There’s a crisis of confidence in top three parties
Upendra Yadav has strong views on what’s a good constitution—he burnt the Interim Constitution of 2007 right after it came into existence. His Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) spearheaded the Madhes Andolan in 2007 and forced the government to amend the Interim Constitution to include federalism. Lately, the once-powerful “messiah of Madhes” has seen his powers dwindle with the original MJF having splintered into three parties. He is also conspicuously absent from the Madhesi front in the current government. However, with the recent formation of the cross-party Comprehensive Madhesi Front to safeguard Madhesi interest in the Constituent Assembly, Yadav has once again become highly visible in national politics. The Post’s Pranab Kharel and Gynau Adhikari spoke with him on the alliance of Madhesi lawmakers and the possibility of a new constitution. Excerpts:
What is the purpose of the cross-party Madhesi Front that’s been formed recently?
It’s actually an inner-party Front. It was formed to coordinate the Madhesi CA members in different parties to include the rights of the Madhesis in the constitution. The other communities tied with the madhesis—indigenous, Janjati, Dalit, Muslims, backward classes—should also have their concerns addressed in the new constitution. The front is created to put political pressure. Similarly, agreements made during the Madhes Andolan, the 8-point and 22-point agreement, clearly state that there will be autonomy for states and that state organs will be made inclusive based on population, and they must be adhered to. Two things are most important today—autonomy and inclusiveness.
Does the autonomy include right to self determination?
Yes, every Nepali has a right to self determination.
Can you explain this right? There seems to be some confusion regarding what this means.
The fundamental aspects of human rights include social, cultural and economic rights. Social and cultural rights, particularly, are established by UN conventions and Nepal has signed on to this. All Nepal has to do is implement them. That said, at a certain time, after the October Revolution, Lenin also included the right to separation. But that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for right to self determination without the right to separation. The main struggle in Madhes is for autonomy, inclusiveness and identity. We need unity in diversity. The road to disintegration starts when the identities of only those who wield state power are recognised and promoted. That is what happened in the Soviet Union. In our country, self rule in states and shared rule at the centre is the real meaning of federalism. And democracy can only be meaningful with equal rights and opportunities for all.
The number of federal states has been very contentious, with NC and UML advocating fewest numbers of states and Maoists advocating the opposite. How do you view this debate?
The first thing we need to ask is: why have federalism at all? The first reason is economics. A unitary structure didn’t lead to prosperity. The second reason is good governance and autonomy. Third is recognition of cultural identity. And the fourth reason is elimination of all forms of discrimination. We need federalism for all these reasons. Similarly, the provinces should also be economically viable. A state can be formed if it can address both identity and viability.
Given the diversity of Madhes, how does the call for a single Madhesi province reconcile with all these four aspects you just mentioned?
There is not a single district or village in Nepal that is not diverse. That’s Nepal’s unique diversity. At the same time, the Madhes is plain land, culturally similar, economically agriculture-based, and has been ruled by others for 240 years. In Nepal, half the population is Madhesi. Name me a single VDC where Madhesi wield power. There’s not a single police station where Madhesi’s are in charge either. No village is under the control of the Madhesis. The whole Madhes is controlled by outsiders. The Armed Police Force have now been deployed there. And the reason for all of this is, if the Madhesis raise their head, the police rain the sticks. Madhes is thus internally colonised. That is why liberation from internal colonialism is a uniquely Madhesi question. If you have a Himal-Pahad-Tarai state, it’s impractical, as the failed experiment by Mahendra shows. But if the Madhes is a single state, it can achieve economic viability as an agricultural state. Once it’s developed, it can help with the prosperity of the country. Another thing is that Madhesi is not a jaat or a jaati— everyone living in the Tarai is a Madhesi. But there is diversity within it. So the country has to be able to address the diversity of states and states themselves should address the diversity within them. This’ll lead to greater national unity.
To what extent have the demands of 2007’s Madhes Andolan been answered, especially since Madhesi parties, including yours, have been in government consistently since then?
A change in face alone doesn’t change policies. In India, Indira Gandhi was the prime minister of India for 15 years, but they still burn their women to death, for example. What’s important is change in policies. We’ve moved ahead since 2007 on federalism, identity, secularism and inclusiveness. But the end of the road is the Constitution. We’re in the final stage of constitution-writing.
What’s the Comprehensive Madhesi Front’s bottom line on constitution?
First, the constitution should be democratic. Second, it should be inclusive, and that’s why we need federalism. The constitution should be non-discriminatory. Inclusion, for example in the Army or foreign or service, should be proportional to population. We’re not talking about tokens. The cultural identity of Madhes, and other states, should be recognised. The same goes for autonomy. These are fundamental rights for everyone. As far as names and numbers are concerned, they should be negotiated based on mutual agreements.
So ‘One Madhes one Pradesh’ is negotiable?
There’s no such state as ‘one Madhes one pradesh’. That’s the colloquial slogan. The thing is Madhesis should have state autonomy. There is only a single geographical region called Madhes. Within it, there can be automomous regions, or protected (arakhshit) regions. The whole Madhes should be recognised as an autonomous state.
Some, including the President and Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, have called for an “indivisible” Chitwan. Do you think that’ll make it difficult to have a single Madhesi state?
Chitwan—Narayangadh and south—what has that area been called so far? Bhitri Madhes, isn’t it! They themselves have called it “inner Madhes”.
So what’s this talk about divisible and indivisible? The solution is Madhesi part in Madhes and Pahadi part in Pahad. And all the parts will be in Nepal.
Let’s go back to the constitution. How’s the Madhesi Front going to impact the constitution writing process?
It’s getting highly interesting. We’re in a situation where the top leaders of the three big parties are running away from their own people. The Janjatis in the Maoists have given a gyaapan patra (letter of appeal) to their leaders. This is happening in UML and NC too. The Madhesis and Muslims are also givinggyaapan patras to thier own party leaders. What does this mean? It means that three big parties’ leaders are facing a serious crisis of confidence. The Madhesis, Janajatis and Dalits have no confidence in the leaders—whether they’re in the Nepali Congress or the communist parties.
Why is that?
Because the top leadership of the big parties have always deceived the marginalised groups. All they give is sweet talk. So what other option is there for us other than to be united? But let me clarify that this alliance is not against the Madhesi morcha [Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha, which is the coalition partner in the Maoist-led government]. We want to talk to everyone. This is formed to coordinate with Madhesi lawmakers from all parties.
You’ve been saying that there won’t be a constitution by May 27. You’re a seasoned politician. What obstacles do you see?
We won’t have a constitution if we continue in this manner. How many days do we have? About 30-odd days. The people elected a 601-member body, and hoped that the CA would follow proper procedures. But the leaders of the three parties don’t care about procedures. They wasted time for too long. Today, at the final hour, the three top leaders of the three top parties want to make the constitution by bargaining through give and take. Will a constitution based on bargaining between such a narrow group be acceptable to many? I have doubts. Also, even the three have failed to come to agreements. There’s nothing concrete. So we have to worry if there are conspiracies to prevent a constitution from being written.
Which party, or interest group, do you see as not wanting a constitution?
Rather than party, it’s a tendency that does not want federalism or an inclusive Nepal. They’re the ones who have been benefitting from the status-quo and they don’t like the very idea of sharing which comes with being inclusive. They just don’t want to accept change. Then there’s also a force that wants to see the country go backward. These tendencies need to be overcome. But there are risks, and we’re entering a very high risk territory.
With only a few leaders having a say, do you think the constitution will carry with it a sense of ownership?
Look, the seven parties made the interim constitution. The people didn’t take ownership. It was amended 11 times. It was burnt and there was Andolan in the Madhes. Today, it’s the three parties—a few leaders from three parties in fact. If they prepare a document that caters to their interests by bargaining among themselves alone, that’ll be very unfortunate.