For India, elections to the Constituent Assembly and the formation of a legitimate government in Kathmandu to address and resolve problems, including those of the Madhesis, is the fulcrum of its Nepal policy. Without legitimate and participative elections the entire peace process could begin to unravel and Nepal could be in a chaotic state, Indian decision makers have told the Nepali government.
According to a former Indian envoy to Nepal, the ‘Jan Andolan’ there last year created a sense of hope among those long disenfranchised and were kept out of the loop, including the Madhesis, or people of the terai (plains) bordering India.
However, with increasing awareness of their deprived status, Madhesis are beginning to assert themselves and seek equal partnership. They are also looking to India to support their cause.
“We (India) woke up to the issue only in 2006,” said SD Muni, an ORF Fellow and South Asian security analyst who has written extensively on Nepal. “Before that we largely ignored the matter.”
Rising factionalism within the Madhesis and the shot of communal colour, with a rapid rise in the numbers of mosques and madrasas in the region bordering India have added to the Indian governments concerns. For the first time, officials conceded, India was beginning to focus on creating developmental projects specific to the region.
The effort is to develop the border infrastructure by developing the road network in the terai and upgrading the 1,444 km of feeder roads. India is building integrated check-posts at four points and is concentrating on cross-border rail links. It is also helping with construction of bridges, schools and hospitals in the region.
“The Madhesis are our (India’s) card. We now want to use (discontent in) the terai in a significant way as an additional lever, but the way we are handling the issue is appalling,” Muni told HT.
The Madhesis, who share what they call a relationship of “beti and roti” (intermarriages and close ties) particularly with Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, claim they seek India’s support for their cause and want India to push for more representative and participative elections in Nepal, a group of visiting journalists said.