'If Madhes is not address MPRF cannot join coalition'
Upendra Yadav, who was elected to the Constituent Assembly (CA) from Sunsari-5 and Morang-5, is Chairman of the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF). The MPRF was the initiator of the Madhes movement. A staunch communist and active member of the Communist Party of Nepal - Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) for 24 years, Yadav switched to the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-Maoist) during the final years of its decade-long armed rebellion. He broke away from the CPN-Maoist before it entered peaceful politics and joined the MPRF.
Yadav came into the limelight when he launched the Madhes agitation after the Maoists signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord. Against a backdrop of the two phases of the powerful Madhes agitation, Yadav stands out as a victor leading the fourth largest party in the new political makeup. At a time when the Maoists are preparing to lead a coalition government, Yadav spoke to Kamal Raj Sigdel and Kosh Raj Koirala of The Kathmandu Post on the possibilities of future power sharing and the contentious Madhesi issues.
Q: The stunning performance of the MPRF was the second biggest surprise of the CA election after the CPN-Maoist. What was the secret?
Yadav: Though the MPRF was founded in 1997, it has been fighting and making sacrifices for the rights of the Madhesis and other backward communities for a long time. It has now become the main party to establish issues such as republicanism, federalism, autonomy and inclusion as major national agendas. What I think is that the people have endorsed through their votes the national issues that we raised. In fact, the people this time wanted change, and I think they have elected the forces that are for real change.
Q: The Maoists, towards whom you still have some sort of antagonism, are likely to lead the soon-to-be-formed coalition government. Will you join it?
Yadav: The MPRF started its struggle with a definite agenda establishment of a federal republic and autonomous provinces; guaranteed participation of Madhesis and other marginalized groups at the policy-making level, in the administration and in resource management; and, above all, establishment of Madhes as an autonomous state. If the government agrees to fulfill these major demands, the MPRF is ready to extend its support. But if these issues are not taken into account, the MPRF can neither support nor join the government.
The MPRF will extend its support when we get an assurance that the past 22- and eight-point agreements will be implemented, when there is a commitment to guide the nation toward a path of radical change, when the nation is taken on a progressive path relieving it of its backward economy and when restructuring of the state and administration is done together. So if the Maoists move ahead with these radical changes, we will certainly cooperate with them. Whatever bitterness there was in the past, we can move forward with a new thinking in the new context. But if these issues are not addressed, we won't be very keen to support them.
Q: You have entered into a couple of agreements in the recent past. What are the major demands that the government still has not fulfilled?
Yadav: There is no point in talking about fulfillment. The question is what have the Madhesi people received so far except disrespect, exclusion and suppression? There was a movement, and there were agreements reached; but none of them has been implemented yet. What Madhesis are demanding is an autonomous Madhes, an autonomous government and participation at the policy- and decision-making level and in the allocation of resources. Madhes is seeking equal rights and opportunities, nothing else.
Q: What about "One Madhes One Region"? Have you compromised on that claim after observing the election results?
Yadav: "One Madhes One Region" means the Madhes as a region, a geographical area and the Madhesis living there.
Q: Could you delineate the Madhes region?
Yadav: The area from the
Q: You spoke of a Madhes that encompasses the area between the Mechi and the Mahakali, but the election results show that your presence does not extend to all Tarai districts.
Yadav: This should not be judged the way you are doing. Even if the forum had failed to win a single seat [in the CA], it would have a right to create a separate state. It has that right. The number of seats won in the election are not a measuring rod.
Q: Does this mean that you don't respect the mandate of the people? The election results do not back your idea of One Madhes One Pradesh.
Yadav: We accept the mandate of the people. But this mandate is for radical change, for a federal system.
Q: What will you do if your demand for One Madhes One Pradesh is rejected by the other parties, which is likely?
Yadav: We will intensify our movement. In fact, we are still in Andolan mode. Only the form has changed. We will fight in the CA, and if needed we will also fight in the streets. Because the Madhesi people want an autonomous state, they want regional autonomy, and the Madhes Andolan will rest only after achieving that.
Q: Rumor has it that the Maoists are offering you the position of Home Minister. If they are ready to give you the position, will you join the government?
Yadav: The first thing is that without addressing the Madhes issue, there isn't any possibility of our party joining the coalition government. That is just a rumor, a hypothetical question.
Q: Is it possible to fulfill your demands before the government is formed?
Yadav: There could be a common minimum program; the government will be formed only after fixing that. In that common minimum program, Madhesi issues should get top priority; and only under that condition will the MPRF be involved in the alliance. For us, whether to join the government or not is a secondary matter. Our priority is our issues.
Q: The Maoists have put forward a proposal of 11 provinces, do you agree with that?
Yadav: All this 11, 12 or whatever the number of provinces is a tactic to divide Madhes. Those who ruled Madhes for 236 years are now panicking that it will be too strong to control if it is not divided. So their rejection of "One Madhes One Pradesh" indicates that they want to continue with their exploitation and domination.
Q: Few years ago when you were in the CPN-Maoist
Yadav: That is not true; I was only close to the Maoists. I agree that I have a communist background. For the past 24 years, I have been an active member of the CPN-UML and I also took part in one election representing the CPN-UML....
Q: Anyway, when the Maoist war was at its peak, you were arrested in
Yadav: That is not true. We three Suresh Ale Magar, Matrika Yadav and me were arrested by the Indian police. Matrika and Suresh had red corner notices against them, and, therefore, they were deported to
Q: The words "Madhesi" or "Madhes" have been loosely defined. What do they actually mean?
Yadav: Madhes is the plain land in [southern]
So Madhesi means the cultural group that has been living in Madhes traditionally. Around 1950, Pahadis started coming down from the hills to settle in Madhes. And the migration continued. In the course of time, some of them lost contact with Pahad. So they too will coexist in Madhes in harmony with others.
Second, they too will be accommodated in Madhes. We will have to proceed in an inclusive manner. Another thing is that our struggle is not against Pahadis or Nepali-speaking people, it is against the inequality imposed by the state. It is a struggle to establish Madhesis in the national political mainstream and to secure their equal share of the resources. And that is also a struggle of geography. If there are people speaking Magar, then this struggle is also theirs. It is also the struggle of other marginalized groups and Dalits. This is a national movement.
The Pahadi people too have benefited from the Madhes Andolan, for instance, the Lochhar holiday, reservation in the police and army and so on. These are gifts of the Madhes Andolan which Pahadis are also enjoying. Today, the country is going federal; this, too, is a contribution of the Madhes Andolan. Pahadis will also get their autonomous states. In fact, the Madhes Andolan has added a new dimension to Nepali politics.
Q: You failed to forge an alliance among Madhesi parties. Now that you have won a majority in Madhes, how would you collaborate with other Madhes parties?
Yadav: We teamed up in the final hours of the election, but we had a bitter experience. We could not participate in the election as an alliance, so there's no pact of any kind among us now. There will be a new coalition among forces that are ready to guide the nation toward radical change.
Q: You had recently remarked that the first sitting of the CA could not throw out the monarchy. What does that mean?
Yadav: Yes, I had said that, but it was misinterpreted. I hadn't even imagined that there were people who could make such an erroneous analysis. Where in the world has the first meeting of any assembly taken any decision? The first meeting is always ceremonial, that is a ceremony. The oldest member will chair the assembly, then the oath taking, then paying homage to the martyrs... When all these activities have been completed, another meeting is started or the date for another meeting is declared. But that becomes the second meeting.
The Interim Constitution says that the first meeting will decide the fate of the monarchy. But at that first meeting, how will the agenda be registered? Who will table it? Who will chair the discussions? Who will conduct the voting? Will those who have not taken the oath be allowed to take part in the voting? There are a number of such complex constitutional questions. If we started talking about the monarchy at the second meeting after completing the oath-taking ceremony, some members may object saying that the subject of the monarchy cannot be discussed at the second meeting. The word "first" written in the Interim Constitution has created confusion. It must be cleared up. That is what the people want clarified. The SPA must explain how things will proceed to end the monarchy. [The
"Threat played major role in the Maoist victory"
"Threat played major role in the Maoist victory"
Suprabha Ghimire, who has been elected from Kathmandu Constituency-4 as a Nepali Congress representative to the Constituent Assembly (CA), is one of the very few women scholars active in the male-dominated Nepali politics. She left behind Bidhya Bhandari of the UML by 3,600 votes.
Ghimire, a former president of the Nepal University Teachers Association and the Nepal Women's Association, says she has come to politics under her own effort and did not inherit her position from family members. She spoke to Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post about the election results, future course of Nepali politics and women's representation in the upcoming CA.
Q: You have been elected as one of the members of the 601-member CA. How do you feel?
Ghimire: I am very happy that the people have put their trust in me and elected me to the CA. The CA election had been a dream of the Nepali Congress (NC) for decades. Realizing that Nepal needed a constitution written by the people, the NCfor the first time in Nepal's historyhad spoken up for such an election in 1950. This dream finally came true in 2008. I am very happy that a dream cherished for so long by my party has been fulfilled under its own leadership.
Q: You are one of the few victors from your party. Many in the NC leadership have failed. Same with the UML. So the election results came as a shock to many. How do you analyze the results?
Ghimire: In the beginning, we thought that it was a stunning victory for the Maoists. But now, going over the reports coming in from the districts, we find that there are widespread complaints about intimidation and that threats played a major role in the Maoist victory. We have been informed that voters could not cast their votes freely. They took part under great mental stress.
The Maoists were pressuring the voters till the night before election day. They reportedly went house to house warning people that a female member of the family would be wearing a white saree or that their household would become smaller during the next election and things like that. I am not talking about one district, the pattern was similar in almost all the districts.
They spoke to the people politely but with a menacing undertone. They visited their homes at 8 or 9 at night when everybody was asleep.
Despite all these, the NC still desires to support the constitution making process. But the way the elections were held cannot be called free and fair.
Q: But the entire international community and all the election observers have said clearly that the voting was free and fair and that they were happy with it.
Ghimire: We also accept the election results. But people were intimidated, and we cannot say that it was held in a free and fair manner. They threatened to kill the residents and warned them that the Maoists would go back to the jungle and that they would take one person from each family for their army. So, where is the free and fair environment?
The international observers failed to see this because the Maoists operated in the darkness of the night. Neither the security forces nor the election observers were aware of what the Maoists were doing at night. They performed their duty during the day and returned. There may not have been bloodshed or physical violence, but there was mental distress and torture.
Q: Do you mean that the foreign observers failed to monitor the elections effectively?
Ghimire: Yes, we can say that. They could not reach the remote areas. They could not travel to the polling booths, which were in the thousands, to observe the voting. Some say that the Maoists tried to capture the booths in a non-violent way, but what I say is that when mental pressure, threats and intimation are involved, that is a violent action. Threatening people is also a kind of violence.
Q: Sorry, but you seem to be contradicting yourself. You claim that the election was not free and fair, but that you accept the results. If it was not fair, you should reject the results.
Ghimire: No, that is not true. We do accept the results, but if one party tries to impose a totalitarian regime, that will not be acceptable to us.
What we desperately want is that there should be peaceful transformation of the conflict. But the wrongdoings should be revealed, they should not go unnoticed. Such illegal behavior should not be repeated in the future. Such a commitment should come [from the Maoists].
So, while not forgetting the unlawful acts which we are still looking into, we will join in and help to write the constitution. To that end, we have accepted the results.
But our inquiry continues, and we are still discussing these issues. We will be holding our central committee meeting on April 24 when an assessment will be made. By then, reports from all the districts would have arrived. All district committees have been directed to submit their reports by April 22. So, even as we move forward with our investigation, we will be actively involved in the constitution-making process. We will be giving it our full support.
Q: So what will be the role of your party in the constitution-making process?
Ghimire: You have been watching the role of the NC. Despite so many efforts to hinder the CA polls, they were successfully held under the leadership of the NC. This is a big achievement for the Nepali people. Moreover, unlike what we had expected, the election was held in a peaceful environment except for some incidents of violence.
We believe that we must establish loktantra as per the people's aspirations expressed during the April Movement so that they would not need to fight for loktantra again in the days to come. The new constitution should guarantee this and to that effect the NC will play a supportive role. If we could do that,
Q: But most of the NC leaders the UML too have said that they are not going to take part in the Maoist-led government.
Ghimire: That will be decided by the NC working committee meeting, which is going to be held soon. I cannot say anything about that now. Most of our leaders have made up their minds that we should not join the [Maoist-led] government. We will have to remain outside. We will help them from the outside. We will give our full support to the constitution-making process. But we should not join the government because we can contribute without being part of it. This is what we have concluded.
Q: Why is that?
Ghimire: No, we have not made the decision yet. We are thinking along those lines.
Q: That is the same thing; why is the NC feeling that way?
Ghimire: Because what we are seeing now is likely to continue even after we join the government. I don't think the tendency will change. So under such circumstances, and when they have got the people's mandate regardless of whatever means they have used to achieve it we think we can support them by remaining outside too.
So it's OK, let's give them a chance. Why should we create a situation where they can complain that someone did not allow them to work? That's why one section of the NC leadership wants to stay outside the government.
However, there is another section which thinks we should join the government. Now it is up to the working committee to decide what course the NC should take.
Q: Doesn't this contradict PM Koirala's call for unity among the SPA for the next 10 years? He did say this just before the polls. Or is it because things did not go the way the NC expected them to?
Ghimire: No, that is not the case. There will be unity. We can have unity even when we remain outside. We need not remain inside to keep our unity intact. For instance, the NWPP wasn't in the government, but the SPA was united. So we will remain united since our main and common objective is to write a new constitution.
Q: There are all kinds of rumors about how the monarchy will end some speak of asylum in
Ghimire: The end of the monarchy is certain. The nation has decided to go republic. The April Movement, too, had mandated us to end the dictatorship. But some were still unsure whether this meant ending the king's dictatorship only or the kingship itself. Almost all the parties have decided to go republic. So I don't think any party can retreat from its decision.
We have also made it clear that the first meeting of the CA would formally eliminate the monarchy. But I cannot guarantee that it will be implemented at the very first sitting because during the first session we will be electing the speaker and the leaders.
Q: You have won the election not only as an NC leader but also as a woman. What will be your role to secure the rights of Nepali women when writing the new constitution?
Ghimire: There are several issues. Gender-based discrimination should end, and for that discriminatory laws should be scrapped. There should not be any discrimination between males and females in legal, political, social or cultural aspects. So the new constitution should guarantee these things.
Another thing is representation. I believe that without a sizable representation of women at the decision-making level, society cannot move ahead. So women's representation in politics should increase. Women should make up at least 40 percent of the representatives in the states, in the parliament, everywhere.
Q: Do you think there has been adequate representation of women in the CA?
Ghimire: Yes, in comparison to the past, it is pretty good now. Earlier, we had to satisfy ourselves with 5 percent, and among them only 3 percent would reach the decision-making level after the elections.
Still, we have not achieved what we have been fighting for. What I say is that in the new constitution there should be a guarantee that women should have representation of at least 33 percent
Q: What can an ordinary Nepali woman expect in New
Ghimire: Starting from her home, her child and son, there will be no discrimination in education. Women will not have to feel afraid. They can expect to move ahead as freely and fearlessly as men. Women can expect their physical security and maternal and reproductive rights to increase. She will have respect, and she will feel that she is a sovereign citizen of this country. She will have secured her fundamental rights.
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