A new force will emerge in Madhes

DEC 17 -

After serving a year in jail, Jaya Prakash Gupta will be free in two months. The Supreme Court convicted Gupta ten months ago of corruption charges on the grounds that he had amassed property beyond his means. How does this long-time Madhesi politician and five-time minister, considered an intellectual among Madhesi politicians, see recent developments in the country and the Madhes? The Post’s Gyanu Adhikari spoke to Gupta, from Kanchanpur-7 in Saptari, at the courtyard of the Dillibajar jail. Excerpts:  

How are you spending your time?

My two primary interests are reading and writing. I especially enjoy biographies and autobiographies. I recently finished Deng Xiaoping’s biography written by his daughter. I’ve also started reading Kissinger’s biography. Other than that, I mostly read social science material.

You must be thinking about the politics outside. Why do you think there was no constitution in May?

The crux of the matter, as has been said before, is that the major political

sides didn’t accept change. The major agenda for change was for shared rule at the centre and self-rule in the homeland. That’s how I understand federalism. It needed to be codified in the constitution.

You’ve severely criticised the “permanent state” in Nepal in your writings. Can you explain what you mean by that?

The fact is that Nepal’s state has been dominated by one side. If you look at the index of participation in political and administrative positions, more than 80 percent is occupied by the dominant side that actually comprises of only about 25-30 percent of the population. The larger, complex population’s share is below 20 percent. Whether it was the Maoist, Madhesi, Janajati or Dalit movement, addressing this imbalance formed the core of their demands.

Can you define this permanent state more? Who exactly wields power?

This may sound harsh (apriya) but it is the Nepali-speaking population. The permanent state is not based on caste. The Maoists view on this has, unfortunately, only looked at administrative power. Some time ago, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai said that the administration does not cooperate with him, alluding to the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML’s hold on the bureaucracy. Institutionally, except the Constituent Assembly (which was an exception), Madhesi representation has never been above 20 percent.

In the judiciary, it’s below five percent, and in the Police/Army, it’s below one percent. The Dalit presence in all institutions is negligible and the story of Janajatis is similar.

Is this an issue of inclusion?

The demand is not for inclusion but shared rule. The permanent state’s institutions are dominated by one group. The intelligentsia is in it too.

The situation in Nepal is similar to that of Pakistan around 1947-1950, when

20 percent of the population (Punjabis) dominated at the expense of the Sindhi, Balochi and Pashtun.

That’s why federalism was a strong agenda there. There were a lot issues and, in the end, Jinnah ended up with a massively centralised state. In Nepal, if the permanent state had displayed a modern attitude, the country wouldn’t be suffering right now.

Do you think Madhesi parties in the CA are also guilty for its failure? What mistakes did they make?

When the CA was formed in 2008, the Madhesi parties had 83 members, not counting Madhesis elected from other parties. But they abandoned their agenda and ran after power, forgetting agreements with the state that were codified in the 22-point and the eight-point agreement. Right after the CA, the Madhesi parties made a written pact with the Maoists to support Ramraja Prasad Singh for the presidency. Then, they aligned with the NC and UML to elect [Ram Baran] Yadav. The point is that Madhesi parties have spurned principles for power. The Madhesi parties are no longer agents of change. The Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM) has lost its strength and none of the parties are intact.

How do you see evolving politics in the Madhes?

The next elections will show new trends in the Madhes. New polarisation is underway. A new force to represent the Madhes will emerge.

You mean a new party?

A new Madhesi political force will emerge. There are three or four sides to this new formation. The militant forces in the Madhes, currently in negotiation with the government, are not in the mood to continue with an armed movement. The attraction for the Maoists among Madhesis is dwindling; today Madhesi members in that party are threatening to not participate in their general convention. Disenchanted Madhesis in the UML also did not join Ashok Rai’s party. Moreover, the 11 percent of the vote the Madhesi parties got in the last election will not go back to the Nepali Congress because of that party’s anti-federalist position.

Analysts say NC realises that its prospects are limited if it can’t win back the Madhesi vote. Why do you think it doesn’t have a chance?

Because they’ve been going back on everything. They’ve even started disparaging the 12-point agreement that was the beginning of peace process. Today nobody owns that agreement. There’s a big debate in the NC that perhaps Girija Prasad Koirala made a mistake by signing that agreement. UML leader Madhav Nepal is also against it today, and another UML leader, Jhala Nath Khanal, has said the eight-point agreement with the Madhesis was a mistake. There’s extreme pessimism in the Madhes and the NC/UML/Maoists have not gained any more sympathy.

Going back to your polarisation hypothesis, why do you think Madhesis, who have suffered the most in the hands of armed groups there, will support them in the next election?

The new polararisation will almost end the possibility of armed groups operating in the Madhes. They’re opting for a peaceful force. Of course, they’d have to apologise for the pain, kidnapping, abuse and extortion of the Madhesi community. They know they’ve made mistakes.

The new census is out. It says that literacy rates in the Madhes are among the lowest in Nepal, comparable to the remote mountain district of Humla. Any comments? As a five-time minister, do you feel that Madhesi politicians should take responsibility for the under-development?

It’s true that in recent years, Madhesi’s have gained more administrative power but it wasn’t always the case. For example, until 2056 BS [1999], the NC had a single Madhesi as a candidate in Morang. The 50 percent representation of Madhesis in PM Bhattarai’s cabinet is an exception not the norm. Also, we have to remember that Madhesis did not have a lot of say in development politics. State policies decide on health, education and other development issues. The fact that Rajendra Mahato is a health minister doesn’t mean he decides health policies.

If that’s so, what’s use of politicians? We may as well let bureaucrats run the system. Aren’t you and other Madhesis trying to evade responsibility?

I’ll give you an example of when I was minister for agriculture in Prachanda’s government. We had four percent of the budget allocated to agriculture that year, the highest ever in the history of planning in Nepal. But I was out of the Cabinet by the time the next budget was being formed. Yes, we do have to acknowledge the failures of Madhesi leaders. Madhesi leaders can do more. Bijay Gachchadar has become minister 11 times but look at the literacy rate in his district—it’s abysmal. The time has come to rethink development planning. Only 23 percent of Nepal’s area is in Madhes but more than 50 percent of the population lives there. Planning should reflect that.

Do you think the Madhesi agenda is going to be any different in the days ahead?

Madhesi politics can no longer run on the old agenda. In the past, it was all about recognition of people and languages, representation of Madhesis, Madhes Pradesh and inclusion. The new agenda will have to take into account the sentiments of the Pahadey [hill people]. It can’t condemn migration to the Madhes. We have to think about shared rule with Pahadeys in the Madhes.

Don’t you think Madhesi parties speak volubly about inclusion but don’t practice what they preach in their own parties? For example, we can compare the number of positions occupied by Jhas and Yadavs with those held by Dalits.

Like I said, Madhesi politics cannot run on old style. There are new stakeholders. The Tharus and the backward class (pichadeko barga) are not willing to accept the status quo. There are other changes. The old agenda was focussed on rights advocacy, the new one will focus on development advocacy. Otherwise the new generation will not accept it.

Let’s return to current politics. Do you think Sushil Koirala should become the next prime minister?

The current drama doesn’t resolve the crisis but it will be a step forward. The government should change and we should enter the election phase. For that PM Bhattarai should not be a hurdle. But I have to add that the NC and UML seeking power just for elections is ill-motivated (badniyat).

Finally, do you have any regrets in life?

Because of my corruption case, I couldn’t contribute with my objective analyses during the nation’s crucial phase. I’m not in favour of increasing conflict, and I will contribute after I get out in two months.



Posted on: 2012-12-17 08:29