Constituency politics

  • If the five districts are removed from the Madhes Pradesh, the Madhes will be deprived of river and forest resources
- Dipendra Jha
Constituency politics

Mar 30, 2015-

The inclusion of five Tarai districts—Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Kailali, and Kanchanpur—in the to-be-carved new federal states still remains a contentious issue. While the first Constituent Assembly (CA) failed due to the political parties’ failure to reach consensus on federalism, this seems to be the crux of the current political deadlock this time around too.

In the Tarai

The issue has more to do with a few leaders seeking to protect their constituencies rather than pure geography. These leaders need to rise above constituency politics and understand that Jhapa, Morang, and Sunsari need to be incorporated into a Madhes province. If this does not happen, then Pahadis living in Madhesi-dominated districts such as Saptari, Siraha, Mahottari, and Dhanusha will be in a minority and will not be in position to have their say in the future provincial government. If these three Tarai districts are kept in the Madhes pradesh, then the population of Pahadis there will be around 30 percent. It will help strike a balance in power sharing among the Madhesis and Pahadis. A substantial number of Pahadis in the Madhes would also help foster bonds between among the two communities and thus, strengthen Nepali nationality.

The case of Kailali and Kanchanpur is similar. If the two districts are left in the Tharuhat/Madhes pradesh, the population of Pahadis in this federal state will be almost 50 percent or more. Therefore, if these two districts are carved out of Tharuhat/Madhes pradesh, as proposed in the ruling parties’ nine-point proposal, it will be unjust for Pahadis living in the central and western Tarai. These Pahadis will be in the minority and again, may not have their say in the provincial government.

Referendum and commission

The ruling parties—Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML—led by NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba have also floated the idea of holding a referendum on these five districts. They believe that since Pahadis constitute a majority in these five districts, they would overwhelmingly vote for their agenda of placing these districts in Pahadi states. Madhesi parties, on the other hand, are now saying that if a referendum is to be held, Madhesis and Janajatis, the original inhabitants of the districts, should be given a chance to say which pradesh they want to live in—Madhesi/Tharuhat or a Pahadi pradesh.  

In the 2013 elections, out of 22 constituencies in Jhapa, Morang, and Sunsari, Khas Aryas won in 15 constituencies while Madhesi and other parties won in the remaining five. But if a referendum is held, it might be untenable, because the Kamal Thapa-led Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal could also strongly demand a referendum on the monarchy and Nepal being declared a secular state. CK Raut has also been demanding a referendum for a ‘free Madhes’. A referendum could thus open up Pandora’s box.

The ruling parties have also proposed that the fate of the five districts be decided by a federal commission. But there is no provision for such a commission in the Interim Constitution. A State Restructuring Commission (SRC), as provisioned in the Interim Constitution, has already submitted its proposal to divide Nepal into 10 states—eight in the hills and two in the Tarai—and one non-territorial pradesh for Dalits. But the ruling parties did not accept the SRC’s report. So why do we need another commission to do the same work, which could again be easily rejected by either side?

With regards to the proposal of making the five Tarai districts union territories, it would be a violation of the Preamble of the Interim Constitution and Article 138. Union territory status will give power to the centre, not federal units, and therefore would be against the spirit of the Madhes movement and provisions of the Interim Constitution that stipulate that the state would be restructured in a forward-looking manner. If issues of federalism are further postponed, then what would be the justification for electing a CA twice?

Fight for resources

The case of the five districts is not as simple as the ruling parties are portraying it to be. They are trying to carve out five Tarai districts out of Madhes pradesh because they want to deprive the region of important river and forest resources. If these five districts are removed from the Madhes pradesh, the Madhes will be deprived of Koshi, Narayani, and Mahakali Rivers—the major rivers of the Madhes region. Thus, the Madhes will also be deprived of the forest resources of Chitwan and Kanchanpur. The Pahadis living in the Madhes pradhes will also be deprived of irrigation facilities and they will not have a share in the hydropower that the government could generate through these rivers. The government is giving 10 percent shares of hydropower projects to local residents in the hills, but no such incentives will be available for the residents of the Madhes pradesh. How can federal states in the Madhes run their governments then? The question of five Madhes districts is, therefore, a fight for important natural resources.

Think big

We often hear of UML Chair KP Oli and NC General Secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula—both of whom come from Jhapa—to be very adamant on mixing Jhapa, Morang, and Sunsari with a hill Pradesh. As national leaders, they should believe that their political future will be safe even when these districts are part of the Madhes pradesh. The same logic applies to Deuba, who is also adamant on joining Kailali and Kanchanpur to a hill pradesh.

If these leaders are farsighted, they can easily resolve this issue. They should and could be leaders of all Nepalis if they rise above partisan politics. They should think of the welfare of all Nepalis and not just one community or only their own political constituency. They could learn from India where Narendra Modi of Gujarat won the Lok Sabha elections from Varanasi constituency in Uttar Pradesh. The Mahendra-era administrative division of districts is not a non-alterable option.  Keeping the Madhesi-dominated areas of these five districts with a Madhes Pradesh while joining the Pahadi-dominated areas to Pahadi states could be a win-win formula for all.     

Jha is an advocate at Supreme Court

Published: 31-03-2015 09:19

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