'If Madhes is not address MPRF cannot join coalition'
Upendra Yadav, who was elected to the Constituent Assembly (CA) from Sunsari-5 and Morang-5, is Chairman of the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF). The MPRF was the initiator of the Madhes movement. A staunch communist and active member of the Communist Party of Nepal - Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) for 24 years, Yadav switched to the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-Maoist) during the final years of its decade-long armed rebellion. He broke away from the CPN-Maoist before it entered peaceful politics and joined the MPRF.
Yadav came into the limelight when he launched the Madhes agitation after the Maoists signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord. Against a backdrop of the two phases of the powerful Madhes agitation, Yadav stands out as a victor leading the fourth largest party in the new political makeup. At a time when the Maoists are preparing to lead a coalition government, Yadav spoke to Kamal Raj Sigdel and Kosh Raj Koirala of The Kathmandu Post on the possibilities of future power sharing and the contentious Madhesi issues.
Q: The stunning performance of the MPRF was the second biggest surprise of the CA election after the CPN-Maoist. What was the secret?
Yadav: Though the MPRF was founded in 1997, it has been fighting and making sacrifices for the rights of the Madhesis and other backward communities for a long time. It has now become the main party to establish issues such as republicanism, federalism, autonomy and inclusion as major national agendas. What I think is that the people have endorsed through their votes the national issues that we raised. In fact, the people this time wanted change, and I think they have elected the forces that are for real change.
Q: The Maoists, towards whom you still have some sort of antagonism, are likely to lead the soon-to-be-formed coalition government. Will you join it?
Yadav: The MPRF started its struggle with a definite agenda establishment of a federal republic and autonomous provinces; guaranteed participation of Madhesis and other marginalized groups at the policy-making level, in the administration and in resource management; and, above all, establishment of Madhes as an autonomous state. If the government agrees to fulfill these major demands, the MPRF is ready to extend its support. But if these issues are not taken into account, the MPRF can neither support nor join the government.
The MPRF will extend its support when we get an assurance that the past 22- and eight-point agreements will be implemented, when there is a commitment to guide the nation toward a path of radical change, when the nation is taken on a progressive path relieving it of its backward economy and when restructuring of the state and administration is done together. So if the Maoists move ahead with these radical changes, we will certainly cooperate with them. Whatever bitterness there was in the past, we can move forward with a new thinking in the new context. But if these issues are not addressed, we won't be very keen to support them.
Q: You have entered into a couple of agreements in the recent past. What are the major demands that the government still has not fulfilled?
Yadav: There is no point in talking about fulfillment. The question is what have the Madhesi people received so far except disrespect, exclusion and suppression? There was a movement, and there were agreements reached; but none of them has been implemented yet. What Madhesis are demanding is an autonomous Madhes, an autonomous government and participation at the policy- and decision-making level and in the allocation of resources. Madhes is seeking equal rights and opportunities, nothing else.
Q: What about "One Madhes One Region"? Have you compromised on that claim after observing the election results?
Yadav: "One Madhes One Region" means the Madhes as a region, a geographical area and the Madhesis living there.
Q: Could you delineate the Madhes region?
Yadav: The area from the
Q: You spoke of a Madhes that encompasses the area between the Mechi and the Mahakali, but the election results show that your presence does not extend to all Tarai districts.
Yadav: This should not be judged the way you are doing. Even if the forum had failed to win a single seat [in the CA], it would have a right to create a separate state. It has that right. The number of seats won in the election are not a measuring rod.
Q: Does this mean that you don't respect the mandate of the people? The election results do not back your idea of One Madhes One Pradesh.
Yadav: We accept the mandate of the people. But this mandate is for radical change, for a federal system.
Q: What will you do if your demand for One Madhes One Pradesh is rejected by the other parties, which is likely?
Yadav: We will intensify our movement. In fact, we are still in Andolan mode. Only the form has changed. We will fight in the CA, and if needed we will also fight in the streets. Because the Madhesi people want an autonomous state, they want regional autonomy, and the Madhes Andolan will rest only after achieving that.
Q: Rumor has it that the Maoists are offering you the position of Home Minister. If they are ready to give you the position, will you join the government?
Yadav: The first thing is that without addressing the Madhes issue, there isn't any possibility of our party joining the coalition government. That is just a rumor, a hypothetical question.
Q: Is it possible to fulfill your demands before the government is formed?
Yadav: There could be a common minimum program; the government will be formed only after fixing that. In that common minimum program, Madhesi issues should get top priority; and only under that condition will the MPRF be involved in the alliance. For us, whether to join the government or not is a secondary matter. Our priority is our issues.
Q: The Maoists have put forward a proposal of 11 provinces, do you agree with that?
Yadav: All this 11, 12 or whatever the number of provinces is a tactic to divide Madhes. Those who ruled Madhes for 236 years are now panicking that it will be too strong to control if it is not divided. So their rejection of "One Madhes One Pradesh" indicates that they want to continue with their exploitation and domination.
Q: Few years ago when you were in the CPN-Maoist
Yadav: That is not true; I was only close to the Maoists. I agree that I have a communist background. For the past 24 years, I have been an active member of the CPN-UML and I also took part in one election representing the CPN-UML....
Q: Anyway, when the Maoist war was at its peak, you were arrested in
Yadav: That is not true. We three Suresh Ale Magar, Matrika Yadav and me were arrested by the Indian police. Matrika and Suresh had red corner notices against them, and, therefore, they were deported to
Q: The words "Madhesi" or "Madhes" have been loosely defined. What do they actually mean?
Yadav: Madhes is the plain land in [southern]
So Madhesi means the cultural group that has been living in Madhes traditionally. Around 1950, Pahadis started coming down from the hills to settle in Madhes. And the migration continued. In the course of time, some of them lost contact with Pahad. So they too will coexist in Madhes in harmony with others.
Second, they too will be accommodated in Madhes. We will have to proceed in an inclusive manner. Another thing is that our struggle is not against Pahadis or Nepali-speaking people, it is against the inequality imposed by the state. It is a struggle to establish Madhesis in the national political mainstream and to secure their equal share of the resources. And that is also a struggle of geography. If there are people speaking Magar, then this struggle is also theirs. It is also the struggle of other marginalized groups and Dalits. This is a national movement.
The Pahadi people too have benefited from the Madhes Andolan, for instance, the Lochhar holiday, reservation in the police and army and so on. These are gifts of the Madhes Andolan which Pahadis are also enjoying. Today, the country is going federal; this, too, is a contribution of the Madhes Andolan. Pahadis will also get their autonomous states. In fact, the Madhes Andolan has added a new dimension to Nepali politics.
Q: You failed to forge an alliance among Madhesi parties. Now that you have won a majority in Madhes, how would you collaborate with other Madhes parties?
Yadav: We teamed up in the final hours of the election, but we had a bitter experience. We could not participate in the election as an alliance, so there's no pact of any kind among us now. There will be a new coalition among forces that are ready to guide the nation toward radical change.
Q: You had recently remarked that the first sitting of the CA could not throw out the monarchy. What does that mean?
Yadav: Yes, I had said that, but it was misinterpreted. I hadn't even imagined that there were people who could make such an erroneous analysis. Where in the world has the first meeting of any assembly taken any decision? The first meeting is always ceremonial, that is a ceremony. The oldest member will chair the assembly, then the oath taking, then paying homage to the martyrs... When all these activities have been completed, another meeting is started or the date for another meeting is declared. But that becomes the second meeting.
The Interim Constitution says that the first meeting will decide the fate of the monarchy. But at that first meeting, how will the agenda be registered? Who will table it? Who will chair the discussions? Who will conduct the voting? Will those who have not taken the oath be allowed to take part in the voting? There are a number of such complex constitutional questions. If we started talking about the monarchy at the second meeting after completing the oath-taking ceremony, some members may object saying that the subject of the monarchy cannot be discussed at the second meeting. The word "first" written in the Interim Constitution has created confusion. It must be cleared up. That is what the people want clarified. The SPA must explain how things will proceed to end the monarchy. [The