| September 20, 2020

Fermenting discontent

Fermenting discontent
Irrespective of its contents, adherence to the controversial constitution is the new test of loyalty and patriotism that all Madheshis must pass

SIRAHA. The floodplains between Koshi and Kamala rivers have functioned as the cradle of rebellions for quite a long time. The Koirala saga is believed to have begun in Chandragunj in early twentieth century when a revenue contractor by the name of Krishna Prasad Koirala had the chutzpah of sending tattered clothes of a porter from the Mahabharata Ranges to the Rana ruler of the day in Kathmandu.
A renaissance person of Nepali politics and literature BP Koirala romanticizes the event as the courage of his father in showing a socio-economic mirror to the lord of the land. Critics of Koiralas aver that the former clerk of the regime had either frittered or carted away the collection and defaulted on payment of contracted arrears. Almost sure of royal retribution, the parcel of sweat-stained clothing was Khardar Koirala's desperate way of offensive defense.

Circumstantial evidences are produced by his admirers and critics alike to show that former Khardar (clerk) was either a rebel or a rogue. The most heroic achievement of Pitaji—that's how he came to be revered by his illustrious scions—was that he persevered during adversities of exile, regained his social status after the fall of Chandra Shamsher, and finally prospered as an investor in Biratnagar towards the end of his life.

Historic corroboration is difficult to muster, but MP Koirala, yet another son of the controversial clerk-turned-contractor, always insisted that the first formal women's organization of Nepal was formed not in Kathmandu but in Madrar—the village near the Chandragunj Customs—at the initiative of his stepmother Dibya Koirala in 1917-1918 with Yogmaya Devi as its Chairperson. Even the second women's organization of the country began as an adjunct of the proscribed Nepali Congress Party across the border in Jainagar under the leadership of Rebanta Kumari Acharya when her husband Tanka Prasad Acharya was in jail.

Later, MP, BP, TP and even GP—all non-conformist survivors of the Koshi-Kamala floodplains—rose to become Prime Ministers of Nepal. Nepali Congress politico Pradip Giri too is a non-conformist, but these are different times and conformity is far more highly prized than dissent.

A little down south from the Siraha bazaar, there is a village where pioneering republican Ramraja Prasad Singh is said to have mused about possibility of an armed revolution in the middle of his ancestral landholdings. The lore of Sooryanath Ran, one of the embryonic organizers of Maoist armed struggle—he was later forcibly made to disappear forever by the Panchayat regime—still lives as does sacrifices of Rambriksha Yadav across the river in Dhanusha.

Opportunistic Panchayat stalwarts such as Krishna Charan Shrestha and Hem Bahadur Malla practiced their Robin Hood politics along the banks of Kamala-Balan, but when they ultimately fell, no tears were shed even by the beneficiaries of their largesse. When the first Madhesh Uprising erupted, leaders confronting each other from opposite sides of the fence were both former communists and fellow Yadavs of the region: Matrika Prasad and Upendra. This indeed is the Madhesh heartland.

Unlike talkative dissidents of Janakpur, fearful critics of Biratnagar, firebrand malcontents of Birgunj or submissive dissenters in Bhairahwa, the Madheshi intelligentsia in Siraha, Lahan and Mirchaiya—claimed political, commercial and industrial capitals of the district—are markedly less agitated, but it becomes clear that they are no less determined. Since sacrifice has been a way of life in these parts of Tarai-Madhesh, nobody feels it necessary to flaunt the characteristic while talking about their trials and tribulations under the anti-Madheshi regime comprising of malevolent Stalinists, malicious monarchists and malignant Maoists among a host of other miscreants of Nepali politics.

Determined exhaustion

Located on an intersection, the settlement in Lahan roughly resembles an 'X' with houses extending along cardinal directions. Everything in Lahan converges at the Martyrs Junction. The ribbon development in Mirchaiya is quite recent and yet to acquire a discernible 'Y' shape; but the bifurcation is where all exchanges take place. Siraha Bazaar falls along the Hulaki Marg and is connected to the north with East-West Highway with an access road. The pattern of houses along the major route now looks like 'Z' with two important nodes—one dominated by collaborators of the regime in Kathmandu and other consisting mostly of its critics. It is in the nature of politics that every regime, irrespective of its merit, manages to acquire some adherents from among communities that it rules over and disdains.

After the election of Sita Devi Yadav as the Treasurer of Nepali Congress—she had fought against a fellow Madheshi woman—a section of the intelligentsia in Siraha has begun to believe that local elections are round the corner and agitations have now become unnecessary. The constitution is a fait accompli and there is no point in contesting the done deed. They are hoping for a change in government, which is unlikely to ensure constitutional amendments that will transform the newly-elected NC treasurer into a bona fide citizen eligible for higher offices in the country.

As things stand now, Sita Devi can theoretically become the Chairperson of her party, but not even the Chief Minister of the province, let alone the Prime Minister of the country, because her parents committed the cardinal sin of marrying her into a family on the wrong side of the international border.

When turning centralized countries into a federation, provincial boundaries are usually drawn—in some cases redrawn—according to cultural affinities or to address popular aspirations. Nepal being a 'sovereign' country, it drew maps according to whims and fancies of the ruling class with over 90 percent electoral majority. The lower house of the central legislature will be formed according to the norms of parliamentary representation, but the upper house will be constituted differently to retain communal domination.

Irrespective of its contents, adherence to the controversial constitution is the new test of loyalty and patriotism that all Madheshis must pass. This is how fascism slowly seeps into political systems. The international community—which includes the European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom, along with India—has every reason to be alarmed. The principles of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) include prevention measures.

Having backed the regime in Kathmandu to the hilt for almost two-and-half centuries due to imperial calculations and Cold War compulsions, perhaps there is now a realization in the West that the continuing internal colonization of Madhesh can't be ignored for too long. For the first time, New Delhi too isn't too antagonistic towards aspirations of Madhesh. Little wonder, even those Madheshis of Nepali Congress, UML and Maoists that meekly signed along the dotted lines during promulgation of the constitution have begun to voice their reservations. Something is clearly brewing in the air of Tarai-Madhesh which will once again shape the political future of the country.

Formality freaks

Thomas Hobbes sums up the conviction of conventional constitutionalists in a succinct manner: "It is not Wisdom, but Authority that makes a Law." No Authority, however, is strong enough to resist the cry for justice for too long in an interconnected world. There is yet another characteristic of formalists—sure of their sovereignty, they tend to be compulsive gamblers.

King Tribhuvan gambled his crown and won back the throne. King Mahendra gambled the throne and amassed a political fortune. They were winners. King Birendra put the inheritance of his father at the stake and lost it. King Gyanendra risked the bequest of his forefathers and the kingdom became a republic. They became losers. The ruling clique in Kathmandu has once again started playing 'Card' games. Perhaps even when they lose, their personal gains will be substantial. That's the reason they are whiners. But stakes are just too high this time. Repeatedly denied legitimacy, the Madheshi intelligentsia has silently begun to contemplate questions of sovereignty. Quietly flows Koshi and Kamala rivers, but the apparent calm is portentous of future uncertainties.