It would be a blunder to promulgate statute without resolving crisis

Sep 7, 2015-

On Saturday, the three major parties—Nepali Congress (NC), CPN-UML and UCPN (Maoist)—formally registered a joint proposal at the Constituent Assembly (CA) to make amendments to the draft constitution. Meanwhile, protests against the seven-province model of federalism continue in the Madhes, currently crippled by bandhas and curfews. The three parties argue that the new constitution will address the demands of the Madhesis, Tharus, Janajatis and other marginalised groups. The chairperson of the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal, Upendra Yadav, however, argues that the state is not serious about addressing the demands of the Madhes. Yadav spoke to Roshan Sedhai and Darshan Karki about the demands of the Madhesi Morcha, their model of federalism and the possibilities of holding a dialogue with the government.

The three major parties have agreed to go ahead with the constitution-drafting process without revising the seven-state model. What do you make of it?

This is an utterly wrong move made by the three parties and it will not help resolve the current political impasse in any way. First, the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum-Loktantrik, one of the signatories of the 16-point agreement, has also dissociated itself from the process. As the draft constitution does not meet the aspirations of a large segment of the population, it cannot resolve the current crisis. It has further alienated the Madhesis, Janajatis, Dalits, Muslims, women and other marginalised and excluded communities. There is no alternative but to find a political solution to end this deadlock.

Second, the decision to allow the proposed federal commission to finalise the name and boundaries of the federal state is unconstitutional. Article 138 of the Interim Constitution has clearly mentioned that the CA itself should determine the boundaries of the federal provinces. It is illegal to transfer this work to any other commission. So the major parties have not just undermined the aspirations of the people but have also gone against the spirit of the Interim Constitution.

Does this mean there is no room for middle ground? It looks as though you are not willing to budge from your position and neither are the major parties.

How can there be good relations between one group which considers itself to be the master and deems the other as the servant? Second, to find a middle ground, some leaders of the Congress, UML and the Maoist party need to change their communal and racist mindset.

After there were protests in Jumla and Surkhet, the leaders immediately addressed the demands of the protestors by proposing a seven-province model. When people entered restricted areas in Kathmandu, the protestors were dispered by using water cannons. When the same thing happened in the Tarai, without any warning, the police fired at the protesters. This perhaps happened because those protesting in Jumla and Surkhet were from the same social group as the leaders. While in the Tarai, the state chose to react differently by using the Armed Police Force and the Army because it was a protest organised by people with different physical features. People have been dragged outside from their homes and even hospitals and shot dead in the Madhes. This is a crime against humanity, a violation of International Humanitarian Law. This sort of mindset of the ruling class will threaten nationalism and weaken national unity.

But if you prolong the protests, would it not hurt your party as well by emboldening secessionist groups instead?

The secessionist movement is an outcome of the state’s discriminatory policies. The state and the ruling class are responsible for it. And we cannot stop the movement until the state changes its behaviour.

What is your proposal for federalism then?

Why cannot the leaders just implement the proposal of the State Restructuring Commission of the first CA? We will agree to it even though we might not entirely be happy. Those who have no knowledge whatsoever about federalism, modern democratic norms and constitutionalism are the ones deciding on both the constitution and state restructuring. The leaders need to understand their limitations.

So what is your position on carving a separate Tharu province from Nawalparasi to Kanchanpur?

We have no problem with carving a separate province for the Tharus as long as the province recognises their identity. The entire Madhes, from Mechi to Mahakali, is Tharuhat-Madhes. The Interim Constitution mentions an autonomous Madhes  Pradesh. This could instead be called Tharuhat-Madhes Pradesh.

How would you evaluate your previous partner, the UCPN (Maoist)’s actions before and after the 2013 CA elections?

We aligned with the Maoists because the party fought for the emancipation of the people. But no sooner there were talks of power-sharing, the Maoist switched sides to align with Koirala and Oli. They completely forgot about the Janajatis, Madhesis and the women. They revealed their ‘hereditary political character’, their racist mindset, which is similar to the ruling parties.

What about the Tikapur incident? There are accusations that Madhesi party leaders incited the violence through their remarks prior to the protests.

The Tikapur incident was an unfortunate outcome of the wrong decision taken by the Home Ministry. The state is solely responsible for the incident.

But you have been accused of promoting social disharmony.

No, we all are for social harmony.

We have been repeatedly saying that it is not a fight between the Tharus and the Pahades or the Madhesis and Pahades. It is a fight against discrimination and inequality. But the media fabricated reports of things that had never been said and then such news was shared on Facebook in a planned manner. The truth is that the Tharus have been discriminated against for centuries. They have been exploited as Kamaiyas. The state should have instead been proactive and happily given them their rights even before they asked for it.

Has the government made any efforts to initiate a dialogue with you?

Coincidentally, the day the prime minister sent us a letter inviting us for a dialogue was also the day when the state forces killed protestors in the Tarai. How could we hold a dialogue under such circumstances? Furthermore, the previous agreements were also an outcome of dialogues. If the government has no intention of implementing those agreements, what is the point of holding another round of dialogue? We still urge the government to implement the previous agreements; withdraw the Army and the Armed Police Force from the Tarai and stop the ongoing constitution-writing process to reach an agreement with the disgruntled parties.

We would be happy if the government decides to unilaterally implement the previous agreements. After all, the government did not call the protestors in Jumla and Surkhet for dialogues. Instead, it just addressed their demands by revising the six-province model. Such discriminatory mindset of the leaders and the government when it comes to the Madhes will push the country into a huge crisis.

Lastly, what next for the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha? What are your plans?

The Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha believes that this is a political problem which demands a political solution. It would be a historic blunder to promulgate the constitution without resolving the ongoing conflicts. It is unfortunate that some leaders are trying to use the new constitution as an instrument to gain personal and political power.

The major parties should create a favourable environment for all communities to take ownership of this constitution. It can only happen if they agree to abide by the past agreements signed with the Madhesi and other communities. The Morcha wants the state to implement the eight-point and 22-point agreements and also guarantee the rights of the marginalised as per the Interim Constitution.

If the major parties decide to promulgate the draft constitution as it is, then we will have no other choice but to burn it. People will continue to fight for equality and inclusion until the state guarantees it.

Published: 07-09-2015 07:54

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