Dr. Rajkumar SinghMadhesi is an amorphous term referring to caste categories of eastern Terai in particular. The Terai belt is Nepal’s most densely populated region and accounts for half the country’s 29 million people. Not all of its residents are Madhesi, however, Janajati groups like the Tharus – the original inhabitants before the swamps were cleared and Avadhi, Bhojpuri and Maithili – speaking migrants who moved up from India have a strong presence in the western planes districts. In addition to them there are Limbus and throughout the region, the Nepali-speaking Pahadis are present in significant numbers. The Madhesi in particular, form 31.2 per cent of Nepal’s population and they are as stratified in terms of language and caste as the Pahadis, a shared sense of grievance inheres in all of them, ‘We have never been accepted as Nepalis. Despite being Nepali citizens, we have always been called Indians.Madhesi settlement in NepalIn past people of the Terai region have sometimes opposed the policies of the Government, but their resentment against it never developed to an extent which could be termed as a separatist movement. On many occasions after 1950, people of the Terai region raised their voices against the economic policies of the Government. One of the major issue of their resentment has been the land reform policies of the Government. In fact, the people of the Terai, most of whom have migrated from the Indian plains continued to maintain their socio-cultural links with their Indian counterparts. They also do not possess similar linguistic, ethnic and economic background. Because of different socio-economic background, the interests of the people of the Terai do not coincide with each other. It had in turn, discouraged them from organising themselves into a cohesive group. However, an organisation named Terai Liberation Front was formed in 1964 to fight the causes of Terai. But as the movement was politically motivated it never gained mass support and faded out.The turn of events moved fastly in Nepal at the close of the century and thereafter as well. Multi-party democracy with constitutional monarchy was adopted in 1990 and the Maoist’s movement, initiated in 1996, had changed the social feeling and political fate of the nation. Gyanendra, the last king of Shah dynasty who took over the throne following the palace massacre in which king Birendra was gunned down in June 2001, miscalculated three things: First, he thought the Maoists and mainstream parties would never join hands and form a collective front against him. Secondly, he hoped that given a choice between the Maoists and monarchy, the international community, particularly India and the United States, would eventually choose monarchy. And lastly, he underestimated the consciousness of the Nepali people, which had grown by leaps and bounds in the post-1990 open society and during the decade-long Maoist insurgency.Beginning of Political AwakeningAfter a long gap, the Madhesi awakened in April 2006 when the mass upsurge of the people’s movement sought peace and pluralism, and mandated the writing of a new constitution to redraw state-society relations. The agitation of Madhes was a spontaneous uprising by the people of Terai plains origin, who have long felt excluded amidst the high lander identification of the nation state. The exclusion that Madhesi activists speak about is not just nomenclatural. There is bitterness over the extent to which Madhesi have been kept out of the state administration, and over the fact that Hindi – the link language between Maithili, Bhojpuri and Avadhis, finds no official recognition in Nepal. They in common with the rest of the erstwhile kingdom’s citizens, wanted the Constituent Assembly to provide them the rights they have been denied all these years. Their demands included proportional representation in state organs including the army, changes in electoral laws to enhance Madhesi participation and so on. Sensing the government’s mood they have also enlarged their aspirations to the level of utopia and included self determination and the declaration of the 500 – by – 20 mile Terai plains as a single province ‘Ek Madhes, Ek Pradesh.’Initially, the Maoists of Nepal kept a sympathetic view towards the problems of Terai region and in the areas where jana-jatis were dominant and demanded for a Constituent Assembly to be elected on the basis of proportional representation. It gave a wide mass support to Maoists who were in keen contest with the Nepali Congress. But after the Jan Andolan-II of March-April 2006 when Parliament was restored and the Maoist joined the government, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) forced the former rebel to drop their demand for proportional representation. A compromise was struck among them for only half the seats to the Constituent Assembly to be allotted on proportional representation basis. By this understanding, the Maoists were not in greater loss because they promised ethnic rights, but its impact on Madhesi became sparking and they immediately started their movement which paved the way for further developments in Nepalese politics.Madhesi and Political Parties of NepalThere are three forces in Nepalese national life who are attached to the issue of Madhesi – the Maoists, the Nepali Congress along with Communist Party of Nepal (UML) and the palace politics. They all tried to compete and gain the favour of Madhesi for no other purposes but political. As the movement of Madhesi was erupted due to Maoists consensus with the other forces, they remained soft throughout the movement. On their part, they have put forward a map which comprises more than a dozen provinces, including a part of Terai called ‘Madhes’ which divided the region into three sub-provinces of Avadh, Bhojpura and Mithila. The Tharus and Limbus got their own provinces in the western and eastern Terai. The Nepali Congress and its allies, found the agitation of Madhes as useful, since its immediate target was the Maoist but in due course they felt that it was unable to countenance the identity-led nature of the agitation. Therefore, Girija Prasad Koirala, the Prime Minister became slow in addressing the Madhesi demands. The Nepali public across the country also doubted the sincerity of Nepali Congress to the republican cause. Earlier Koirala floated the idea of ‘baby king’ and his daughter Sujata who was contesting the election from Sunsari district in the Terai was also in favour of constitutional monarchy.With the violent movement of the Madhesi, over night new political groups emerged which took up the demands for, inter alia, a fully proportional electoral system. Eventually, two armed groups also emerged – the Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) and Jai Krishna Goit. While the Maoists wanted to tackle the problem of Madhesi domestically these extremist outfits have operated with impunity from Indian towns of Sitamarhi, Raxaul, Darbhanga and Gorakhpur. But having facilitated the discussions in New Delhi in the autumn of 2005 that brought the Maoists to an understanding with the parliamentary parties, New Delhi had been asked, specifically, to rein in terrorists who have been engaged in bombing and targeted killings in Nepal’s Terai plains and taking refuge across the open border. As time went on, it became clear that quite a few among the Madhesi leadership were seeking consortium with the royalists of Kathmandu, as well as the Hindutva forces across the border.
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