Fears are growing that Nepal will descend into a civil war, which may even lead to its disintegration, unless its new and hurriedly prepared Constitution is amended to give justice to the country’s plainspeople, the Madhesis. Reports from Madhesi leaders in Nepal suggest that unless the demand of the Madhesis for greater representation in Parliament, in keeping with their population percentage, is met with, among other things, a large section of the Madhesi population may turn to armed struggle in a bid to secede from Nepal; this, in turn, will result in a security nightmare for India. Nepal’s mainstream political parties from Madhes, who have been part of the national government in the past, are under pressure from their people to demand for a “free Madhes”. Experts believe that if justice is not given to the Madhesis quickly, the situation may go out of hand.
“We are getting numerous calls from the people in Madhes region to wage an armed struggle for a ‘free Madhes’. This was not the case earlier. Some caller says that he is Prabhakaran, another one says he is Bhagat Singh. People in Madhes are hard pressed and are ready to go to any extent to get their rights and justice,” said Anil Kumar Jha, who was once Nepal’s Industries Minister and is the chairman of the Nepal Sadhavana Party, over phone from Kathmandu.
He added that “Though the Prime Minister (Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli) has assured us that the issue will be resolved, it looks like bayanbazi (lip service). The new Constitution was announced when the entire Madhes region was burning, with people protesting against its provisions. After that 112 days have elapsed. The government should have invited all the stakeholders for thrashing out a solution, in this period.”
Rajesh Ahiraj, who has done a doctorate on the Madhesi movement from Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, told The Sunday Guardian that the situation is volatile, and if not addressed immediately, things will go out of hand. He added that this would be against Nepal’s integrity and the conflagration could be a major security threat for India. Ahiraj is also the editor of Madhesvani magazine.
According to Jai Prakash Gupta, chairman of the Terai Madeshi Rashtriya Abhiyan, the movement has reached the grassroots. “As many as 14 lakh people formed a human chain to oppose the new Constitution. The youth are strongly resentful of the Constitution. The situation is going from bad to worse, with the youth gradually turning into separatists. The Madhesi leadership is under tremendous pressure, although we are committed to a peaceful resolution of the issue. If an amicable solution is not worked out, it will have far reaching consequences on the integrity of Nepal,” he said.
The Madhesi leaders believe that the conflagration will also impact India. “Any possible turmoil may lead to Madhesis taking asylum in India. Pakistan, which has already got some foothold in the region, will find it easier to operate from here in this ‘fluid’ situation, which will not be good for India,” said Gupta.
According to Gupta, Pakistan’s spy wing, Inter Services Intelligence is active in the Madhes region. “Moreover, 99% of Nepal’s Muslim population resides in Madhes. There has been an alarming increase in the number of madrasas, 150%, in the last one decade. Many new maulavis, who are not from Nepal, can be seen in these madrasas. It has been found that many of them are being funded from the Gulf countries,” he alleged. “In this situation, I cannot rule out the region becoming a ‘Mini Pakistan’,” he added.
The chairman of Terai Madhesi Lotantrik Party, Mahant Thakur said the situation is fragile. “People are in major trouble. They are being suppressed by the Nepali forces. Nepali forces are openly firing on the people and worse, the injured are not even being treated in hospitals,” he said on Saturday, before leaving for talks with the Nepalese Prime Minister. Thakur’s party is a part of the Madhesi Morcha, which is holding discussions with the Prime Minister to resolve the issue, along with the Nepali Congress, the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist).
Madhesi leaders allege that Nepali ministers are devoting more time in visiting New Delhi than visiting the strife-torn Madhes region. “Not one of them has come to Madhes. There is a complete shortage of fuel in the region. There is selective movement of vehicles carrying fuel. While they are moving freely in the hills, their movement has been restricted in Madhes. The government says India has enforced a blockade. If that was the case, how could these vehicles be going to the hills? By terming the agitation as a ‘blockade’ by India, the Nepali government is insulting the Madhesi agitation,” said Ahiraj.
There is also a belief among many Madhesis that some European countries are trying to internationalise the turmoil in the Madhes region, so that external forces can be deployed there in the name of peace keeping and these countries gain a foothold there.
Asked whether he was satisfied with India’s role in resolving the matter, the former Industries Minister, Anil Kumar Jha said, “Whatever should have been done by a neighbouring country, India has done that. And, therefore, I am satisfied with its role. However, it should continue to mount pressure on the Nepal government so that Madhesis get justice and equality. It should ensure that the issue is addressed in totality and it should not leave us midway.”
India, on its part, has proposed to send an all party delegation to Nepal. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said in the Rajya Sabha this week that there has been the broadest goodwill for Nepal in India and full consensus on India’s policy. “In that tradition I would urge the House to consider the merits of visit to Nepal by an all-party delegation. The government will be guided by the sentiments of the House,” she said.
India has been asserting that it had imposed no blockade and was actually trying to re-route supplies via available routes and also by air. Swaraj said any obstructions caused are by the people of Nepal, which is beyond the control of India. “India’s only interest is in a peaceful, united and stable Nepal and our approach to the present crisis is completely consistent with these objectives,” she added.
Nepal’s Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa met Swaraj in New Delhi this week. During the meeting, Swaraj told him that India has gone out of the way to ensure medical supplies to Nepal. She also asked Thapa to normalise the situation as soon as possible.