Defense Minister Sarat Singh Bhandari’s recent observation that no constitutional barrier can stop Terai from seceding if ‘alienation’ of Madhesis (people of North Indian descent who live in Madhes) ‘continue’, once again triggered the paranoia of ‘Sikkimization’ in ultra-left and ultra-right ‘nationalist’ quarters. It forced Madhesi circles to defend and justify the argument but failed to ripple an apathetic populace. It provided masala to a sensationalist media that often tends to mix patriotism with business.
If taken in good faith Bhandari’s statement could be interpreted as an alarm against a theoretical possibility although public discussions on the subject are taboo in this country. If read between the lines, it could be the early steps of an intrigue to disintegrate the nation. Also, it could be a mere tongue slip. Similarly, it could be a miscalculation on Bhandari’s part which dragged him into unwarranted controversy.
Bhandari is an able, though not necessarily ideal, politician who possesses plenty of strong common sense and who keeps changing his political allegiance. A perfectly levelheaded person, he has seldom made mistakes of backfiring nature whether in words or in deeds. Given the articulate nature of his speech delivered in perfect poise, his Reporter’s Club remarks couldn’t be casual or impulse-driven. This leaves us with other theories of which the most likely one is that of miscalculation.
There is a proverb in Nepali: Naya jogile dherai kharani ghaschha. The wise saying roughly means that newcomers or adopted ones (to any faith or organization) demonstrate extra zeal to prove their loyalty. As Bhandari is not a bona-fide Madhesi, he was naturally zealous to compensate for the shortcoming. Ethnically he is a Khas upper cast – a disqualification for any opportunity in the so-called New Nepal. His forefathers migrated from the mid-Western Hill district of Myagdi to Mahottari- one of the hotspots of Madhes movement- where, previously his father and now, since almost last three decades, he has been constantly winning the election for parliamentary seat. But time has changed.
Bhandari’s hold in or successful nourishing of his constituency may not buy him safety and success anymore. Thanks to the ‘architects of New Nepal,’ who so shaped the politics of the country that ethno-lingual-racial-regional allegiances decide the fate of leaders more than their performances or qualifications do. Many more Bhandaris will join the ethno-lingual-racial-regional bandwagon in the days to come.
Bhandari may have been used as a pawn to test the water before sailing through the ultimate disintegration of this country. I am not sure whether such a conspiracy exists or not; but I know for sure that our selfish and foolish leaders do not have the necessary skills, strengths and moral guts required to save the nation, if such a scheme exists.
Bhandari has no track record of championing any Madhesi ‘cause’- whatever that is. He didn’t take part in Madhes uprising either. A minister also during the Panchayat regime, he joined Nepali Congress after the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1991 again to be a minister. He has been the target of distrust and jealousy of his fellow Madhesis, especially from within his own party- Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum (Democratic)- on account of his racial and political backgrounds.
Therefore, in a bid to appear ‘more Madhesi’ than ethnic Madhesis themselves, he mooted the possibility of secession- wish of some and worst fear of many others in this country! His defense of the controversial four-point deal reached between the Madhesi front and the Unified Maoists (read its ‘establishment faction’) that includes provision for collective recruitment of Madhesis in the army is also intended to woo and win his parliamentary and political (Madhesi) constituencies.
On the other hand, Bhandari may have been used as a pawn to test the water before sailing through the ultimate disintegration of this country. I am not sure whether such a conspiracy exists or not; but I know for sure that our selfish and foolish leaders do not have the necessary skills, strengths and moral guts required to save the nation, if such a scheme exists. They are the ones who had, to serve their narrow interests and misguided politics, provoked ethno-lingual divisiveness thus making themselves a part of the plot knowingly or unknowingly.
Whoever used Bhandari to test the water may have found the signal encouraging as common people of this country didn’t react sharply enough to Bhandari’s statement the way they were presumed and habituated to react. But this is not because they are unpatriotic; this is because the disappointed lot feel deceived and defeated by their own leaders. The real danger to our national integration lies here, not in the statement of Bhandari.
Madhes or Terai is different in terms of geography, ethnicity, language and culture from the rest of the nation, but there had never been any hostilities. And whatever differences may have been between diverse peoples, whether in Terai or elsewhere, in post-democratic Nepal it was being recognized, respected and reconciled. Long after the geographical/political integration of the nation, at a time when integration between regions, cultures and ethnicities was gradually taking shape, the Maoists, in the name of revolution and rights and identity of oppressed people, founded and fuelled the politics of hate and conflict between communities. Bhandari and his statements are the inevitable by-products of the ill conceived polity.
Inclusiveness and devolution of power were the need of our country. Instead, our poorly educated and selfish leaders prescribed the devastating prognosis of ethno-lingual federalization, right to self-determination, ‘agradhikar’ (special rights) reserved for a few organized and vocal communities to become Chief Minister and so on. For the sake of votes they portrayed social inclusion as political tool and self-alienation as oppression. Cumulating effect of all this is today’s talk of secession, which may not be limited to talk tomorrow.
Madhesi leaders either didn’t know or lied outright when they claimed that Madhesi’s representation in the 93000-strong army numbered to less than 1000. When media including this daily repeatedly reported that it was close to seven thousand they couldn’t contradict; far from apologizing for their ignorance and/or intention they simply kept mum. Maybe some of them took into account the numbers in Naya Sabuj Gan alone, the battalion formed for Madhesi recruits. As a result, they might not have known that nearly 6000 more Madhesis were serving elsewhere in the army since long back.
The small numbers (around 850) in Naya Sabuj Gan are solely because youths from Madhesi communities are least interested to join the army. They prefer jobs in other areas. The phenomenon, not only natural but also universal, has roots in the rules and beliefs of societies and communities. Our Madhesi leaders need not go overseas to see how the forces of sociology prevail over the forces of politics. All they have to do is glance across their yard where there are Gorkha, Jat and Punjab Regiments but no Bengal Regiment.
This is because Bengalis have little interest in and poor aptitude for jobs in uniform; they excel elsewhere, especially in artistic fields. And this is despite the Indian state’s keen wish to recruit them in the army. Or do our Madhesi leaders believe that the Indian state is discriminatory against Bengalis while compared to Jats, Punjabis or even Gorkhas? If they don’t, how they can label the state of Nepal as un-inclusive of or discriminatory against Madhesis when their under-representation in the National Army is a result of their own free choice, the way it is in case of Bengalis in India?