Nepal Elections 2013

Is there Hope for Madhes?

11 Nov, 2013    ·   4170

Sisir Devkota analyses the issues that could continue to beset Madhesi Nepalis even if elections take place and a CA is formed

Sisir Devkota
Sisir Devkota
Research Intern

The second round of CA elections has provided hope for the historically exploited people of the geographically flat plains (Madhes/Terai) of Nepal. The hopes are high at this time because the people in Madhes have an outstanding chance to choose their representatives for the Constituent Assembly. It is an outstanding chance because many minority groups now have the legal opportunity to vote unlike previous elections and play their part in formulating an inclusive constitution. Nevertheless, major obstacles overshadow the aspirations of southern Nepal – political scepticism and the lack of unified leadership. This article will argue that even after the elections take place successfully, Madhesi Nepalis will continue to face difficulties.

Lack of Leadership and the Politics of Distrust
There is a serious contradiction between the agenda of the Madhesi representatives and their political actions. One of the prime demands of the Madhesi leaders is to form an autonomous Terai region consisting of a single province. But an enquiry into their proposed ‘autonomous province’ shows divided opinions on the re-arrangement of administrative units amongst the southern-based political parties. The colossal distrust stems from the ethnic and linguistic diversity in the region, causing social disputes and caste stratification within themselves. Furthermore, the unstable and unfixed political ideology and affiliation of Madhesi leaders has created factions within the political party and has exposed a rather incompetent and inconsistent side of the politicians. Indeed, the division of Nepal Sadbhavana Party into the Mandal and Anandidevi factions, Madeshi Jana Adhikar Forum (MJF) into Democratic and Ganatantrik ideologies and the sharing of the same agenda by two parties (Tarai Madhesi Loktantrik Party and Tarai Madhesi Loktantrik Party-Nepal), is a sorry situation for the inhabitants of southern Nepal.

The lack of leadership reflects the intricacies involved in strategising Madhes politics. Although the Madhesi political parties are contesting the upcoming elections, they have varying electoral agendas, creating moral dilemmas for the southern population. In fact, consensual politics is in such a poor state that leaders of Madhes-based political parties strategically filed their candidacy late to avoid fierce competition in the polls. Also, leaders from different political parties have repeatedly expressed their concern over how they would negotiate with each other in the light of their different take on political issues.

The Problematic Nature of Madhesi Politics
First, Madhes-based political parties are not only newly formed units but comprise of leaders who have defected from major political parties like the Nepali Congress (NC) and Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M). This has created a sense of suspicion regarding whether the old leaders from new parties would disappoint people once again as they did with their past ideological affiliation. Also, competing in the historical Constituent Assembly elections with major political forces of Nepal is also a disadvantage for the Madhes units as not securing enough seats would directly harm the Madhes promise in the new Republic of Nepal.

Second, the widely prevalent ideological defection among Madhes-based parties has led to some political leaders moving away from mainstream politics and launching an armed struggle against the government as well as towards a specific section of the ethnic population instead.

Third, Madhesi politics does not enjoy a weighty history - it has been short, and the political legitimacy is highly questionable. The frequent incidents of kidnapping, robbery and arson by Madhesi political entities have become a new security issue for the Nepalese government. Bloody rivalry with major political parties is apparent and was visible during the year 2007 when armed cadres of MJF killed around thirty party members of the UCPN-M. In fact, MJF even faces charges from the Human Rights Treaty Monitoring Committee for committing gross violations of human rights. It would be a critical question to ask whether these reasons make the Madhes parties legitimate to represent one-third of the population of the country in the upcoming elections.

Besides lacking experience, the political parties of Madhes face the problem of legitimacy, incompetence and consensual leadership. Therefore, the hopeless reality of Madhes politics will do little in actualising solutions for the problems that southern Nepal faces, even after the CA election takes place and the assembly is formed.