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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2345

Madhesi Troubles Overshow Oli’s Delhi Visit

By Rattan Saldi - Syndicate Features

After a long dilly-dally, Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli was in New Delhi on a six-day State visit beginning 19th Feb 2016 during which he tried to halt the downturn in the Nepal-India relations triggered by the promulgation of new Constitution in the Himalayan State. Now he is getting ready to visit China - a visit Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa had said at one point of time would be undertaken before he made it to the Indian capital.

Marking the Oli visit, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on release of aid promised by India in the wake of earthquake last April. Also inked were MoUs on matters like road construction, energy, trade, and cultural exchanges besides transit facilities for Nepal-Bangladesh goods traffic. Oli held wide ranging talks with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, called on President Pranab Mukherjee and met other Indian leaders besides visiting a hydro-power project

One significant thing happened in Kathmandu before Oli embarked upon his New Delhi sojourn. Hectic parleys were held with Madeshi parties to bring them overboard and accept the new Statute and the first Amendment made on January 23 to meet some of their demands. A four-Madeshi party alliance, the United Democratic Madeshi Front, UDMF, has been at the forefront of articulating Madhesi concerns which led to a five-month long blockade at check points along India-Nepal border causing serious shortages of petrol, diesel, cooking gas and several other essential commodities. Nearly 60 people were killed as their agitation turned violent. The Front lifted it’s the blockade a week prior to Oli’s visit to India after starting talks with the government side on their demands.

As there was no forward movement in the talks with Madeshi parties, the Oli government unilaterally announced the setting up of an 11-member Committee to be headed by Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa on the eve of Oli’s visit for demarcation of federal boundaries allegedly to project before New Delhi that the Prime Minister was sensitive to the demands of the Madeshis, who predominantly inhibit the Southern parts of Nepal, bordering India.

At the joint press conference with Prime Minister Oli after their talks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the adoption of new constitution as a “significant achievement in Nepal’s struggle for democracy” but cautioned that its success depended on “consensus and dialogue” among stakeholders. Taking the cue, Prime Minister Oli said “My sole purpose (of visit to India) was to clear the misunderstandings and improve ties between the two countries that had reached its lowest for the past few months, and I believe, I have succeeded on that. We are ready to address the grievances of protesting section.” He further said, “We had notified India that we are in favour of dialogue and consensus.”

The new constitution, promulgated last September, has made Nepal “a Federal, Secular, Democratic, Republic”. It divided the country into seven federal units, and provided one province for the Madeshi, Tharu, Janjati and several other ethnic minorities living in Terai region that borders India.

The UDMF is not happy with the seven -state model. It is demanding creation of two states in the Terai region which accounts for 22 of the 70 districts. The Front want clarity in citizenship and in delineation of Constituencies and allocation of seats in Parliament in proportion to the Madhesi population.

The UDMF has rejected the Kamal Thapa committee on demarcation of federal boundaries saying it (committee) was formed without forging consensus on the terms of reference. It is not averse to joining the political mechanism though on certain conditions. “We have no objection to joining the political mechanism if government forges consensus with UDMF about its terms of reference and granting it Constitutional validity,” said Mahantha Thakur, Chairman of Terai Madesh Democratic Party, and Sarvendra Nath Shukla, the spokesperson of the Terai Madesh Loktantrik Party, which is the 7th largest party in the 601-member Nepal Parliament.

Another three Madesh based parties, Rashtriya Madesh Socialist Party, Nepal Sadbhawana Party and Rashtriya Janadhikar Forum, have joined the UDMF making it a seven-party strong alliance. They have threatened to start their agitation afresh and impose another border blockade from April-May “if the government continues to ignore our demands”.

When asked by reporters in New Delhi what he would do if Madeshi agitation returned, Oli remarked: “If someone is talking about another blockade, I will go back and ask why my friends are unhappy again. We have open ears and open mind.” This was a refreshing stand since he and his ministers had blamed India for the Madhesi blockade.

Sadbhawana Party President Rajendra Mahto has, however, questioned the sincerity of the Oli government. “The government instead of utilising the present lull in finding an amicable solution (to the Madhesi problem) is continuing repressive measures and arresting our cadres in the Terai region”, he said in a telephonic interview on 1st March.

“Our (UDMF) agitation in April-May would be still harsh. It will be a well chalked out strategy”, Mahto said. He refused to divulge details though. The programme would be finalised by all constituents of the UDMF, he added asserting that “nobody should think that Madeshis are tired or defeated in their mission”.

If the UDMF sticks to its plans, life will once again hit a rough patch in the capital Kathmandu and across the countryside. Things could become difficult for Prime Minister Oli. It is imperative therefore that their plans. It is imperative that a way out is found so that Madhesi leadership joins the political mechanism set up to go into redrawing of federal boundaries and other demands.

Another significant development that is brewing up in the political arena in the Himalayan Nation is that voices are being heard of formation of a National Consensus government replacing the Oli-led alliance which could gain momentum with the fresh spell of agitation by the UDMF and its allies.

The ruling alliance has 293 members in the 601- member Parliament. (CPN –UML: 175; UCPN –Maoist: 80; Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, RPP (Nepal):24; and Madesh Peoples’ Rights Forum: 14). During the election of Oli as Prime Minister, the ruling alliance however, garnered 338 votes; it was because of the support extended by fringe parties.

Reports quoting the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) spokesperson Dina Nath Sharma say that the National Consensus Government led by the opposition Nepali Congress could be formed with Madeshi parties coming on board and becoming partners in it. Rajendra Mahto, however, denied any such move but said Maoists might be hobnobbing with the Nepali Congress for any such move. However UCPN (Maoist) Chairperson and former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is on record advocating formation of a National Consensus government before election of Oli as Prime Minister last October itself. Though feeble at present but coming from a ruling partner, Oli should take note of these voices and take corrective steps before it is too late.

While Oli has described his visit to New Delhi as successful in removing misgivings with India, Dahal and Nepal Workers and Peasants Party Chairman Narayan Man Bijukchhe have said the visit could not make any difference in India -Nepal relations. The Madeshi parties and the UDMF have termed the visit as unsuccessful. In this scenario back home, Oli needs to be flexible in his approach towards Madeshi demands and find an amicable solution across the table not pushing Nepal into turmoil again. A stable and peaceful Nepal is in the interest of Kathmandu. Also of New Delhi.

- Asian Tribune -

Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli  on a six-day State visit to India
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