Nepal’s government and top political leaders are in informal talks with the dissenting Madhesi leaders and a formal process of engagement may begin soon. However, the key obstacle to any resolution will be the issue of federalism, top Nepali political sources told HT.
An idea of a commission to decide contentious districts is floating in Kathmandu’s political circles but does not have the buy-in of key leaders yet.
The government has met key preconditions laid out by the Madhesi forces by calling off curfew, pulling back the army, providing compensation to families of those dead, and taking care of the treatment of the injured.
The three top national parties, Nepali Congress, UML and Maoists have set up a talks team. Madhesi leaders have given a list of over 30 changes they would like in the constitution. The ruling parties and Maoists have indicated willingness to bring in an amendment that addressed two key concerns of increasing the number of constituencies in the Tarai to guarantee political representation and providing for ‘proportional inclusion’ in state organs.
But the key sticking point is federal demarcation in the Tarai.
Currently, 12 out of the 20 districts in the plains have been merged with the hills. In the eastern plains, Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari have been integrated with the hills. This is primarily because of the insistence of top UML leader KP Oli, and NC’s influential leader Krishna Sitaula who come from the belt. Madhesi leaders believe that this will leave them with a truncated province without resources like the key urban centre of Biratnagar, an industrial corridor and the Kosi river.
In the western plains, a Tharu-dominated district called Kailali has been merged with the hills, due to the insistence of NC leader and former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba. Tharus want it to be merged with the adjacent plains province so that they can enjoy demographic advantage.
While the idea of a commission to resolve fate of these districts is in circulation, neither Oli nor Madhesi leaders have accepted it.
Rajendra Mahato, Sadbhavana party chairman said, “40 Madhesis have not given up their lives for a commission. We want a final federal settlement.”