Since the Jana Andolan of 2006, Nepal has been undergoing a historic transition characterised by dynamism, such as the rise of Madhesi politics, which has been referred as the ‘rise of regional based ethno-nationalism’ (Hachhetu, 2007).
Madhesi politics was popularised after the Madhes uprising of 2007 that led to a region-based national discourse on restructuring Nepal to assure federalism. Moreover, it focused on issues of historical discrimination against Madhesi people at the national level. The impact of this was seen in the CA-I election, in which Madhesi parties were significantly victorious. New political parties emerged from the social movement in Madhes (Madhesi People’s Right Forum, Nepal, and Terai Madhes Democratic Party) in addition to the already existing Madhes-based parties. A snapshot statistical analysis tends to suggest that Madhesis account for nearly 33 per cent of the population of Nepal while all other communities account for nearly 50 per cent. However, the total proportion of votes that went to the Madhesi parties was merely 11 per cent (approximately). With this, Madhesi political parties were represented in the CA-I election with nearly 87 seats (including FPTP and PR) out of 601 seats in the assembly.
Nevertheless, the rise of Madhesi politics after the CA-I election is significant, especially since for the first time, a Madhesi politician was elected as president of Nepal. The vice-president, too, was Madhesi. In addition, four consecutive governments in Nepal were formed with the support of Madhesi parties, although this also unfortunately cost them by leading to a series of splits. In this context, the crucial question is: would the Madhesi Parties be able to retain the results gained in the previous election? If the Madhesi parties are divided over narrow political interests, how would the Madhesi people vote - for or against?
First, there is a general sense there are too many Madhes-based political parties. There are 122 political parties contesting elections for CA-II in Nepal, and of these, Madhesi parties are nearly 30. There are about nine political parties (Two of TMDP, two of SP, three of MPRF, Federal Sadabhavana Party and National Madesh Socialist Party) that have some impact in Madhes. In Nepal, the process of forming political parties is extremely dynamic, which makes analysis very difficult. In Madhes, there are 4,000 candidates contesting an election for 116 seats under first-past-the-post (FPTP). This further complicates the process of predicting an election outcome.
Second, whether the Madhesi parties are able to retain the seats won during the CA-I election is a Pandora’s Box – nothing can be done except to wait for the results of the CA-II elections. Thus, this uncertainty is also considered problematic for psephologists’ calculations. Madhesi political parties are raising some major political concerns, such as inclusive/representative democracy, distribution of resources, doing away with a monolithic hill-centric nationalism to inclusive citizenship, devolution of power from caste of high hills elites (CHHE) under a centralised system to a decentralised form of governance under identity-based federalism, rights of self-determination etc. Perhaps these issues would remain crucial points of contention. Until these persist, Madhesi politics will continue to attract attention. To contest an election in Madhes, the major political parties have put forward Madhesi faces. This gives the general sense that the representation of Madhesis would remain intact.
Madhesi Politics: Prospects and Challenges
The emergence of Madhesi politics is a recent phenomena and without a strong historical organisational structure. Madhesi politics is in a process of ‘learning by doing’.
It is interesting to note that even before Nepal can restructure along federal lines, regional parties whose names contain the word ‘federal’ have emerged. Such trends show that the failure of CA-I due to a lack of consensus on federalism is merely postponing the inevitable. Indeed, the complexities of federalism stand still, but the aspirations for federalism, attached to the devolution of power and the quickening of the decentralisation process, continue to grow. The complexity is whether these issues should be seen as prospects or challenges. As the saying goes, “Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”