There are fresh protests in Kathmandu.
Exactly three months after the United Democratic Madhesi Front suspended its five-month long movement against the “divisive Constitution” of Nepal, the Federal Alliance, which includes the UDMF and comprises of as many as 29 other parties representing Madhesi, Dalits, Janjatis and marginalised groups, surprised everyone with a huge turnout on Sunday.
The large numbers of protestors from diverse backgrounds in the coalition rally were a visible example of inclusive nationalism which the ruling establishment – dubbed PEON for Permanent Establishment of Nation in Nepal – has been denying for so long.
The rally also provides an opportunity to Newar, the inhabitant community of Kathmandu and other hill-centric communities, to showcase Nepali-unity and debunk the scare of secession that the establishment has been spreading via its propaganda machine to dilute the issue of federalism, representation, and inclusion.
Lessons for the world
The international community – India, European Union, and the United States, along with organisations like International Crisis Group – has been consistently urging the government in Nepal to incorporate the genuine demands of the disgruntled citizens in the constitution.
While this new protest provides an opportunity for a reminder, it is also a time to learn from past mistakes.
The international community could play a useful role by asking the government and the protestors to refrain from resorting to violent means.
While the grievances of the Madhesi and other marginalised groups need redressal through amendments in the constitution, what is important is to ensure that any dramatic moves – such as toppling the government – are not attempted.
Any such perceived attempt would only allow the garrulous jingoist section that firmly upholds exclusionary nationalism to consolidate its position of power. Already, the grapevine in Kathmandu is abuzz with rumours that these new protests are backed by India, and are being projected as yet another conspiracy to create instability in Nepal.
The majority of media in Nepal does not seem to see any problem in the newly promulgated constitution, which is why the protests by the excluded and marginalised sections are seen as inconvenient. There is a tendency, therefore, to sensationalise any protest as an Indian conspiracy in an effort to demonise the protestors.
Lessons for the leaders
In a recent civil society gathering called by one of these Madhesi parties, qualms were expressed by a well-known intellectual against what was called “the unnecessary hobnobbing of [protest] leaders” with foreign envoys and their aides. He pointed to the detrimental effect of the news of such so-called covert meetings in embassies that seem to be routinely leaked to the media and presented as some kind of an international conspiracy being afoot.
That each such fresh news manages to sow some seeds of doubt and causes mistrust among coalition partners is a given reality that needs to be accepted. It is important for various alliance leaders to improve communication and transparency. It is imperative for them to understand that any unnecessary geopolitical games – or even such a perception about them – would discourage the activists and may increase mistrust among the coalition partners.
Despite the differences and ego-tussles among the top leaders of the coalition, they have vowed to stand together until they emerge victorious in their struggle. The biggest challenge, more than the one posed by the establishment, is to keep the coalition intact.
Lessons from the blockade
Excessive use of force by the state during the last round of protests and rampant killings of the protestors, which also triggered counter violence, pushed the agitating Madhesi Morcha to blocking the border.
For this they sought help from India. As basic supplies were cut-off, it was the common people who suffered the most. Though state atrocities decreased, it was the blockade and Indian role that became the talking point, and not the genuine grievances of the excluded section. While their demands remained unaddressed, protestors were left fatigued, tired and eventually forced to call off the blockade.
The overuse of the Indian card, as that experience underlined, is not going to yield the desired fruit. It would be a better bet, therefore, to seek moral support to the movement so as to help sustain it and put consistent pressure on the government.
In one of the mass meetings organised by the Morcha in Kathmandu recently, senior writer Khagendra Sangrauala said, “Neither Singh Durbar, nor the Delhi Durbar will offer Madhesi their rights on a platter – it is your struggle that decides your future.”
It is a wise suggestion that must be heeded. Keeping the struggle alive is the only option for the leaders – expecting some messiah to come and rescue them is not the one.
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