Nepal: Return of the Madhesi Movement

ISSSP Reflections No. 45, June 08, 2016

Author: Nazrin Huzzain


The second round of agitations has started in Nepal. There seems to be a new game plan from the Sanghiya Gathbandhan or Federal Alliance  and getting back into the agitation mode? How is the government likely to react?

 The Madhesi Agitati240920150511442-600x0on: New found support

The Janajati and Madhesis have joined forces and formed a Federal Alliance known as the Sanghiya Gathabandhan to protest together in Kathamndu.  The Madhesis seem to be striving forthe recognition of all the marginalised ethnic groups in Nepal.

The new coalition seems to be getting support, as they are seen fighting for a just cause. A federal state is not just the demand of the Madhesis, but the majority in Nepal. The constitution demands dividing Nepal into seven federal units. There is no basis on which this division has been made. If this proposal moves forward then people belonging to the same ethnic group will be split into different units.  This is something which is opposed by all the ethnic groups.

The Madhesis have been successful in mobilising the support of other ethnic groups.   This is not because the ethnic groups in Nepal are sympathising with the Madhesis, but the demands of the latter resonate with their own. Unlike the blockade earlier, the new agitations that have started in May 2016 are not the demands of the Madhesis alone; it is a call for recognition by all the marginalised ethnic groups in Nepal. Is the government listening?

Protesting in Kathmandu: A foolproof plan

The decision to move the protests to Kathmandu have been a stroke of genius. It has produced the outcome that the Madhesis had wanted – mobilise support and increase momentum for the movement. Now that the Madhesis are not alone in their cause, utmost caution is required moving forward. They should stick to their demands and not let the success to undermine their larger goal. There have been recent reports that the majority of the Morcha allies have threatened to withdraw from the alliance because, some leaders are seen as using it for their political interests disregarding the concerns of the Morcha allies. Divisions within the alliance will have a larger impact on the movement and result in its failure. This could gravely affect the momentum that the movement has picked up during May 2016.

The Gathabandhan should also be careful and ensure that the protests do not turn violent. Also, the movement should work towards avoiding another blockade. A blockade would increase the problem of black marketing that is right now on the rise in Nepal.  Prolonged violent protests and blockades would seriously affect the support that the Madhesis have gained. Recommencing dialogue with the government would be a good idea at this juncture, when the movement is enjoying such popular support.

The government’s response

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa announced during February-March 2016 that the government would be conducting local elections soon.  This is the second time this year that such an announcement has been made. Conducting elections without resolving the constitutional issues could have serious implications. If elections are held, demarcating the territory will prove difficult. This decision has been criticised heavily by the Madhesi parties. The government is trying to distract the people with false promises instead of dealing with the major issue at hand- the Madhesi movement. 

The movement is clearly on the rise, the government cannot afford to remain silent any longer.  Prime Minister Oli should stop blaming India and concentrate on resolving domestic issues. Talks have been held between the government and the Morcha, 36 times before, yielding no result. The government should start taking the talks seriously. Dialogue is the only way that the issue can be resolved. If the Gathbandhan refuses to even attend these talks owing to the insincerity of the government, the problem could take a grave turn. If the protestors turn violent, the issue could get out of hand.  Another blockade could prove fatal to Nepal’s economy, which is licking its wounds after a massive earthquake and a blockade imposed by the Madhesis earlier.

If the government fails to address the demand of the Federal Alliance now, their demands would only get stronger. The alliance is planning to move the protests to Birjung and Pokhara later. This could lead to more ethnic groups joining forces with the Gathbandhan. The government would be at a complete loss if the Madhesis along with the other ethnic groups in Terai start demanding for a separate state. The Tarai being referred as the granary of Nepal, can cause seious repercussions, if the region starts contemplating on those terms. Such a process will neither help Nepal nor its minorities within. Nor will it help the region, especially India and India-Nepal relations. The government should get more serious about this issue.

About the Author

Ms. Nazrin Huzzain is is pursuing M.A. in International Studies at Stella Maris College, Chennai. Views are personal.

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