Sunday, July 15, 2007

Rajendra Mahto In Town

Rajendra Mahto Live: Registering Dissent On Interim Constitution, January 15
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Rajendra Mahto: नागरिकता विधेयक खोतल्दा
Nepal's Terai People In Deplorable Conditions: Mahto
To: Koirala, Nepal, KC, Pokharel, Tripathy, Mahto And The Rest
Phone Interview With Rajendra Mahato


Not long after he landed a few days ago on Thursday and was at Madhuji's place on the Upper East Side, Rajendraji called me up. We have been on the phone fairly regularly after the king's coup, we have had long conversations at many crisis points, but this was different. He was at the other end of the phone, and he was in town. He was only a train ride away. I was excited. He was eager to meet me. I said he just landed. There is the jet lag thing. Was he sure he did not want to rest for the rest of the day? Raat ko so lenge na, he said. I will sleep at night. He was mistaken. He, his wife and Ram Chandra Jha, the senior UML leader who is from Janakpur, my hometown, had come. All three went through the jet lag stuff for days. I told Mrs. Mahto a few days later, I think today, just when she was starting to feel normal that she should expect to have to go through this all over again once she is back in Kathmandu.

I got there at noon. We talked as we waited for Ram Chandra Jha to show up. He was staying at the Deputy Ambassador's place, also named Madhu. Jha was at the Mission's office. I was primarily wanting to know about the internal politics of the Sadbhavana. The Pahadi media in Kathmandu does not cover that, if it covers the party at all.

I wanted to buy daily passes for the three of them, and take them sightseeing. He called up the Mission and asked for a gaadi. For the next few days I witnessed all local Nepali bureaucrats organize their lives around Rajendraji. This was the first time I was witnessing such a thing. I am not used to seeing a Madhesi minister. I told him it was a sukhad ascharya for me, a pleasant surprise. Ek mantri hai to ye haal, panch rahenge to kya hoga? What if we end up with five ministers instead? Jaldi se jaldi rashtrapati ban ke aiye, tab aap ke saath White House chalenge, I said. Hurry up and become president and come, then I go to the White House with you.

The Misssion's driver Dhan Bahadur drove the four of us plus Ram Babu, a fellow Janakpuriya and a Mission bureaucrat, down to the Staten Island Ferry. By then I had the impression Rajendra Mahto has seen more of NYC than I have. This was his third trip. By the time we got off the Staten Island Ferry, Mrs. Mahto's body clock was giving up on her. So we cut short the rest of the places on my mental list and headed back to the Upper East Side. There was a dinner event on Roosevelt Island. She missed that. The rest of us went. I told him he might have seen all of NYC, but Mrs. Mahto has not. To aap usiko ghumaiye, he said. Take her around.

I have been to the Mahto home in Kathmandu I think in 1994. I have had a cup of tea from her. While I was there, some Sadbhavana guy showed up. The Janata Dal and them were not supposed to get along. I was surprised Mahto received this guy. I was like, what are you doing? Those are the bad guys. Mahto offered him a cup of tea, and then patiently listened to all he had to say. Then he politely disagreed and bid the guy farewell. I learned an important lesson in democratic exercise that day. Take the US Senate. Those 100 individuals are stuck with working with each other, they like it or not. And so it is important to keep open the possibility of maybe working down the line with even those Senators you might utterly disagree with and even despise.

Mahto has had a warm personality. He makes you feel included. He is for the most part polite. But he can talk tough as need be. He is a major asset in the Madhesi struggle for equality inside Nepal. He is a first class mind, intellectually curious, informed, engaged, with amazing people skills.

Friday we played phone tag twice, and finally when we talked we agreed to meet Sunday morning right before I took him over to the Alliance picnic that I was so looking forward to. My number one Nepali comrade in NYC, Anil Shahi, was now its president. (Alliance Sets The Tone For Diaspora Organizations) I was glad Rajendraji seemed to have plans to take his wife around town Saturday.

Saturday morning Binod Shah called me up. He wanted to organize a Madhesi gathering in the evening, could Rajendraji make it? I called up Rajendraji. He was eager.

After that Madhesi event, I went to Binod Shah's place in Yonkers - I said Kapileshwar, Jha said Mahuwa - that was totally unplanned. Just like with Upendra Yadav, Jha, me and Pawan Shah got the living room, Binod Shah and Bikram Shah, the two brothers, took the two rooms. (Upendra Yadav Was In Town) Jha got the mattress, Pawan and I got the large sheet. With Upendra Yadav, I had the mattress, Pawan had the sofa. Upendraji relayed stories of having to go out of the village and deep into the fields with a sheet and a mosquito net because he did not feel safe sleeping at home.

Jha, Binod Shah and I had a long conversation before going to sleep. Mostly we listened, Jha talked. After we had got off the Staten Island Ferry I had told him I sat for the SLC exams in 2046, and "I have been hearing of you since."

Before I came to the US in 1996, I was with the Nepal Samajwadi Janata Dal. I was a Vice General Secretary. Rajendraji was a Central Committee member. He casually mentioned that at the Madhesi dinner Saturday evening at Chicken Chilli. The Dal had two MPs, the Sadbhavana had two MPs.

Sunday morning, Binod Shah urged that I make a homepage for Jha, and so I did. With Upendra Yadav, he had urged me to make one for the MPRF, and I had. Now Shah wants one for himself as well.

When he drove me over to the train station, the last stop north on the 4 line, Binodji and I discussed ANTA. He wanted to hand over the NYC chapter leadership to someone else, one of the younger guys who showed up for the dinner event the evening before. Rajesh Sah, Satendra Shah, and one other guy were mentioned.

Back at Madhu Raman Acharya's place, Rajendraji and I had a long conversation in terms of the Madhesi struggle and the impending constituent assembly elections. We talked of the possibilities of a Madhesi Morcha. We discussed the Sadbhavana's internal politics. This private conversation was the crown jewel of the few days spent with him for me.

While we talked, Damien Mallen called. I called him back after we were done talking. Damien was my running mate and subsequently vice president when I was student body president at Berea College. Today he came in as an investor into my tech startup.

Then Rajendraji went to the closing ceremony of the Hindi convention he had come to attend, the reason for his visit. He was a major feature at the convention. He was the one who gave out prizes.

I went to the Alliance picnic. Rajendraji was running late. He got there right after some white guy state Senator had left. Rajendraji gave a great speech. Then it was Jha's turn to speak. Hum to bhool hi gaye, Bhanu ke bare mein aap hi bol dijiye, Rajendraji urged Jha. Jha was in his element. They spoke great.

I have three hours of video from Rajendraji's visit. They will be downloaded from my camera and uploaded online over the next few days. I promised Rajendraji I will send him CDs of the video, I will mail them to him.

The three of them hurried to the train station. The train left at six. They will be back Tuesday evening, and fly back Wednesday morning. I will not get to meet them. I have a major Obama event Tuesday evening. Hum to dekhiye Nepal mein bhi Madhesi, America mein bhi Madhesi, yahan bhi sangharsh chal raha hai, Obama rashtrapati banega, I told Rajendraji a few different times.

Manhattan4Obama Kick-Off Organizational Meeting
Tuesday, Jul 17, 2007, 7:15 PM
St. Vincent's Hospital Cafeteria
12th Street at 7th Ave
New York, NY 10011

Anil Jha, Nepal Sadbhavana Party 1
Anil Jha, Nepal Sadbhavana Party 2
Anil Jha, Nepal Sadbhavana Party 3
Madhesi Gathering In Prospect Park 1
Madhesi Gathering In Prospect Park 2
Ridgewood Dashain Party
Ratneshwar Goit, CPN (UML)
Aftab Alam, Nepali Congress 1
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Aftab Alam, Nepali Congress 3
Bimalendra Nidhi And Friends 1
Bimalendra Nidhi And Friends 2
Bimalendra Nidhi And Friends 3
Bimalendra Nidhi And Friends 4
Upendra Yadav 1
Upendra Yadav 2
Upendra Yadav 3
Upendra Yadav 4
Upendra Yadav 5

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United States Institute of Peace

Violence in the Terai and the Madhesi Movement: Prospects for Peace in Nepal
Public Event

Date and Time
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Please note new time:
2:30 PM – 4:00 PM

U.S. Institute of Peace
2nd Floor Conference Room
1200 17th St, NW
Washington, DC 20036

transcript RSVP Today

Despite a peace agreement that ended a ten-year Maoist insurgency, the past six months have seen a spark of violence in the Terai (lowlands) region of Nepal fueled by a growing Madhesi movement. Concerns are being raised that such violence will threaten the peacebuilding process and fair constituent assembly elections scheduled in November. The Madhesi are culturally and ethnically close to the northern groups of India and are raising grievances including economic discrimination, disproportionate electoral representation and under-representation in the government, army, police and civil society organizations. A number of armed groups, claiming to support Madhesi grievances, have clashed with each other, police, and the Maoists. They have also engaged in kidnapping for ransom, extortion and killing of political party actors. A counter-Madhesi political group is forming and concerns are that it may turn to violence. Communal and ethnic tensions and fears are rising.

How can the Madhesi movement and the grievances raised by the Madhesi be resolved peacefully? How can moderate forces be given space to resolve the tensions peacefully? How can armed groups who use violence to promote their aims be brought into a more peaceful process of change? How can the government of Nepal constructively engage with the Madhesi movement and the growing number of armed groups? What could the role of the United Nations be in helping the government of Nepal with the Madhesi issues and to address the underlying grievances? Minister Rajendra Mahato will share his views on these and other issues related to peacebulding in Nepal.


  • Minister Rajendra Mahato
    Nepal's Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, prominent Madhesi leader and vice president of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party-Anandidevi (NSP-A)
  • Colette Rausch, Moderator
    U.S. Institute of Peace

Media Inquiries

Please contact Ian Larsen (+1.202.429.3870) or Lauren Sucher (+1.202.429.3822) in the Office of Public Affairs and Communications.


To RSVP, please send your name, affiliation, daytime phone number, and name of the event to

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