Nepali Congress’ Narayan Khadka was once considered a key member of the Sushil Koirala coterie, and an influential leader in the party. However, after Koirala’s demise, Khadka has maintained a low profile, and the party leadership has also not sought his input on the stand it should take on important issues related the Constitution. This has not stopped him from approaching party chief Deuba once in a while to air his opinion on different issues.
Khadka says he is not happy with Deuba’s decision to aggressively push for a second amendment to the Constitution. He also says the party no longer discusses important issues with its members, and it now works on the interest of different camps within the Nepali Congress.
That said, Khadka believes that Deuba can be forgiven for all his ‘sins’ if he can get the Madheshi Morcha to contest the next election. Excerpts from an interview with Khadka:
Let’s begin by talking about the Amendment Bill. There are a handful of Nepali Congress MPs, who have openly said they will vote against the Bill. But Deuba is bent on getting the bill passed.
The UML has been saying that the Bill is India-sponsored. But I don’t think India is so deeply involved in the issue.
It was very undemocratic of the UML to disrupt House proceedings and not allow MPs to discuss the amendment. Now that the Suprement Court has passed a verdict on the issue, things are heading towards resolution. If the UML helps the ruling coalition pass the Bill, the Madheshi Morcha could be made to face elections, and the mood of agitation in Madhesh could be addressed to some extent. That is why the president (Deuba) has been saying that he wants the Bill passed with the help of the UML.
The Bill was prepared by the government. But why is Deuba so aggressively owning it up?
When Sushil da was Prime Minister around two years ago, the UML and the Nepali Congress had proposed a seven-province model. According to the model, the hill districts in Lumbini zone and the planes were placed in different provinces. The Madeshi Morcha was also not averse to the model.
The same model has been incorporated into the new amendment proposal. I think Deubaji is taking the initiative because he thinks that if by revising the provincial boundaries the problems of Madesh can be resolved and elections held, then it’s worth it.
If the UML allows the House to function, we see that 204 MPs will vote against the Bill. Is this not a big enough number to stop the amendment?
Yes, the situation is like that. I think what would be our greatest achievement is that the Bill will now be discussed in the Parliament. I agree that the Bill may not get a two-third majority. Even some of the Nepali Congress MPs are not happy with the Bill. But we need to understand that dissent is simmering in the Madhesh. If the Constitution is not amended, the Madheshi Morcha can launch another round of agitation.
The UML has been saying that the Morcha is playing to the tunes of external forces. I don’t think that is right. We cannot dismiss their demands.
But how can it be just coincidence that the Morcha changed its stance on the amendment immediately after India’s Ministry of External Affairs welcomed the proposal?
I think India wants a settlement reached in Nepal. Whenever I meet my Indian friends, I remind them that in Nepal, people of the mountains, hills and the plains are dependent on one another. If you encourage elements in Nepal that want a plains-only province in the country, people from the hills and mountains will naturally have better ties with the North, and that is not in the interest of India.
India must have thought that Madesh could be transformed into a ‘buffer within a buffer’ because counterfeit notes and terrorism have proven to be a big headache for it. But I cannot say that the Bill is India-sponsored.
Is there a way for the ruling coalition to get the amendment passed?
People in the government, who have played a role in preparing the Bill, would know. I do not think the UML’s alliance can be broken into, because the UML is cashing in on an emotional slogan of ‘nationalism’. But the alliance has a few members, who have sided with the UML because they could not get ministerial berths. They could change their stance on the amendment.
If the amendment does not get passed, and the Morcha decides not to participate in the election, would all this exercise to revise the provincial boundaries be futile?
This is a serious question. I believe the government should try to secure a two-third majority. The situation now is such that even RPP, a ruling coalition ally, is not going to vote in favour of the amendment. Bijay Gachchadar is also undecided.
It is quite possible that the ruling coalition will hand ministerial berths to Kamal Thapa and Gachchadar. But even after doing so, a two-third majority looks far-fetched without the support of the UML.
There are those, who say that that amendment is aimed at furthering a plan to establish Madeshi nationality. What do you say to that?
I do not think so. In reality, the two-province-Madhesh is just a political slogan, It is not economically feasible. It is wrong on the part of the Madheshis to lay claim over any piece of flat land they see.
People of hill origin have been living in the Terai Madhesh for more than 200 years now. Some of those, who claim to champion the rights of Madheshis, are themselves not the original inhabitants of the Terai.
My take on the opinion that there is a plan to establish Madeshi nationality and to break Nepal into two is that it is not simply possible. Even those who are trying to force this agenda know that a separate state in Madhesh is not possible.
So, do you think the country is now divided into UML supporters and non-UML supporters?
Yes, the situation is like that. The UML has adopted an extremist stance, and that has forced other powers to come together. But I do not think the Madheshi Morcha will remain with the ruling alliance during election time. Their agenda is different from ours’.