Tharu Movement was not only an identity politics

Kamal Raj Sigdel


With the Tharu movement shaking the country’s entire political fabric, intellectuals of indigenous and Madheshi community have started assessing that the fight for true inclusive democracy has not ended.

Analysts claim that the Madhes movement of 2007 failed to materialize the expectation of diverse communities in the Tarai -- Tharus, Muslims and others -- that were actually suppressed and excluded over years of monolithic government.

Tharu intellectuals maintain that the ongoing Tharu agitation is the result of several mistakes on the part of political parties and the state that failed to be inclusive and democratic.

According to Satya Mohan Joshi, an advocate and political analysts from Tharu community, the Interim Constitution itself curtailed the rights of indigenous groups when the parties amended it for the first time declaring 20 districts as Madhes last year. “That was the first mistake that disappointed Tharus because that was made under pressure of the Madhesi movement and without any discussion with other Tarai communities,” says Joshi. “The Tharus, therefore, are demanding that the word ‘Madhesh’ be replaced by ‘Tarai’ in the Interim Constitution”.

Joshi argues that while Article 21 of interim constitution has guaranteed proportional representation of separate categories -- Madhesi, Aadibasi-Janajati, Dalit, women and backward communities -- it has been violated by subsequent laws, including the Law on Constituent Assembly elections and Public Services Act formulated last year.

In order to correct that the indigenous groups have demanded for scrapping of the two laws – Election Law and Public Services Law -- and the reservation ordinance, including a new mechanism to ensure their proportional representation at all state organs.

The non-Madhesi groups based in the Tarai have a stronger objection that while the Madhesi leaders speak of entire Tarai to secure 45 percent representation quota and other facilities from the government, they never incorporate communities like Tharus, Muslims, Bote, Danuwar and other indigenous groups, on whose name they fetch a bigger pie.

One of the Madhesi intellectuals, Dr S.B. Thakur assesses that MJF and other Madhesi parties failed to be inclusive. “While the Madhes Movement raised consciousness of ethnic minorities in Tarai, it failed to live up to their newer expectations -- their representation in party structures and government,” explains Thakur.

Commenting on the Madhesi leaders’ recent disagreements regarding scrapping of ordinance on reservation, another Tharu leader Sailendra Chaudhary said that the Madhesi parties would be at loss if the word “Madhes” is properly defined.

“In my calculation, if we are to actually calculate the percentage of Madhesi casts in Tarai, they would account for not more than 9 percent,” he said.

Apprehensive of the Madhesi leaders warning, Raj Kumar Lekhi, XXXX, says, “We do accept that there are Madhesis in Tarai but not the geograpshical area called Madhes.” “If they warn to fight for something which does not exist, that will not make sense,” he says. He demands that the seven political parties that “introduced Madhes out of nowhere” should realize and correct their mistake.

Capitalizing on the Madhesi parties’ failure, Tharus claim that this movement would benefit all excluded communities in Tarai. Not surprisingly, the Muslims and several other indigenous groups have come forward extending solidarity with the Tharus.

Meanwhile, Madhesi experts discern a very bleak future of the Madhesi parties given their approach on Tharu agitation.

Referring to J.P. Gupta’s warning that his party would kick off a “fresh movement” if the government withdrew the ordinance on reservation, Dr Thakur says that any move against Tharus would be suicidal as that would invite confrontation. However, he said that the Madhesi leaders have already lost support from many communities in Tarai.

The discontent among Thrus was visible when the MJF held its general assembly in Birgunj where a third group was about to break away. “That unfortunately failed to teach them a lesson,” says Dr Thakur.

One Madhesi expert demanding anonymity says that the “new polarization” is positive, because, without which, the underrepresented castes could not achieve their rights. He suggests that the Madhesi parties, who have been power blinded, would be nowhere if their fail to be inclusive. (---- comments are welcome ---)

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