By Sohan Prasad Sha
Elections in Nepal are a time for politicians to embark on tours and visits. No sooner are they announced than leaders of all stripes make a beeline to New Delhi, to curry favour, cut deals, and carry back home evidence of their skills in negotiating everything from ‘trilateralism’, ‘bilateralism’ to hanging bridge and “kind” support for election from India – all this in so-called “goodwill” visits.
This kind of political tourism is not much different this time, with elections to the second constituent assembly announced for November. One after another, familiar faces have shuffled through the corridors of power in New Delhi. What is striking, however, is the spurt in ‘domestic’ political tourism. Nepali politicians are being spotted in the Terai, the periphery to the centre that is Kathmandu.
It is not merely old Madhesh lovers, like Prachanda. The moderates and the status quoists of the Nepali congress and CPN-UML too were in the Terai, as were the fractured, divided and confused Madhesi parties.
The most unlikely face there was Gyanendra, the deposed king, who made a trip to Janakpur a month ago in an outrageous attempt to claw back into the political reckoning. Claiming to have reconciled to the idea of the republic, Gyanendra seemed to have had a change of heart from the days of his discriminatory, exclusionary and undemocratic rule. All he wanted, he said, was a referendum for the new state.
It would have been another matter if Janakpurians perceived Gyanendra as anyone different from the tourists thronging to their temple town. Nevertheless, the question remains: why this sudden rush to woo the Madhesi people?
Political parties have been whipped by elections into recognizing the hard truth about the changed dynamics in Nepal. It is now clear that no political equation can be possible without the votes of the Madhesi. The boom in political tourism is a realization of this inevitable fact.
Nevertheless, and like tourists, these politicians have done little more than pose for pictures. The Madhesi vision of the nation espouses a rightful dignity for their identity and self-rule, demands that require political autonomy. Federalism, which removes the suffocating unitary structure, alone can give that. So far this has been an unmet demand and it is doubtful whether the new election will bring it in. Until these aspiration are addressed the politicians who come the Terai will be little more than curious visitors in search of pleasure.
For the Madhesi people, even the Madhesbadi parties and their leaders are equally tourists, heightening the sense of despair in the region. The underdevelopment of the Terai is not just a question of a constitutional provision. Much more is required to be done to achieve a socio-economic transformation. Unfortunately, few Madheshbadi leaders have shown that vision.
This has led to widespread cynicism, with most people expecting little to change, regardless of the party in power. This disconnect is precisely what makes the party leadership appear like tourists: ensconced in Kathmandu and making the election-time trip to the Terai.
It will probably take time for the Madhesi people to choose the best amongst the lot, and the Madheshbadi parties will certainly be the natural gainers from this. Nevertheless, it is folly to imagine that votes will be given solely on the basis on this ethnic link. The new political environment requires Madheshbadi parties to think out of the box.
This is not to say that politicians ought to avoid the Terai. But it is important that these political tourists create a sense of belonging to political struggles and rise above their own personal and political gains. Despite the complexity of cross-cultural relationships, a sense of responsibility for social justice must be ensured. If this can be done then, perhaps, the political tourism, which now resembles that of rich foreigners visiting a poor but pretty part of the world, could be transformed into circuits that build up linkages between the core of Kathmandu to the periphery of the Madhesh.
But for that, the politicians first need to create a sense of belonging in the people of Nepal across the region. Only then will there be any real enthusiasm for the elections. That, unfortunately, is sorely lacking. And, Which is a pity, because elections are the only way out for politics in Nepal to redeem itself and actuate the dreams of a new republican constitution. Nevertheless, the major issues like fedralism remained to resolve and off which CA I dissolved – and big political parties are still in swingy mood to communicate properly to people. Whilst, the dispair situation among people may well be understood with the coming CA II election in November may turns nothing different than “Old wine in Old bottles (if not new bottles)”.
Sohan Prasad Sha
Jawaharlal Nehru University