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Terai people want voice in Nepal polls

Thousands of people from the Terai plains in Nepal do not have citizenship documents despite living in the country for generations.

india Updated: May 25, 2006 14:09 IST

Thousands of people from the Terai plains in southern Nepal who do not have citizenship documents despite living in the country for generations are demanding a voice in the upcoming election that would yield a new Constitution.

"There are five million Madhesis in Nepal who do not have citizenship documents," says Lakshman Lal Karn, acting president of the Nepal Sadbhavana Party, a party of the plains people, also known as Madhesis.

"We welcome the pledge by the government of Girija Prasad Koirala to hold an election to write a new constitution that would turn Nepal into a republic or retain monarchy, depending on people's verdict.

"However, we want to remind the government that under the current law, these five million people would not be able to vote since they have no citizenship."

Though the fertile Terai plains are regarded as the food bowls of Nepal, they are also among the most backward regions, lacking education, health and employment facilities.

A succession of governments ignored the Terai people and regarded them with suspicion because of their close ties with India.

The term Madhesi is often used as a derogatory expression and the Terai people have virtually no representation in the government or the army.

Several commissions were formed to look into the citizenship issue and seven years ago, the House of Representatives, the decision-making lower house of parliament, succeeded in pushing forward a resolution for granting citizenship to Madhesis.

"However, it was sent to the palace for the king's approval and then got lost," Karn says bitterly.

Ironically, though the palace sabotaged the citizenship dream of the Madhesis, key leader the Nepal Sadbhavana Party Badri Prasad Mandal chose to support the palace and split the party over the issue.

Mandal supported King Gyanendra's absolute rule and became a minister in the royal cabinet. Those who opposed the king formed the splinter Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandi).

However, after a nationwide anti-king protest forced the monarch to relinquish power last month and a new government was sworn in.

Mandal had to resign as head of his party. Now his faction wants to unite with the splinter group.

"Mandal ignored the Madhesi cause to support the king," says Karn.

"If he had remained true to the cause, he wouldn't be where he is now. We want bygones to be bygones and all plains people to come together. Let's form a Greater Madhesh Democratic Forum to work unitedly for the Madhesi cause."