Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while supporting broad principles of inclusion and federalism, has asked Madhesi parties of the Tarai region of Nepal to think nationally and reach out to pahadis, people from the hills.
Madhesis are people dwelling in the plains which share extensive links across the border in India. They have long complained of political under-representation and of being treated as outsiders.
When Madhesi leaders spoke of the discrimination they feel, Modi said he knew Madhesi issues well. “I am familiar with the discrimination and angst of Madhes,” he said.
Modi said, according to many Madhesi leaders present in the meeting, in his speech to the Nepali parliament, he had spoken of a federal democratic republican constitution. Federalism is a long standing demand of Madhes.
Modi also said that he had spoken of an ‘inclusive constitution’, keeping Madhes in mind. He reminded Madhesi leaders that he has also spoken of accommodating aspirations of all regions including Tarai. “You are so fragmented. Once you work together, these issues can get resolved,” he prodded the leaders.
Amresh Singh, a Nepali Congress MP from Tarai, told Modi that the absence of the word Madhes in his speech had caused ‘disappointment’ and the development initiatives he had announced would primarily benefit the hills.
Modi responded that he was the PM of another country. “Don’t speak only of Madhesis. Aren’t there pahadis in the country? You should not deepen the gulf between pahadis and Madhesis and also get some pahadi sections with you.”
This indicated that Modi and India will broadly support the principles of inclusion and federalism that Madhes seeks but it will not prescribe specifics — and will see Nepal as one. As an observer put it, “It shows there will be a special bond but Madhes cannot have an independent bilateral relationship with Delhi.”
An Indian official said India would intervene during crisis in Kathmandu-Madhes relations — if both sides seek support.