A senior Madhesi leader has warned that delaying a resolution to the ongoing four-month-old agitation in the Nepal Terai could spell a serious danger for neighbour India which has an almost 1,100-km open border with the southern plains of the Himalayan nation.
“New Delhi should be alert to elements inimical to Indian interests gaining ground in the Nepal Terai if the agitation prolongs inordinately and goes out of the hands of the political leadership presently guiding it,” Rajendra Mahto, Sadbhawana Party president and a prominent leader of the ongoing agitation seeking amendments to the new Constitution, told IANS in an interview during a visit here.
For almost four months, the plains of the Nepal Terai have been simmering with protests against the country’s new Constitution that was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on September 20 last. The Indian states of UP and Bihar lie contiguous to the Nepal Terai with an almost 1,100-km open border which allows unfettered access to each other’s territory and intermingling of people with religious, ethnic and cultural links.
“So far, the agitation has remained within our control and though more than 50 lives have been needlessly lost, it has not assumed a violent character… However, we wonder how much longer can we remain at the helm for the long-suffering Madhesis are at the end of the tether,” said Mahto, expressing helplessness at what he apprehended.
Nepal’s Terai region stretching from the Mechi river in the east to the Mahakali river in the west and comprising Madhes in its eastern part and the tribal-dominated Tharuhat in the western region has traditionally suffered immense discrimination from the Kathmandu-centric ruling elite that has comprised predominantly the Brahmins (Bahuns) and Chhetris of the Nepal hills.
“The Madhesis will no longer take it lying down… and unless their demands are addressed now, it wouldn’t be long before someone picks up the gun. After that, only Lord Pashupatinath knows what will happen,” Mahto said invoking Nepal’s presiding deity.
Mahto has been in the Indian capital since Saturday and along with three other Madhesi leaders — Mahanta Thakur, president of the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party; Upendra Yadav, chairperson of the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal; and Mahendra Yadav, president of the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party-Nepal — has been involved in wide-ranging consultations with the Indian leadership since Sunday.
The Madhesi leaders held meetings with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, among others.
The Madhesi leaders also held confabulations with various Indian political leaders including BJP National General Secretary Ram Madhav, senior Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav, Nationalist Congress Party general secretaries D.P. Tripathi and Tariq Anwar, senior BJP leader and former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, Janata Dal (United) member of the Rajya Sabha and former Indian diplomat Pavan Varma and senior Congress leader Karan Singh, among others.
Mahto warned that the time was not too far off when a young Madhesi hothead made a hill-person his target. “Communal violence, which has so far largely spared Nepal, may not be too far away…”
And before long, anti-India forces could call the shots in the Nepal Terai where Kathmandu’s writ goes unheeded, he cautioned.
The Madhesi protestors are demanding, among others, a redrawing of the boundaries of the provinces in the Himalayan nation as proposed in the new Constitution; restoration of rights granted to Madhesis in the interim constitution of 2007 which the new charter has snatched away; representation in Parliament on the basis of population — the Nepal Terai has almost 51 percent of the country’s population yet gets only one-third of seats in Parliament; and proportional representation in government jobs.