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Nepal crisis: solution likely but concerns remain

By Pratim Ranjan Bose, KOLKATA: The good news is the five-month-long anti-constitution Madhesi agitation in the plains of Nepal, bordering the States of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, may be resolved in a month, leading to resumption of normal trade through the Raxaul (Bihar)-Birgunj (Nepal) gate.

But concerns are that the landing may not be safe. It may just be temporary. And, India may find itself in the thick of trouble in the days to come.

Compromise on issue
The root cause of this concern lies in the common perception that Madhesi parties will compromise upon the main agenda of demarcation of two States, comprising only the plains district, under Indian pressure. Nepal proposed creation of seven States in the constitution. Excepting one, all are created in a manner that the rule of the hill elite remains intact.

An amendment of this principle will ensure proportional political equity of a highly populated Madhesh in Kathmandu.

Throughout the entire movement the Madhesi Morcha (forum) put demarcation as their prime agenda, followed by delimitation of electoral constituencies based on population, thus replacing the existing geography-specific constituencies that till now denied proportional representation of the plains in Parliament.

“The three-point decision doesn’t resolve a single issue,” Upendra Yadav, pioneer of the Madhesi movement in Nepal had told BusinessLine back in December, on the KP Oli government’s December 21 proposal. The negotiations over the last one month indicate the Madhesi Morcha may now agree to the proposal to form a committee to recommend on demarcation issues.

India factor
Apparently, it’s a climb down for the Oli government that had initially rubbished the demands. But given the track record of the hill elite-dominated Kathmandu politics, not many expect them to address Madhesi aspirations.

“India is pushing Madhesi parties to end the movement for its wider national interests,” said Uddhab Prasad Pyakurel, Assistant Professor of International Relations in Kathmandu University. “First, India backed the Madhesis. Now it is forcing them to strike a premature deal,” Pyakurel said.

The Indian support to the movement, Pyakurel says, was evident in the drop in supplies of essentials in the first three months of the movement, followed by a dramatic rise after the Oli government’s proposal. While Birgunj remains closed, traffic through all other gates has nearly doubled over the last few weeks.

Interestingly, Madhesi sources say that apart from diplomatic establishments, the pressure for early solution also stems from Bihar.

Contrary to popular expectations, at a meeting with Madhesi leaders in Patna last week, RJD chief Lalu Yadav reportedly asked for a quick solution, citing law and order problems in Bihar, said Kanchan Jha, a Terai-based journalist.

But, are Madhesi parties witnessing a drop in public interest to the movement? Local reports suggest life is near-normal in Birgunj. Jha says common Madhesis lost interest in the mainstream leadership and started rallying behind secessionist leaders like CK Raut and Matrika Prasad Yadav.

At a meeting at Birgunj last week, veteran Maoist leader Matrika gave a call for an armed struggle. Raut, who believes in non-violent measures, is holding referendums for an “independent Madhesh”.

“If Kathmandu fails to honour demands for federalism, it will strengthen separatist movements,” senior Morcha leader Mahant Thakur reportedly said in a radio talk last week.

“The Indian pressure is the biggest factor behind the climb down of the Morcha,” said Kanchan Jha.

Tight rope walk
Sources in the BJP too are not confident of a safe landing. They admit a potential trouble if Kathmandu fails to live up to its promises. The BJP has a Nepal wing. The party favours posting of people outside the diplomatic cadre as future Ambassadors to Kathmandu.

The Indian diplomacy has had several embarrassing moments in Nepal in the recent past. The most embarrassing of them, sources say, was a gross miscalculation during the Prime Ministerial election in October.

India was found rooting for Sushil Koirala, who promulgated the controversial constitution, while Oli emerged a clear winner.

:: Trade setback With Birgunj closed, traffic through other gates has doubled over the last few weeks. (Analysis Source: The Hindu)

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