Homework For Om Gurung

Om Gurung

To the Khas, the Janajati are Janajati. They feel discriminated against. They want redress. They want equality. But to the Madhesi, the Janajati are Pahadi, they are one with the Khas. This interview with Om Gurung is quite a displeasure. This is in sharp contrast to the agreement his own organization NEFIN reached with the MPRF not long ago. Parshuram Tamang made sense, Om Gurung has not. They are both with the same organization.

Joint Movement

The Madhesi have already achieved 50% of all seats in the constituent assembly. But the MPRF has expressed solidarity with the NEFIN on their demand for completely proportional elections to the constituent assembly. NEFIN has to understand that. There has to be an agenda based alliance. Janajatis spewing anti-Madhesi venom are not going to find comrades in Madhesis.

What Om Gurung needs to do is some serious homework. I think we are all agreed on the idea of a secular, federal, democratic republic. Despite the Prachandas and Girijas of the world accusing the Madhesi Movement of being instigated by the royalists and the Hindu supremacists, there has not been a single slogan for either the monarchy or a Hindu state during the course of the Madhesi Movement. When the blacks organized their civil rights movement in America half a century ago, the accusation then was they were being instigated by the communists. The Madhesi Movement has been for a secular, federal, democratic republic. The Maoists might be for secularism and they might be for a republic, but they are not for democracy or federalism. Their behavior has been undemocratic. How else do you explain their one point agenda in the Terai: to disrupt the MPRF mass meetings? And when they talk of autonomous ethnic states, they have Tibet in mind. The Maoist party will send some party to rule over the Madhesh state.

What Om Gurung is not clear on is as to what is the proposed map that NEFIN has in mind for a federal Nepal? I have not seen any. And what is going to be the power distribution between the various levels of government in that federal state? It is this lack of clarity that has resulted in misleading behavior on the part of Om Gurung. In short, he is not clear enough on what he wants.

Om Gurung talks of proportional representation, but he is not clear on that either. So if the Janajati are one third of Nepal's population, the constituent assembly should be one third Janajati. Is that what he wants? How does he propose that be achieved? Should the existing parties ensure that? How? Does NEFIN plan to become a political party? Will completely proportional elections as opposed to the 50% proportional elections as of now ensure that? How? Should the party lists have reservations, as in every third name on the list must be Janajati?

Om Gurung's stands are too vague. And that is hurting the Janajati Movement.

But what is hurting the Madhesis is his anti-Madhesi prejudice.

"MPRF wants a separate terai state stretching from Jhapa to Kanchanpur, where over a dozen ethnic communities are living. They speak different languages, practice different cultures and traditions. We never let terai be in the hands of a few feudal lords who want to rule the weak and poor."

Maybe the MPRF wants all of Terai as one state in a federal Nepal. And if they sell that idea to the Madhesh, to the country, that can happen, theoretically speaking. Realistically speaking, I don't think that can be sold. Personally I am for two states in the Terai, a Madhesh from Rapti to Mechi, and a Tharuwan beyond Rapti. The Sadbhavana wants two states, an Eastern Terai, and a Western Terai, 50-50. Maybe NEFIN can become a political party and come with an entirely different map from the MPRF or the Sadbhavana. And perhaps the other seven parties will come up with seven other maps. But the bottomline is, each party is going to have to try and sell their map to the people. The democratic process will decide what map will be final.

The Madhesh state I have in mind - from Rapti to Mechi - will have two major groups, the Maithili, and the Bhojpuri, but it will have many other groups. Actually that Madhesh state likely will be a mini Nepal. Every ethnic group in Nepal will be represented in that Madhesh state. And that is not bad news at all. We do want that. Actually we want all states to end up diverse.

The Madhesi Movement has not been a movement of the Madhesi landlords, which there are very few of to start with. The rich Madhesis are rich not due to their land holdings. That is a huge myth. The richest Madhesis are businesspeople in the urban areas. Some of the other who are rich are perhaps in government service. A farmer with 10 bighas of land, which there are perhaps 5% or less in the villages, barely get by. Prachanda has a much much higher standard of living.

"Terai cannot be made a single unit citing Hindi as a binding language."

This anti-Hindi tirade is not welcome. It is for Madhesis in the Terai to decide on their common language. Hindi is at the core of the Madhesi identity. That is just the ground reality.

"I have a special reservation. I call it an ethnic violence. We have to dissociate from such ethnic division and those who promote violence. What is happening in terai is dangerous. It is gradually taking a shape of ethnic violence whatsoever the leaders of terai claim it."

There is a singular attempt here to participate in the widespread demonization of the Madhesi Movement. That is not someone seeking a Madhesi Janajati alliance. There is no mention of Maoist terror, there is no mention of state terror, there is mention of some acts of violence during the course of the Madhesi Movement, but there is no mention of the outpouring in every village, every town, 99.99% of which was nonviolent.

"....our interpretation of Madhes is different from that of Madhesis. We want to know where Madhes is. We indigenous communities think that Madhesis are there in this country but there is no land called Madhes in Nepal. These Madhesis have come from Madhyadesh. It is a place between India's Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. So, we call them Madhesis. The rulers of this country brought them into Nepal. Now they are demanding a separate Madhes."

Just when I was waiting for the punch line. Here Om Gurung has outdone even his Bahun masters in spewing his anti-Madhesi venom. The summary of what he is saying is that the Madhesis do not belong in Nepal. That is as concrete an expression of anti-Madhesi prejudice as can be.

"....the Madhesis want the entire terai to be a separate state. There are several ethnic communities living in terai. MPRF must acknowledge this fact and seek our cooperation. Otherwise, we are not going to back the movement, no matter what they claim and demand."

Of course there is diversity in the Terai. Of course there are Dalit rights issues and women's rights issues in the Terai. Of course there are local indigenous groups in the Terai like the Rajbanshi, the Tharu, the Satar. None of those issues go counter to the Madhesi Movement. The Madhesi Movement has been the successor to the April Revolution. Similarly the Madhesi Movement will and should give rise to Dalit rights movements and women's rights movements and indigenous people's rights movements in the Terai, as in the Pahad. Better if we come up with a constitution such that such movements will not be necessary. The power to vote will be enough.

If Om Gurung seeks an alliance with the Madhesi Movement, as he says here he does, he is going to start out by getting rid of his anti-Madhesi prejudices. And then he is going to offer some clarity for the Janajati Movement. What exactly do you want? What is your map? What is the power distribution you have in mind?

And then maybe we can talk business.

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