Win-win solution

  • Allow moderate Madhesi parties a semblance of victory to defuse power of radical groups

Jan 7, 2016-

There has been some progress in negotiations between the government and the Madhesi parties in recent days. However, they are still moving at an unusually slow pace and it does not appear that an agreement will be reached anytime in the near future. So far, the only forward movement that has occurred has been due to the decision by the major Madhesi parties to compromise on their demand for immediately re-delineating the contentious districts in the Tarai. They are now prepared to allow a cross-party taskforce to determine boundaries. Some leaders have said that they want the taskforce to reach a decision on boundaries within a month, and not, as leaders of the major parties have been demanding, within three months. More recently, however, leaders such as Mahantha Thakur have said that they are not concerned so much about time; that three months is perfectly acceptable. They are only seeking reassurances that the major parties will discuss the demands of the Madhesi parties in earnest and demonstrate flexibility, and not just dismiss Madhesi demands outright.

Madhesi leaders fear that they will be betrayed yet again. The fact is that the only source of leverage that Madhesi parties have is the protests in the Tarai. They are understandably reluctant to withdraw protests: calling off the protests without firm guarantees will deprive them of their only leverage. It is at this point that negotiations are currently stuck. Therefore it is critical that the taskforce should not just become another attempt by major parties to wear down the agitating—thus widening the trust deficit. Madhesis also expect major parties need to make serious counter offers during these meetings of taskforce. The agitating parties have long complained about lack of any constructive counter offers during negotiations.  As the Madhesi parties have made a decision to compromise a bit on their position, it is time for the leaders of the major parties to reciprocate. They have to flesh out the terms of the negotiation that will occur in the special taskforce. The Madhesi parties are seeking a commitment that clearly brackets five districts in the Tarai – Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari in the East and Kanchanpur and Kailali in the West – are disputed district. The major parties would do well to make a commitment of this nature. If not precisely on these particular terms, something similar to it. For example, the two sides could compromise on which districts are disputed. 

Meanwhile, the decision of Tharu parties to register revision to the amendment bill is expected to address many of the concerns they share with Madhesi parties. These include a decrease in the number of population clusters, total proportionate representation in state organs, and electoral constituency delineation based on population size.

 It is essential to take advantage of the moment and get the moderate Madhesi forces on board. If the perception builds that these parties haven’t been able to get anything from the government, there will be greater anger in the Tarai. Support will move towards more radical groups. One of the members of the Madhesi Morcha, Rajendra Mahato’s Sadbhavana Party, has refused to participate in talks, seemingly because he wants to take advantage of the radicalizing sentiment in the Tarai. The government should be aware of this, and by demonstrate flexibility, defuse the power of the more radical groups. 

Published: 07-01-2016 08:30

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