Nepali Congress' search for its estranged roots in Madhes

Round the bend

The first thing the NC needs to do is to realise that there is a serious problem with exclusion in Madhes

[Published originally in The Kathmandu Post, April 9, 2012]
The Nepali Congress (NC) was born and baptised in the Madhes. Many NC leaders have no qualm about stating this fact. But around six decades after its birth, the grand old party has gone back to the southern plain in search of its estranged roots, so that it could regain the glory and popular support it has lost to other parties.
After some rounds of meetings and rallies mainly in the Eastern Tarai, the NC leaders have lately realised that the Madhes has distanced itself too far to come back to NC’s fold easily. And there are some flaws, which the leaders in Madhes have pointed out, the party needs to urgently correct, or else it will continue to lose support the region.
Some NC leaders have realised it’s time for the party to came up with a uniform Madhes policy to clear some of the confusions created by its hitherto ambiguous position on major issues of the region. Among them is its indecision over the mapping of federal states, longstanding apathy towards the Madhes’ demand for inclusion in all state organs, including the security forces (especially the Nepal Army), the bureaucracy, and the judiciary.
The Madhesi leaders in the party know NC lost its support in Madhes when its leadership failed to address the aspirations of the southern plains after restoration of democracy in 1990. The pent-up frustrations erupted in the form of Madhes Aandolan in 2008 followed by an avalanche of senior Madhesi leaders from NC’s core team migrating to smaller regional parties. Among the leaders defecting NC were Mahanta Thakur, who formed Tarai Madhes Lokatantri Party and Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar and JP Gupta, who joined and later broke up Upendra Yadav’s Madhesi Janadhikar Forum. These are just a few names. Along with them, the leaders took away their fans and followers at the grassroots level.
NC leaders now realise the ongoing Madhes campaign came too late to control the damage. “This should have been done years ago, may be in 2008 when Girija Prasad Koirala opened up and signed the deal with Madhesi leaders for federalism,” says Mahendra Yadav, a leader from Madhes close to Sher Bahadur Deuba.
The longstanding lack of clarity on federalism is another factor that is going to cost the party high. As a result of absence of firm party position, NC leaders have been making conflicting remarks on federalism publicly.
Last Tuesday, NC President Sushil Koirala remarked out of the blue that he still wanted to see a north-south division of federal provinces, an idea which irks Madhesis across the party line. It triggered a flurry of reactions among the Madhesi leaders. Upendra Yadav the next day dubbed the idea “a new form of Mahendra’s nationalism.”
Koirala’s advocacy for the north-south model was understood as one going against the Madhesi demand for two or one Madhes states exclusively in the Tarai. It was all the more an ‘embarrassment’ as many considered it as an uncalled-for statement in Janakpur where the party was out in a campaign to consolidate Madhesi support. Koirala apparently meant to stress that the federal delineation of states should make it possible for each province to touch the international borders in the north and the south so that they could benefit from two of the world’s fastest growing economies.
The second front where NC leadership failed is in providing ample space for the able and budding Madhesi leaders within the party. This is an area where the party needs to work really hard. For instance, when the NC is out campaigning in Madhes, Bimelendra Nidhi, one of the key pillars representing Madhes in the party, is conspicuously absent. Either he is out in a foreign junket or sent to some hill district programmes. Many say his noninvolvement stems from his ‘frustration’ with the party leadership. Nidhi himself does not want to comment. “This is something the party’s senior
leaders have to think,” says Nidhi in response, “I am assigned to hill districts instead of Madhes.”
In its early stages when the struggle for democracy was gaining momentum under BP Koirala’s leadership, Madhes was the centerpiece of party’s politics and there was a good representation of Madhesi leaders in the party. There were active leaders—like Mahendra Narayan Nidi, Seikh Idrish, Durga Narayan Jha, Ram Narayan Mishra, Atmaram Ojha, Rameshowr Singh, Bhagwat Yadav, Saroj Prasad Koirala—who continued to maintain the party’s hold in Madhes. “Now in the name of factionalism and nepotism, the party is sidelining the real Madhesi leaders,” says Yadav. “Leaders like Mahanta Thakur defected the party when the party pushed Sujata Koirala in the districts where his command would have been better.”
The prospects for the NC in Madhes, however, are not over. As a national party, the NC could claim to have greater leverage in successfully addressing the Madhes issues at a time the ever-splitting Madhesi parties and the Morcha stand on shaky grounds.
In the short run, the party should do something concrete, which could create a positive environment to make the people in Madhes believe the NC is their party too. According to Shekhar Koirala, an influential NC leader who has closely observed the dynamics in Tarai, the first thing the NC needs to do is to realise that there is a serious problem with exclusion. As Koirala says, “Once  the NC realizes this, it will automatically be reflected in the party’s actions, decisions and policies. The NC should face the fact that it has wounded the Madhes—and it should try to heal that as early as possible.”
[Originally published at The Kathmandu Post, April 9, 2012]

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