Nepalese Parliament amended its Constitution but Madhesis rejected the amendments saying that it is 'incomplete' and does not completely fulfill the aspirations of Madhesis people. The amendment fulfilled the 2 key demands of proportional representation in government institutions and allocation of seats in Parliament in proportion to populations. The other demands related to redrawing of the federal boundaries and citizenship has not been addressed.
Nepal passed its new Constitution in September 2015. Passage led to protest by Madhesis and Tharus because they claimed it to be discriminatory against them because:
• The federal boundaries were divided in a way to reduce people inhabiting Terai region to minority in each province.
• Parliamentary seats were disproportionately allocated. Terai region constituting 50% of population was allocated only 65 seats out of 165.
• Citizenship provisions discriminated against naturalized citizens and children born to Nepalese women - who were not granted citizenship through descent - in high Constitutional post like that of President , Prime Minister.
In response Madhesis started protest under United Democratic Madhesi Front and even blocked India - Nepal border trading point at Birgunj across Friendship Bridge. This strained the India - Nepal relations as Nepal accused India of abating the protests and making life difficult for Nepal as supply of daily need items were blocked. Apprehensions of relations deteriorating further, possibility of increasing Chinese influence and recognition by the Nepal Parliament that there were genuine grievances led to calming down of the tempers both sides.
Why Madhesis rejected Amendments:
In this background the amendments were passed by the Parliament. Regarding the other provisions the government said the issues of citizenship would be resolved through negotiations and consensus, proposed solution to provincial boundaries within 3 months of the formation of political mechanism for the purpose.
Madhesis wanted credible guarantee on the mandate and constitutional validity of the political mechanism for redrawing of the boundaries.
Regarding proportional representation in lower house there is no clear words regarding how the weightage will be apportioned to population and geography. Also the provision is made to ensure one seat from each district, this will again go against the people in Terai region because here 20 out of country's 75 districts house 50% of population. The upper house continues to have equal representation from each province. All these go against the element of proportional representation in parliament.
15 groups will be eligible for the proposed affirmative action, introduced through amendment to ensure proportional representation in governance. This may dilute the essence and meaning for those who need it most and may again fragment Madhesis.
What are the implications for India - Nepal ties?
• China in recent has emerged as major factor in South Asia and especially in Nepal. It has improved its investment in infrastructure, foreign investment and trade in Nepal. The alleged blockade by India has created a wedge between India and Nepal and given an opportunity to Nepal to justify its recent tilt towards China.
• Nepal wishing to sign an agreement for fuel supply with China is an indication of the new dynamics in the region.
Also the crisis has divided the people of Nepal. There has been growing anger among the people in the hill region,
What is the present situation:
In recent the blockade has been removed and the Madhesis have blinked from their hardline approach. It has been as a result of recognition by both India and Nepal that there is a problem and its solution lies in political sphere. Any hardline approach will affect people- to - people ties. Any support to Madhesis blockade would have tantamount to interfering in the matters of Nepal. Also how can India demand states on the basis of ethnicity when it does not have this provision. Nepal also understands that playing China card will not yield results because the cultural, historical and economical relations with India can't be supplanted by China.
With the ending of the blockade the political establishments in Nepal must realize that only blockade has been removed but the issues remains. Unless the root causes are dealt with Madhesis will feel de-alienated and tensions will keep simmering. The ownership of the Constitution and faith in government are must for peace, stability and prosperity of Nepal.
How India should handle the situation?
There is a need to have consultative and inclusive approach in dealing with political issues. South Asia is a homogeneous identity, any instability in any part may have spillover effects in neighboring regions. With the idea of 'continentalism' gaining currency around the world the issues having cross-boundary ramifications must be dealt through interactions and dialogues rather than interference. Such an approach will have long term benefits and will built trust.
The proposed visit of Nepalese Prime Minister will be important in the regard that how the problem is solved in future.