Ball is now in Madhesis court

Ball is now in Madhesis court

With Nepal’s government agreeing to accommodate key demands of the ongoing Madhesi agitation, an end to the five-month long stalemate over the new Constitution is in sight. The government has decided to amend the Constitution to provide for proportional representation in all state organs and delineation of electoral constituencies on the basis of population, and to set up a political mechanism to deal with the revision of federal boundaries in three months. This is welcome, albeit long-overdue. It was the government’s refusal to recognise that the Madhesis had genuine grievances that prompted the protests in the Terai. And with the administration adopting an intransigent approach, a political deadlock ensued. The situation worsened with Madhesi protestors blocking trucks carrying goods from India to Nepal, which resulted in crippling food, fuel and medicine shortages in the country. The government’s use of force on the protestors, which led to the death of over 50 people in the Terai, hardened postures among the Madhesis. Neither side was willing to back down. The government’s decision to moderate its position must therefore be applauded.

However, an end to the stalemate will be possible only if both sides shake hands. Will leaders of the United Madhesi Democratic Front (UMDF) reciprocate the government’s gesture by calling off the agitation and importantly, ending the blockade? Initial signs are not positive. The UMDF leaders have dismissed the government’s offer as “hollow” and “lacking substance.” Some say they are wary of the government dragging its feet in implementing the offer. While their caution is understandable, their categorical rejection of the proposal is untenable. Resolving conflicts require compromise. Else solutions will not be sustainable. The UMDF is being unrealistic in expecting all its demands to be conceded fully.

It is here that India can play a constructive role. It has welcomed the Nepal government’s proposal; this is the first time that it has done so since the Madhesi protests began. It must work with Kathmandu to ensure that it carries out the constitutional amendments as promised. Simultaneously, it needs to lean on the Madhesi leaders not only to accept the proposal but also to shift away from the politics of protest to that of participation and dialogue. Importantly, it must push the UMDF to end the blockade of commercial traffic at the Birgunj-Raxaul border post. The crisis in Nepal has severely undermined India’s influence in that country. It is time India acted to undo the damage done. This will not be easy. It will require patience, adroit diplomacy and support for Nepal’s effort to resolve the conflict.

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