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Madhesis Deserve A Better Deal

Former diplomat NN Jha talks to Amresh Srivastava about the Madhesi imbroglio and related issues in Nepal following promulgation of the constitution of the Himalayan nation. Excerpts:

Amresh Srivastava
Publish Date: Nov 18 2015 7:38PM | Updated Date: Feb 1 2016 8:05PM

Madhesis Deserve A Better DealPhoto by Hrishikesh Bhatt


Question:  How do you look at the new constitution of Nepal which was adopted on 20th Sept, 2015?


NN Jha: The new constitution of Nepal took about seven years to draft. You will recall that the PM Modi, during his first visit in last July, had mentioned and the Government of India repeated many times that the new constitution should be acceptable to all sections of the population of Nepal. Unfortunately, the Madhesis and people of Tarai have not been able to accept it so far though I believe the negotiations are on and may yield some positive result in some time. In Nepal the Madhesi section has always been underrepresented in the government, in politics, in bureaucracy, in administration and even in policing. This is the main grouse of Madhesis. Many people and the authorities think that the all Madhesis are Indian nationals or Indian agents and because of this they are suspicious.

The Nepali constitution has provided for seven provinces in the federal setup. In old days also the electoral constituencies were North and South. There were four or five hill constituencies and two or three Tarai constituencies. These constituted the Rashtriya Panchayat of 225 people in old days. There was very low percentage of Madhesis, not those who were settled, but the actual Madhesis. They were in minority. In the interim constitution the Madheshi representations rose to about 80 or 100. So their representation was felt. Now in the new constitution there are seven provinces. The Madhesi demand was for one province. Problem was again the North-South. This has resulted in instability. All the three major political parties united on it, the Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (UML), who are equal to our CPM, and Maoists. And in this agitation 40- 50 people were killed and the five thousand trucks were held up at the Indian border. The Indian Government had not imposed any restrictions at all. The trucks were not going in because the drivers were scared that they would be beaten up by the local agitators. So it was the Nepal Government's responsibility to control the situation.


Question: Is this constitution of Nepal is a step forward or backward?


NN JHA: From one point of view, it's a backward and from other point of view it is forward. I would say a bit of both.


Question: All the previous six constitutions were written by the monarchs, but this constitution was drafted by the elected members of the constituent assembly. Can it be called as an inclusive document?


NN JHA: Not the way it has been effected and worked out. More than 40 people were killed in police firings. News of atrocities by the police are coming in, so probably not an inclusive one.


Question: How do you see the sudden rush of the main political parties to pass and adopt this constitution in such great hurry?


NN JHA: The last April earthquake had a great political impact, nobody expected that but it had. They got together and they thought to work it out and if it doesn't work out, then they will have to be without a constitution for a longer period. There were pressures from the European countries also mainly the Scandinavian countries.


Question: Do you agree that the convergence of power across the political parties was the main reason behind the adoption in a hurry?


NN JHA: Among the all Pahadi Parties it is perceived that everybody, every leader wants to become prime minister. And now they are zeroing the UML (United Marxists Leninist) to get their support but Prachanda and others had made statements which are not favourable to India, suggesting that India has blocked the supply. So we have to be to be careful on that.


Question 6: Does this constitution guarantee stability in Nepal?


NN JHA: No, as of now no.


Question: Why did Nepal refuse to listen to the advice of India and went ahead with the constitution despite the New Delhi's objection?


NN JHA: There are two reasons, as I see. One reason was that the Madhesi Parties were very eager to get a coalition Government with all the different entities, the Maoist, UML, with everyone. So the impression must have been created that these people must fall in line in any eventuality. This was the impression. The other was the advice given by the Prime Minister Modi was taken as a very general advice and it helped them, mainly the Nepali Government. It must have created the impression that India will support them.


Question: Can this clash of Pahadis and Madheshis may pave the way for "Tamil -Sinhalese chasm” of Sri Lanka in years to come if the anomalies in this constitution are not rectified?


NN JHA: During my first posting in Sri Lanka in 1970s, it was just brewing, then it just started, it was ignored and it finally ended in 2009.So I shudder to think about these things to happen in Nepal. They will have to find the means to sort out the issue.


Question: What are the ways left to India to safeguard the interest of Madhesis and Tarai people?


NN JHA: What India might do is to rush supply by air to Kathmandu and Pokhra through its Air Force. Food grains, medicines and other materials so that the tension goes down. And the trucks stuck at the border, carrying petroleum and oil products like gas cylinders and all should be sent by road .There are 13 check points on Indo-Nepal border from where these supply can be sent. What solution I may offer for the Tarai areas, which has the 40-45 percent of the population of Nepal (of which 30 percent are hill people) is to reserve 30 percent seats for Madhesis for10 years like our constitution and review it after that.


Question 10: First Pakistan and now Nepal do you think that the Modi's neighbourhood policy has actually failed?


NN JHA: No, exactly not. See that the publication of the documents (constitution) came in some six month ago somewhere in January. We should have told Prachanda and every one quietly, without publicity, regarding India’s concerns. Our Foreign Secretary went there about couple of months ago. Had Foreign Secretary gone there earlier and had raised India’s concerns, the situation would have been different. He was busy in various things. I would suggest Nepal to ponder over all this.