can guide poor and weak people into series of protests against the state. Madhes needs to justify its importance and for that to happen it must not go beyond national sentiments. The divided house can bring together chances of greater intervention from other states. The state needs to understand the importance of Madhes and accordingly adjust Madhesis’ justified demands to ensure proportional growth across the nation.
Madhes can be utilised by the nation by promoting sectors like agriculture, education and more importantly trade and commerce but at the same time if its value is not realised it can pose a major threat for the state. The geographical positioning of Madhes makes it a buffer inside a buffer. The state’s independent foreign policy objectives to pursue a balanced relationship with neighbouring state has already prompted India to influence Madhes in order to counter state affairs if required.
The biggest problem of Madhes today is leadership of the region. Leaders involved in domestic politics of Madhes have already shown signs that if required they can go against national integration to remain in the power structure. State needs to recognise such threat before it is too late and control over the region is lost.
Eastern Madhes remains the only area that has ideologically separated itself from the state. Government and major political parties need to focus upon the differences or else it will only deteriorate the political situation of the nation. National security must be prioritised so as to ensure economic growth of the Nepali state. Madhes remains to be the crucial element in political system of Nepal as it brings together both the opportunities for development and threat against national security and sovereignty. Political consensus is the need of the hour to ensure that national interest is not compromised.
Published on 3 May 2018
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