Nepal Needs To Address Madhesi Concerns

The Rashtriya Janata Party of Nepal’s (RJPN) announcement of withdrawal of support to the K.P. Sharma ‘Oli’ government is a clear sign of rising discontent among the people in the relatively calm and peaceful ‘Madhes’ region, bordering India. RJPN leadership has announced that they will go to the people and rejuvenate their agitation for the protection of rights of the marginalised communities, alleging the Nepal government’s failure on this front. It blamed the Oli government for failing to withdraw, what it called, “false charges” against those jailed during the Madhesh and Tharuhat agitation for protesting  against the implementation of the new Constitution in the Himalayan country in 2015.

The decision of the RJPN to break its ties with the government came within hours of the Kailali District Court in Western Nepal passing a judgment, sentencing Resham Chaudhary, a RJPN MP and 10 others to life imprisonment. They were accused of being directly involved in the 2015 Tikapur case in which eight security personnel, including a Senior Superintendent of Nepal Police and a toddler were killed by violent mobs agitating against the seven-state structure of the Federal Republic, proposed in the new Constitution. The agitators primarily demanded a separate Tharuhat state for the Tharu community of Nepal in the Western region of the country. The case against the accused was filed by the then government in 2015

The RJPN decision has however not come as a surprise to political analysts.The Madhesi leaders have been knocking at all doors, including meeting the Prime Minister over the issue. But their withdrawal of support would not have any immediate impact on the survival of the government. Even without their 17 lawmakers in the House of Representatives, the Lower House of Nepal Parliament, the ruling Communists have comfortable two thirds majority with the support of Federal Social Forum, another major force in the Madhes region led by Upendra Yadav.

Subsequent to the RJPN’s withdrawal of support, the Oli government has succeeded in signing an 11-point agreement with another Madhes leader C.K. Rout to douse the simmering fires of a separate Madhes province. Rout has been spearheading the agitation for ‘Free Madhes’. The  agreement has been welcomed as a positive move by the Oli government to curb the forces of disintegration raising their heads in Madhes.

The RJPN, formed in April 2017 with the amalgamation of six Madhes based regional parties of the United Democratic Madhesi Front has accused the government of not amending the Constitution despite having more than two thirds majority to fulfil their demand of social equality to all the marginalised sections, including Madhesis, Tharus and Janjatis. It also blamed the government of weakening the federal structure of the Constitution by not devolving powers to provinces and making the bureaucracy to serve partisan ends. These are serious allegations and could tend to inflame sentiments of a large section of the people in the Madesh region which comprises nearly half of Nepal’s population. Rajendra Mahato, a prominent Madhesi leader and Presidium member of the Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal said RJPN would launch a national movement to form an alternative to the ruling Nepal Communist Party and the main opposition Nepali Congress by uniting all progressive forces fighting for equality and social justice for the marginalised sections of Nepali society.

Though the Oli government is safe for now, the withdrawal of support by RJPN would have a deep psychological and social impact as the party has a popular base in the Madhes region. The ruling Communist party of Nepal can ill afford to ignore the sentiments of a large section of the Madhes region. The ruling Nepal leadership would have to make serious efforts to find an amicable solution to the issues of Madhes and avert the situation from deteriorating.

Script: Rattan Saldi, Political Commentator