Upendra Yadav, once a devout leftist who entered politics in 1975 joining the Progressive Students' Union through Puspa Lal Shrestha, is now the president of Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF), the group claiming to be leading the current movement in terai. He went through the revolution of 1979 and joined CPN (Marxist) formed by Madan Bhandari. And latter on, in the 1991 polls when CPN (M) and CPN (L) merged into CPN-UML, the party had nominated him as a candidate from Sunsari, Area no 4. In 1999, he resigned from CPN-UML and formed MPRF. His party had once collaborated with CPN (Maoist) during its "people's war," but now, he says, he has no faith in communism -- neither in Marxism nor in Maoism. Yadav, who spoke with Puran P Bista and Kamal Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post, says the current tarai flare-up is the demand of Madhesis for federalism and proportional representation.
Q: Terai is turning increasingly violent after your party and other groups declared what you call rebellion against the recently formed interim government. What actually are your demands?
Upendra Yadav: This is an outburst of centuries-long suppression and deep-seated discrimination tolerated by Madhesis. There is a whole history behind this rebellion. As you know, for the last 238 years, it has been always dominated and ruled over by non-Madhesis. First, they captured the land and the natural resources and then the governance, which paved the way for a systematic discrimination against Madhesis by excluding them from decision-making and by reducing them as secondary citizens in their own country. Since the Gorkha regime and Rana oligarchy through Panchayat to the present day democracy, the same situation has continued. In fact, there is an internal colonialism. When people are deprived of their rights to use their resources and to exercise their decision-making power, and instead are ruled over, then this brings a situation of internal colonialism. And this has created multiple problems.
The crux of these problems is nothing but the long-festering unitary, centripetal governance, and our inability to institutionalize democracy. So, there is discrimination from the state itself. And of other groups who are also discriminated against, Madhesis are particularly targeted. They have been exploited as mere vote bank. As a result, Madhesis remained backward. Tharu, for instance in western Nepal, became kamaiyas; and other Madhesis in the eastern terai moved into India. The rest of the people remained stateless and unemployed. There are still
four million people living without citizenship certificates. Indeed, there is an identity crisis.
But these problems were not addressed whenever there was major political transformation; from 1950, 1960 and 1990 and even now in 2006, Madhesis' concerns are being neglected. Why should not there be a revolution? So, since centripetal governance cannot solve any problems, our demand is federal republic like that of the United States, Switzerland or Australia. It is not federal system alone that we need, we need autonomy as well. All federal states must be granted autonomy.
Q: There is a process of state restructuring towards federalism. Are you not satisfied with the developments?
Yadav: Let me make it clear that it is not stated clearly (in the Interim Constitution). The interim constitution has failed to direct the state towards the path of federal republic. Overtly, all sound like favoring federal republic but when they come into practice, they retreat. Though an interim constitution cannot be complete and clarify everything by itself, it, at least, should show a clear direction towards "federal republic".
This is the age of participatory democracy, but the state has failed so far to ensure that. See the structure of all the state bodies, the traditional mentality is still visible. This rebellion, therefore, is our compulsion. So, the two demands we have raised are federal autonomy and participatory democracy.
Q: Jai Krishna Goit of Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) is speaking of something like chasing Pahadis out of terai. Is this the type of autonomy you are talking about?
Yadav: Chasing Pahadis from terai by JTMM is its utter insanity. What we say is that a federal state should be formed and that will be of both Pahadis and Madhesis. This revolution is against the state-sponsored discrimination, not against any community. So, this is also a revolution of Pahadis. If Madesh becomes an autonomous federal republic, Pahadis will not be chased away. This is only a rumor to thwart our movement.
The other point we disagree about is the process to reach constituent assembly (CA). We want CA, but "for what?" is the question. You can see, in several countries, CA has failed. At some other places state has failed to even hold CA elections. For instance, in Russia, the CA collapsed right after five days. In Sikkim and Pakistan, it faced the similar fate. So, what sort of constitution are we going to create in the future should be clear before the holding of CA polls. There should be a national consensus on basic principles. India's CA became successful while the other half, Pakistan, which separated from the same state, at the same time, failed. Why? Because India had "Nehru declaration" before the CA polls were held, and that was the document of basic principles.
Q: But forming a federal state would require an economic base whereupon it should sustain its operation. Besides, there are so many things to be considered before federal autonomy is granted to a state. Don't you think such demands beforehand will breed more conflicts?
Yadav: No, that will not generate any conflict. You see, wherever the stakeholders of CA formed a document of basic principles on consensus, the CA became a success. As for Nepal, CA polls are not possible because there is no infrastructure developed for the same. Besides a document on basic principles, the Maoist weapons are still not managed. And it is even not sure whether it will be managed or not; I still doubt it. And the problems of terai and other groups have not been addressed. How is it possible? Constitution is not the document of a single party. It is not written by those who have the majority. CA is not like parliament. It is made out of national consensus. It should include all castes, religions, regions and minority groups.
The next wrong that should be amended by the interim constitution is the division of 205 election constituencies, which are grossly unscientific. It was made with an intention of ensuring very low representation from Madhes. Whereas the fact is that Madhes accommodates about half of the total population and yet, it could never have more than 20 percent representation. So, we demand, this must be scraped.
The next thing that we disagree with is the mixed electoral system. It is totally wrong. There should be proportional electoral system. And the constitution made through such electoral system can only be inclusive so as to be able to accommodate all the voices. The current system cannot do that because the election system itself is wrong. Addressing all these demands beforehand will consolidate loktantra and federalism, instead of breeding conflicts.
Q: Though it is an obsolete question, given the recent developments it may not sound irrelevant if you could just spell out your party's position regarding constitutional monarchy. Where do you stand in this regard?
Yadav: We want republic. We even question the parties, why cannot the interim parliament, so-called sovereign, make a unanimous decision and scrap the institution of monarchy right away? It should be abolished before the CA polls.
Q: But it has been recently reported in different media that in one of the recently held meetings of RSS in Gorakhpur, India, you and Renu Yadav vowed in public from the stage that you will fight to keep Nepal a Hindu state and constitutional monarchy.
Yadav: Both these allegations hold no substance. Neither there was Renu Yadav, nor was there any RSS-organized meeting. That was one international seminar organized by Border Awareness Forum (Seema Jagaran Manch), an organization of the people living on both sides of the Nepal-India border.
Q: Who is the chief of that Forum?
Yadav: I do not know. I cannot remember either. I was invited and I went there. Discussions were held on topics like loktantra in Nepal and issues of Madhes and I had also spoken on these topics. What I had said was there should be a federal system and loktantra in Nepal. As proof, I have recorded cassettes, and the newspapers of the locality have published the news.
But what happened here is yellow journalism. There was one seminar organized by World Hindu Federation where I was not invited and I had not taken part. But what one weekly printed was a fabricated picture which had the picture of one occasion and the news of another. And these two seminars were organized in about a month's difference.
So, what we say is we believe in secularism. This is our stance since the beginning and will remain the same in the future.
Q: There are demands of terai, and there will be Kirats demanding the same, and there are other splinter groups such as led by Jai Krishna Goit and Jwala Singh. Don't you think such protests and rebellion demanding autonomy will lead to the situation like that of 1985/86 Punjab, where Madhesis and Pahadis will be killing each other?
Yadav: This is a revolution against the state and state-sponsored discriminatory policies. This is not against the Pahadis who have shown strong support for our movement. Kirats too have supported us. This support and harmony should be kept intact at any cost. We should not let it turn into a communal violence. This is our challenge and the government should also understand the situation and act accordingly. This is a political issue and should be solved politically. Or else, it will turn into a separatist movement.
There are differences between Jwala and Goit. Nepalis will not agree with what Goit is saying. However, both have shown interest in resolving the problem. I am hopeful they will come. But the only solution is to ensure federal republic and autonomy. If the state fails to go through this solution, we do not know what will happen next.
Q: The parties in the government are prepared to reform the state on the basis of different factors like language and castes among others. So, what is there to be so disgruntled?
Yadav: But their behavior and mentality are monolithic and traditional. Let's reform the current election system, make it proportionate one, and let's guarantee that there will be a federal republic system. Let's amend these things in the interim constitution. If the state is reluctant to amend these things, it is inevitable that the country will take a terrible turn. The voices raised by this movement are not only of terai but of whole Nepalis. You see, the indigenous people are already there preparing for their movement. So, it must be amended. And we also say that it is worthless to hold CA polls without managing the Maoist arms.
Q: In that your party will not let the government hold CA polls unless the Maoist weapons are completely cantoned?
Yadav: That is not the point. Neither it is that we will not let the CA polls be held but what we say is that it is meaningless to hold CA polls without managing the Maoist weapons.
Q: It is heard that you formed this Forum only because you had some differences with the Maoists. Is this true? What is the reality?
Yadav: The main reason is that the demands that we have raised now were also raised by the Maoists once. But when the Maoists reached the agreement with the seven party alliance, they forgot everything because of the power-sharing game for a few seats in the interim parliament. It is ridiculous. Have you ever seen any one being MP without an election? They had said they would fight for federal autonomous states for different castes. In fact, the Maoists raised arms to achieve loktantra and complete socialism via republic. Didn't they?
But before reaching to the formal dialogue with SPA, they forgot everything. In Delhi, they spoke of keeping monarchy and then only the agreement was signed. This means they deceived their own movement.
Q: Have you started informal dialogue with the government?
Yadav: No, there is no dialogue held as yet. But we have been meeting with the leaders of different political parties. All of them have said that the issues we have raised are very genuine. But it is still to be seen how honestly they will come forward for the settlement of this problem.
Q: When will you sit formally for a dialogue with the government?
Yadav: I am not sure. The government has not invited us as yet. When it invites, we will fix a date and sit for talks.
Q: Will Jwala Singh and other groups also come for dialogue? What are they thinking?
Yadav: I have no contact with Jwala Singh now. But if requested, we could bring his group to table. I think they will join the dialogue.
Q: There are different groups who claim to represent terai and Madhesis. Can you lead all the groups that are flaring up protests along the terai belt?
Yadav: I think, I can. I will try my best. I have worked with Goit for more than 20 years or so. I know him very well. With Jwala Singh also, I was close once. So, I think, they will come. But the leaders should open their mind. They should not think as if they are losing something when they are calling us for a dialogue. It should be participatory and inclusive. This is an opportunity for all. What we would like to ensure is that no one wastes time to fight for their rights in the future. We must cure the disease, and not the diseased. The government now cannot suppress the movement using forc
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