The announcement of stir by Federal Alliance including Madhesi Front could not have come in a more inappropriate time. It is high time that everyone’s efforts should be concentrated on implementing the constitution. Madhesi Front has already tasted the bitter fruit of defeat in trying and failing to strong-arm the government by bringing in outer force (our unnecessarily meddlesome southern neighbour). The crippling economic blockade imposed by India harmed the Madhesi cause rather than strengthening it. Even if they were able to spread illusion among common people in the Tarai plains regarding the new constitution for a while, their abstract demands were not taken up by people to sustain the ‘movement’.
Federal Alliance’s complaints against the new constitution are unfounded. The statute has many problems but it is more progressive than the previous ones in that it has tried to incorporated rights for all sections of the society. As per the agitators’ demands, amendment to the constitution has been made. Their demands of electoral constituency on the basis of population and proportionate inclusive representation have been addressed by the first amendment. This amendment gave opportunity to India to lift economic blockade that had dented its image worldwide and it also contributed to fizzling out of Madhesi ‘movement’ that had reached a crescendo.
The Alliance’s demand of changing federal boundaries, however, is dangerous to the unity and integrity of the country because they would not rest until having two provinces in the Tarai separate from the hills. Mahantha Thakur’s rants of Nepal being ‘multi-national state’ and ‘Madhes as a separate state’ are founded on the demand to have two horizontal provinces for Tarai. Even if trade diversification has been an oft repeated mantra, Nepal’s growing consumer demands are satisfied almost exclusively via Indian route and granting the Madhesi demand for two autonomous provinces means that the horrors of blockade will be repeated. Anti-national Madhesis would surely employ this nefarious tactic to blackmail the central government into heeding their demands, how much unreasonable they might be.
Flexibility in making amendment to the constitution is the reason why influential countries including the US and China have praised Nepali leaders who have been taking constitutional process ahead through ‘consensus’ and addressing grievances of the marginalised. However, the government cannot think that the problem has been subsided. It needs to build an environment of trust and allow ‘safe-landing’ for the agitators so that they would not obstruct the implementation of the constitution.
Worryingly, both the government and the Federal Alliance seem to have developed thoughts that dialogues take them nowhere. All kinds of dialogues have stopped from 11 March onwards. The government has formed committees for oversight of federal implementation but since Madhesi leaders have not been taken into confidence confrontation is sure to peak in the future. Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa-led political mechanism to redraw federal boundaries has not appeared serious in engaging agitators to the talks table.
To make matters worse, Prime Minister KP Oli has been issuing belligerent statements that have further alienated the Alliance. But the Alliance itself gave reasons for the PM to adopt pugnacious approach because the leaders have been adding more demands and conditions that further complicate the issue. Nepali Congress, the major opposition party, too has not taken any concrete steps in brining the strife to an end. That said, even if major parties have shown elasticity in amending the statute to address genuine demands the Alliance seems to have taken it as a cue to have their all unreasonable demands addressed.
This stalemate and the fresh announcement of stir will have adverse effect on commoners’ life. Dry spells and droughts have made people’s lives in Tarai miserable and they are in no mood to come out in the scorching sun for agitations. People have understood that those leaders who were defeated in the Second Constituent Assembly elections have used people to salvage their sinking political career and they have no good intentions for the commoners. Moreover, Province no. 2, the seat of Madhes stirs, suffers from criminal activities. Due to political instability in the Tarai, security has been an issue of concern for the people. Murder, kidnapping and extortion are rife. Different criminal groups have been carrying out their nefarious deeds in the garb of political causes. Rather than helping the government in bringing these groups into justice, Madhesi leaders have been indirectly using them for political gains. This has only contributed to alienate them from the common people.
In this context, dialogue is the only way out. The government needs to be serious in bringing agitating parties to the talks table as it has been hitherto forming committees and holding dialogues just for public consumption. Federal Alliance too should drop its rigid stance and hold meaningful dialogue with the government. The agitators cannot keep having grievances against the constitution that was approved by more than 90 percent of assembly members. After all, any remaining gripes can be resolved through talks.