By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
Prime Minister Oli finally condescended to make an official six days visit to India from 19th February. Despite some advice from his close friends to visit China first and thus give a message to India, he chose to wait for the supposed “blockade” to be withdrawn before he could visit Delhi. There is an impression current in the valley that he has done India a “favour.”
On 21st Feb., Oli made a statement that his visit was aimed at clearing the misunderstanding that were seen in past few months between the two countries. He does not appear to have succeeded in this as could be seen from the statement of Prime Minister Modi who described the framing and promulgation of the constitution after decades of struggle as an important achievement.
But in the same breath, PM Modi added significantly that the new constitution’s success depends on consensus and dialogue. Continuing he said “ I am confident that you (addressed to Oli) will take Nepal on the path of peace and stability by resolving all constitutional issues on the basis of those principles through political dialogue and taking along all sections of Nepal”.
In other words he said- give their dues to the Madhesis if you are looking for peace and stability.
There was no such assurance from Oli. Instead he repeated and continued to maintain that 1. The Constitution making process was inclusive- progressive and without discrimination. 2. The Constitution was passed by an assembly of 92 percent of participation and that 85 percent voted for the constitution.
Numbers do not give legitimacy to the constitution. The fact of the matter was that the constitution did not involve nearly 40 percent of the population whose demands for parity were ignored.
A day prior to his departure, Oli’s cabinet formed a political mechanism which again was done without consulting important stake holders like the Madhes groups. A group has been formed under the chairmanship of Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa to revise the federal boundaries and make recommendations within three months.
The Madhes groups led by SLMM refused to take ownership of the proposal. Their objections were 1. The mechanism had no statutory status and can at any time be ignored. 2. There is no guarantee of two provinces as demanded by them and 3. The mechanism is not on the basis of an earlier recommendation of the State restructuring Commission that was a Constitutional body.
The second objection of the SLMM is not valid at all as this will be covered under the mechanism, but giving a statutory status was an important omission.
So the Madhes groups who met on 23rd in Birgunj, decided to carry forward their agitation from mid-March. While they had abandoned the blockade at the border they have not abandoned their agitation that will take new forms.
A question that troubles me is why K.P. Oli is so rigid in dealing with the Madhes Groups as well as with India? After all of the top three in the hierarchy- he is considered to be most friendly to India as compared to the other two- Jhalanath Khanal and Madhav Nepal.
A clue to his stand comes from a piece by veteran journalist and for whom I have great admiration, in the issue of Kathmandu Post of 24th February. In it he said that -I quote “Oli’s political strength comes from ‘nationalistic’ people who will find it difficult to become friends with India.”
Coming from the UML this statement was not a surprise to me. Equating nationalism with anti-Indianism was deliberately encouraged by the royalties during the Panchayat regime. The royalty is gone now. The country is a sovereign federal democratic republic now and where is the need to practise anti Indianism just to sustain the regime? It is not clear.
Nepal has also not understood the changing political dynamics in India. For long the Madhes was not only neglected by successive regimes in Nepal but also by India too. The bulk of the scholarships went to the hills. Important projects including roads had been built in the hills and not the Terai. No one questioned and no one appreciated. But times have changed.
It is time that the hill leaders take the ownership of Terai too and ensure an inclusive approach. This is what India is asking not only for its own interest but for the general peace and stability of the region.
There was a media report a few days ago that the Maoist chief Prachanda called India an “untrustworthy” neighbour and the next day the Indian ambassador is said to have called on him. It may be a coincidence and perhaps it was. The Indian Ambassador may have fixed the meeting earlier. But it gives a wrong picture to those in India.
During the civil war in Nepal, Prachanda alias Dahal spent eight years in India and perhaps still thinks that Indian intelligence was not aware of his presence in India. He is mistaken and he should be grateful.