Madhesh: What’s the deal? No deal

Kathmandu, December 28 

The atmosphere surrounding talks between three major political parties and the United Democratic Madheshi Front is pretty friendly. Leaders from both the sides crack jokes, make fun of each other and laugh, giving an impression that there’s nothing that’s unbridgeable, that they are pretty close to a deal.

Despite several rounds of talks, the UDMF and the government have failed to reach an understanding.

Why a deal seems so close, yet so far? Who is not letting the UDMF and the government come to an agreement? As talks get protracted and boring, it’s important to investigate and bring to light the one, who’s playing spoilsport.

Jokes and laughter give way to grave mood when leaders enter the agendas. They both toughen their stances and put forth their views in a no-nonsense manner. And they talk tough while facing the camera.

At public fora, they spend a whole lot of time criticizing each other.

File Photo

This attitude shows the three parties – the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and the UCPN-Maoist – and the agitating UDMF have a deep distrust towards each other. This trust deficit is one of the reasons behind the failure to reach an understanding, despite several rounds of talks between the three parties and the UDMF.

According to Narayan Kaji Shrestha, UCPN-Maoist Vice-President, agendas and crisis of confidence are to blame for a no-deal despite several rounds of negotiations.

The Madheshis have an impression that the three major parties and the government do not want to give rights to the Madhesh. While the three parties have a feeling that the UDMF does not want to come to an agreement. Petty interests of parties have prevailed at the expense of the needs of the nation. This has pulled the parties further apart.

Tart remarks coming from Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is also instigating Madheshi leaders.
An NC leader, who has been making efforts for an understanding between Madheshi parties and the three parties, says: While in Kathmandu, the Prime Minister gets a proposal on redrawing provincial boundaries passed through the Cabinet. While speaking at programmes outside Kathmandu, he says there will be no redrawing, no matter what. Activities like these only deepen distrust.

Advocate and Madhesh expert, Dipendra Jha, says: There’s crisis of confidence between the two sides. Waging a long struggle, the UDMF is eager for an agreement. On the other hand, the government is not feeling the pressure. There’s a need for the people to pile pressure on both the government and the UDMF.

Prime Minister Oli’s political adviser Bishnu Rimal agrees that there’s a crisis of confidence between the government and the UDMF. He says: During informal talks, the parties seem pretty close. Despite this, an understanding has been a far-off dream.

Rimal says the government floated a three-point proposal for the creation of an environment of trust, which proposes sorting out the issue of province delineation by forming a political committee within three months.

However, the UDMF seems to have no trust in the government.

Ram Naresh Ray, senior leader of the Tarai-Madhesh Socialist Party, a UDMF constituent, concedes that they have no trust in the government and the three major parties.

According to sources, the UDMF has taken the government and the major parties’ proposal — to sort out the delineation issue within three months by forming a political committee — positively. But it has a catch: The delineation should address Madhesh’s concerns.

A UDMF leader says: The government has pledged to redraw provincial boundaries. But redrawing the boundaries can also mean making Saptari district, which is in Province 2 now, a part of Province 1 as well. What if this happens ?

UDMF leaders are game for an understanding if the three parties take Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Kailali and Kanchanpur as disputed (contested) districts.

However, Prime Minister Oli and his party, the UML, are not ready for this. The UML argues that there will be no agreement by regarding certain districts as disputed at this point as parties will toughen their stance in favour of these districts.

“We are not saying that there’s no possibility of redrawing the provincial boundaries. There are differences on how to go about it,” Rimal, also a UML leader, says. “If we go for redrawing right now, parties will take stances, making an agreement impossible. That’s why the government is saying: Let’s redraw the boundaries within three months.”

Advocate Jha also concedes that trust deficit between the UDMF and the three parties is playing the spoilsport, asking the people to increase pressure on the government and the UDMF.

UCPN-Maoist leader Shrestha, who has been plying a crucial role in UDMF-government talks, says: Apart from trust deficit, the UDMF and the three parties differ on agendas also.

In this complex context, remarks from RPP-Nepal President and Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa can perhaps indicate the factor that’s been spoiling the chances of an understanding. At a recent informal gathering, Thapa had said: India also wants the crisis resolved, the UDMF also wants the same. However, some personal issues of some political leaders are coming in the way of an understanding.

What are these mysterious issues? At this stage, we can only guess what they are.

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