Monday, April 21, 2014

If There Ever Was A Primitive Map

I was just reading an article by Sukhdev Shah in Republica. And the map caught my attention before I had even finished reading the first paragraph. If this is the map the Congress is going to try to push, the country will see major political upheaval. An anti-incumbency electoral wave can not be seen as a mandate against federalism. Decentralization, King Birendra style, is not federalism. Another attempt at it should not be made. The Madhesi Kranti of 2007 gave the country a clear mandate for federalism. That has to be stuck to.

The only debate as far as the Terai is concerned is if there will be two or four states in the Terai. Chipping off the far eastern, the far western and the central Terai districts is British style divide and rule. That will not stand.

I could live with four states in the hills and two in the Terai, or even four.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I Am Indian

The Madhesi political consciousness came to me much later. At the Kathmandu high school I attended, the m-word was in the air, people would tell racist jokes about your people like you were not even there, comedian Santosh Pant made a living out of it, and the guy was on national TV. But as a successful student who went on from leadership position to leadership position, I was to an extent shielded, but that was a false shield. It was weak. And one administrative blow crashed the glass around me towards the end of my Class 10 year. After that it took me years of emotional pain, and meandered career trajectories, and political action led more by a hunger for all things political than the Madhesi rights issue that I ultimately floundered upon the Sadbhavana types, and that gave me some of the vocabulary, which I quickly found highly inadequate.

Race matters powerfully, Barack Obama has said. I had a very happy freshman year at college in Kentucky. And then the blow of an administrative decision crashed my glass all over again. It was yet another experience in disenchantment with yet another highly reputed educational institution. And so I am a huge proponent of taking as much of education online as possible. Knowledge has to be freed up from the power structures of the day.

At college I was not thinking Madhesi rights. I was not thinking about it after. After the king pulled his coup in early 2005, I had no plans to get involved with the democracy movement, although I was much concerned, and when I moved to NYC a few months later, my full time involvement was gradual. I had no idea I cared so much about Nepal, the country I grew up in. I guess I did. It came from inside. But it was also the ideological purity of a democracy movement that brings a clarity that makes mobilization more black and white.

Late in 2006 the Nepalgunj riots happened, and that triggered the Madhesi Kranti, might as well, because it was that movement that mirrored the April Revolution of 2006 that gave Nepal the gift of federalism. I put full time work into the Madhesi Kranti. In many ways it was tougher than the democracy movement. Comrades in the democracy movement were now vocal, energized opponents.

When Upendra Yadav landed in Los Angeles a few months later, the first question he asked was, “Where is Paramendra Bhagat?” We had never met, we had never talked on the phone before. I used digital tools to do political work. It was no journalism.

Becoming NYC’s first full-time volunteer for Barack Obama brought it full circle. This was 500 years of world history come full circle. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

There is the macro politics. And there is the micro politics of emotionally damaged Madhesis and Janajatis you deal with at close range. NYC has allowed me interactions to see things up, close and personal.

But then the political compass is already pointing in the direction of economic growth. And if land-lockedness is Nepal’s biggest handicap, the solution lies in a South Asian economic union, and that basically asks for killing the false nationalism in Kathmandu that rests on all things anti-India. If Nepal’s political boundaries will have to weaken for Nepal to achieve prosperity, where will the identity come from? There are healthy sources of identity like culture, language, and religion. A South Asian economic union will not dilute those, quite the opposite. A more prosperous people will take better care of their cultural heritages. The resource crunch will wane.

Nepal’s future points in the direction of the land of my birth. My mother’s side of the family is Indian. If you have any idea about Mithila, you know how ridiculous the Nepal-India border is. My official birthday is not mine, but that of my favorite movie star, Amitabh Bachchan. I am Indian through and through.

I am 100% Indian. I am 100% Nepali. I am on the way to becoming 100% American. 300% is more than 100%. People with multi-cultural heritages are richer, and quite literally so. In today’s globalized world, being instinctive about cultural diversity gives you advantages. I deal with engineers in India. I happen to think Nitish through example has set an example to most of Nepal’s challenges. He is the ultimate Bihari Babu.

Eating MoMo was the best thing I learned in the decade plus I spent in Kathmandu. And I happen to think the dish is a billion dollar idea. I will forever remain fond of Narayan Gopal. I am a Buddhist. Buddha was a Teraiwasi like me. I earned the top marks in class in Nepali at high school. I got published a poem in Royal Nepal Academy’s Kavita, the most prestigious poetry magazine in the country at the time, when I was in Class 10. I have a love for the language.

I have been everywhere in America. The first question I was often got asked was, “Are you from India?” I never said no. I am Indian.
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Friday, April 04, 2014

A Roadmap For Madhesi Parties

Mural in Kathmandu with the slogan 'Long Live ...
Mural in Kathmandu with the slogan 'Long Live Marxism–Leninism–Maoism–Prachanda Path' (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Flag of Tarai-Madhesh Loktantrik Part...
English: Flag of Tarai-Madhesh Loktantrik Party - a political party from Nepal. The design, 2:3 dimensions, colours and construction details were based primarily on the template from article from 28 December 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum, Nepal
Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum, Nepal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Abhishek Pratap Shah is a Nepalese po...
English: Abhishek Pratap Shah is a Nepalese politician, belonging to the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Nepal (Photo credit: Mathew Knott)
English: Flag of Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum - ...
English: Flag of Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum - a political party from Nepal. The design, 2:3 dimensions, colours and construction details were based primarily on Mjf-flag.PNG, where it was based on (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: politician of nepal
English: politician of nepal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"कुनै पनि मधेशवादी दलले प्राप्त गरेको मत हेर्ने हो भने कुल मधेशी जनताको २५ प्रतिशतभन्दा बढी छैन । ७५ प्रतिशत जनताले त अझै पनि मधेशवादी दललाई मत नदिएका हुन् नि । ७५ प्रतिशत जनताले के कारणले दिन सकिरहेका छैनन् । किन हाम्रा मागलाई उनीहरूले स्वीकार गरेका छैनन् । ...... कहिं न कहीं ‘ग्याप’ छ । दलहरू जसरी प्रस्तृत भइरहेका छन् । ७५ प्रतिशत मधेशी जनताले मधेशी दलहरूलाई मत दिन सकिरहेका छैनन । त्यो ग्याप भर्नुपर्ने भएको छ । त्यसका लागि सबैले सहयोग गर्नुपर्छ । ..... अहिलेसम्म मैले बुझ्न सकेको छैन । म खोज्दै छु, तथ्यहरू संकलन गर्दैछु । कारण के हो म बुझ्दैछु । मधेशी समाजका विभिन्न पक्षसँग म अन्तत्र्रिmयामा छु । व्यक्तिगत रूपले पनि म बुझ्दैछु ।"

- हृदयेश त्रिपाठी (उपाध्यक्ष तराई–मधेश लोकतान्त्रिक पार्टी)

(1) Unification Is A Must

50 MPs have to come together under the umbrella of one unified party. That is the starting point for Madhesi parties right now. It was the lack of one unified Madhesi party that killed the idea of one unified state across all of Madhesh. You can't talk about Ek Madhesh Ek Pradesh and be 30 political parties. It is not convincing. Now that we know there is not going to be Ek Pradesh in all of Madhesh, we know who to blame. We have to blame the 30 Madhesi political parties.

If all Madhesi parties had been one, that unified party would have competed with the Maoists in terms of its size in parliament. Don't blame the Madhesi voters. Take responsibility.

(2) Unification In Stages

The three Madhesi parties coming together is a good start, but the whole process has been taking too long. I get the impression Upendra Yadav has been dragging his feet. He tries to take too much credit for the Madhesi Kranti. People like Hridayesh Tripathy and Rajendra Mahato, and even Bharat Bimal Yadav and Rameshwar Raya Yadav were working night and day for Madhesi rights for a full decade and half while Upendra Yadav was busy with the UML and the Maoists. He does deserve credit but not all of it.

And Upendra Yadav is not the only left-leaning "Socialist" making the rounds. Hridayesh Tripathy was a Soviet trained Socialist before he was a Madhesi rights activist.

It is okay to have an awkward sounding name like Terai Madhesh Sadbhavana Forum or Democratic Socialist Forum, Nepal. To start with, that is. But both are odd names. A 300 member central committee might be the only way to bring everyone together, but that jumbo size is untenable and looks senseless on the surface.

There is a solution to both those problems. It is called going for a national convention and letting the democratic process decide things.

Democratic Socialist Forum, Nepal is a little bit of a biased name. You are picking two words from Yadav's party and none from Thakur's or Mahato's. That does not sound fair.

It would be best to go for a neutral name like Lok Dal. You want a party that could also grow into the hills. Or even a Sadbhavana Forum. My bias is for a two word short, sweet name. Nepal Sadbhavana Forum. NSF. The word Sadbhavana represents the decade and a half before the Madhesi Kranti, and the word Forum represents the first Madhesi Kranti.

(3) Party Democracy

The democratic process is the answer to pretty much every contentious issue. Who should be the parliamentary party leader? Hold an election. Who should be party president? Hold an election at the national convention. By applying the democratic process at the wada level, at the village/town/city level, at the district level, at the state level, at the national level all contentious issues can be resolved.

(4) Federalism

The Madhesi parties will want two states in the Terai. The Pahadi parties will try to create four states in the Terai. That is a tussle that will play out over the course of the year. And there the best bet for the Madhesi parties is if all 50 of their MPs are under the umbrella of one political party. Even the Maoists are not with the two states in the Terai idea. At the core of it, they are a Pahadi party just like the Congress and the UML.

(5) State Restructuring

Ensuring 49% reservation for the DaMaJaMa in all new entrances into the state bureaucracies was a major achievement. But now the Madhesi parties have to act watchdogs to that arrangement. Already the Nepal Army threw that aside.

The bigger part of state restructuring is to do with downsizing. If federalism is a superior form of government, and it is, then a federal Nepal should have fewer bureaucrats than today's Nepal. You create state level ministries, but you have to drastically downsize the national level ministries in the process.

The Nepal Army is bloated. It has to be brought down to about 10,000 soldiers. It is because what Nepal needs is more teachers, more health care workers.

The Nepal Police also has to be downsized. Policing will largely be up to the states. That is not a federal function.

(6) Nitishism

Once the country gets its constitution and federalism, and the unified Madhesi party is vigilant and proactive about state restructuring, 100% of the focus has to shift to what I am calling Nitishism. It is going to be all about development. And there Nitish is the top role model on the planet. You just imitate him and sweep election after election.

My fear is the Madhesi parties might finally unite too late, and then keep singing the Madheshbad song long after the train has already left the station and is now parked at the development station. If that happens, they will have to make do with a 20% vote share. And at that point I am not going to be blaming the Madhesi voters.

A unified Madhesi party might end up with 35% of the Madhesi votes compared to the 25% vote share of the fragmented Madhesi parties. But if that unified Madhesi party takes to Nitishism its vote share among Madhesis will rise to 50% and it will also be in a good position to make inroads into the hills and mountains.

If the unified Madhesi parties will beat the three Pahadi parties on Nitishism, it will at that point also beat the Pahadi parties in the Pahad itself. Will the Madhesi politicians be able to muster that political will? Only time will tell. That party will have a central committee that will be 20% Khas and 30% Janajati and 20% Dalit and 33% female.

And, by the way, Democratic Socialist Forum, Nepal would be a lousy name for a party.
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