It has been four months since protests erupted in the Tarai after the previous government released the first draft of the new constitution. Of late, multiple discussions have been held between the agitating Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha, a coalition of four parties—Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party, Sanghiya Samajwadi Forum Nepal, Sadbhawana Party and Tarai Madhes Sadbhawana Party—and the government to resolve the crisis. However, both the sides have failed to reach an agreement. Against this backdrop, John Narayan Parajuli spoke to senior leader and Chairman of the Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party, Mahanta Thakur, about the demands of the Morcha, the New Delhi visit and rumours of tussle within the Morcha.
How are the negotiations with the government moving ahead?
Various issues have been raised during the talks but there has not been any significant progress till date. In particular, we have not been able to reach an agreement on the delineation of provinces.
Our demand is that the government should address all our issues in one package. We want all our dissatisfactions mentioned in the 11-point demand to be addressed point-wise and simultaneously. We are currently discussing these issues: delineation of provinces, carving out constituencies on the basis of population, representation of provinces both in the Lower House and Upper House on the basis of population, proportional representation and certain things related to citizenship provisions.
However, we have not reached an agreement on any of the issues because we have not been able to agree on the delineation of provinces.
There was news that if the government agreed in principle to only carve out two provinces in the Madhes, the Morcha would be flexible in its demands. Have you discussed about it?
We want the entire Tarai region extending from the east to the west to be divided only into two provinces. The initial proposal, which has now been taken back, was to carve one state from Parsa to Saptari and another extending from Nawalparasi to Bardiya. Now we have a province from Parsa to Saptari. At that time, there were three disputed districts in the east and two in the west. Now, all the districts that lie to the west of Nawalparasi are disputed because they have been mixed with hill districts. In the east, Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari are also part of a province that includes the hills. Our demand, however, is to carve only two provinces in the Madhes.
Is there any indication that the government will agree to it?
Till now, there has been no indication as such.
Regardless, it seems as though both the Morcha and the government are being more flexible of late. For instance, you agreed to the passing of the Reconstruction Bill in Parliament.
Development works were affected by the earthquake. The nation displayed unity during the disaster. But the earthquake-affected continue to face problems with regards to shelter and livelihood. Many still live in temporary shelters and they are facing immense hardships due to the cold weather. We wanted to make sure that the works related to earthquake rehabilitation are not affected.
What about the two amendment bills registered by the previous Nepali Congress government?
There are some problems with regards to the language of the proposed amendment. The bills were registered without holding any discussions. Some things need to be changed. The other thing is that we want everything to be addressed simultaneously, i.e., issues related to delineation along with the 11-point demand. We want the government to make all the required amendments in the constitution at the same time.
The government has proposed a four-point proposal to resolve the crisis. Could this be a viable solution or do you have any problem with it too?
It mentions proportional inclusion, demarcation of constituencies as well as provinces based on population and the citizenship issue. The Morcha has already formed its opinion on it. And we want all these issues to be resolved at the same time.
As someone who is perceived as a moderate Madhesi leader, what could be a viable compromise for both the sides?
First of all, each side distrusts the other.
What we want is self-governance and proportional inclusion in administration and other areas. We need improvement in this regard. Second, our ongoing movement is not just for the Madhes. Rather, it is a fight for the rights of all the marginalised groups including the Adivasi and Janajatis. The movement seeks to address the problems facing the entire country. In other parts of the country, the dissatisfaction with the constitution has only manifested in the form of discussions while we have seen protests in the Madhes. People have been historically discriminated against in this country. We are seeking freedom from such discrimination. We want all citizens of this democratic country to have equal access to opportunities. Therefore, the Madhes Movement speaks for all of us.
The ruling parties argue if they strike a deal with the agitating Madhesi parties on delineation, others could begin protesting against it. Is there a possibility of sitting for talks with other possible disgruntled sides too?
Your question is unclear about the other side. However, the ongoing Madhes Aandolan raises the issues of the entire Madhes. And if the demands of the movement are fulfilled and the Madhes gets all the rights it has demanded, then all those living in the region will also benefit from it. In addition, the Janajatis along with other marginalised groups will also benefit from the notion of proportional inclusion. When this is enshrined in the constitution, it will provide guidance on how the country and society should function. It is for all.
How hopeful are you about the ongoing talks? When do you think you will be able to resolve this dispute? Could you give us a timeline?
By now, everyone has accepted that there is a problem—ethnic, gender, regional, linguistic, religious discrimination has existed since historical times in Nepal. There has been discrimination on the grounds of identity. Therefore, opportunities need to be ensured to the discriminated groups by changing the structure of the state. This was mentioned in the Interim Constitution too. The first Constituent Assembly also promised to institutionalise the gains of various political movements. However, the new constitution did not honour the agreements with the Madhes—the eight-point agreement, 22-point agreement. It even went against the spirit of the Interim Constitution. As a result, protests erupted across the country no sooner than the government released the first draft of the constitution.
So you do not know when the standoff between the Morcha and the government will end?
We do not want to prolong the aandolan. When all our demands are addressed, the protests will also end.
Can you tell us what happened during your India visit?
During our visit, we put forward our position to several Indian leaders. We met Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, National Security Advisor, Foreign Secretary, Karan Singh, Sharad Yadav, Sitaram Yechury, Bharatiya Janata Party’s General Secretary Ram Madhav. We also attended a few seminars organised by Jawaharlal Nehru University students, Antarastriya Sahayog Parishad and Nepal Bharat Mahila Maitri Samaj where we discussed the current problems facing Nepal.
How does the Indian establishment perceive the ongoing events in Nepal?
They said that the new constitution should have been written in the spirit as the Interim Constitution. All the people we met expressed their goodwill towards Nepal and conveyed their good wishes for us to be able to resolve our problems on our own through cooperation.
Let us talk about the dynamics within the Morcha. Many people speak of an emerging rift within the Morcha. Even after your Delhi visit, you returned with Upendra Yadav while the other two stayed back.
Rajendra [Mahato] ji and Mahendra [Raya Yadav] ji both stayed back due to health problems. Rajendra ji had respiratory problems while Mahendra ji stayed back for follow up on his heart problems. Our programme ended on Wednesday and we returned.
So there is no problem inside the Morcha?
No, not at all.