Historic it is! On 28 February 2008, the seven party coalition government headed by Nepal’s Prime Minister G.P. Koirala and the United Madhesi Democratic Front(UMDF) signed a historic eight point accord in effect ending the 16 day Madhesi strike in the Nepalese south known as the Terai region bordering India. The Madhes inhabitants were fighting for their proportional representation in the national electoral roll call, governance system and civic participation. Finally, the Koirala cabinet’s meeting on Thursday evening has resolved at least one mind boggling issue facing Nepal’s elusive CA Poll 2008 and the country’s political karma consequently. Some stated, this was the biggest political sacrifice Mr. Koirala had made in his life in getting the two sides together. It was also not an uncommon scene in recent days to see foreign diplomats hustling at one end of the city pondering what would happen if an agreement was not inked, and how it would affect the Nepali people’s freedom to vote.
Thus, will the CA Poll 2008 guarantee inclusive democratic state participation and equal rights for all then, including Madhesis in the run up to the CA Poll 2008? Now it is most likely so, since Prime Minister Koirala has vouched that the government would immediately implement the accord that paves way for a new democratic future for all Nepalese with equal space, the King down to the people. Madhesi parties falling within the within the Hindutva belt in the south were also known to be avid supporters of Nepal’s monarchy, according to Nepali political observers and the mass media.
Both King Gyanendra and Prime Minister Koirala hinted openly during recent Democracy Day speeches in February that Nepali democracy would have a genuine meaning only if there was inclusive participation and defense of all Nepali people’s rights, including from the Madhes. Despite, the UMDF appeared not ready to negotiate keeping the seven party coalition gridlocked in a complex imbroglio. Thus, Baluwatar politicos and Koirala advisers appeared busily sequestered on the best way to respond. As Mr. Upendra Yadav, the leader of the UMDF stated a few days back,” The only person I saw strutting in and out of the door from the government doors was Krishna Prasad Sitaula, the home minister. It seemed the others were absent”. This was a sardonic verbal arrow aimed at the other Pahade ministers not being present to negotiate. Mr. Sitaula like Prime Minister Koirala, is actually from the Madhes but of Brahmin Pahade origin just like many Nepali politicians representing the Terai, including the United Marxist Leninist Party (UML) Chief Madhav Kumar Nepal.
In its final form, the negotiations were also supported eagerly by the likes of Prachanda, Supremo of the Nepali Communist Party (Maoists), Mr. Sher Bahadur Deuba, two time premier and senior NC leader, Ms. Sujata Koirala, the PM’s daughter, Mr. Ram Chandra Poudyal, Minister for the Peace Secretariat, and some foreign diplomats both from the West and the East. The negotiations team consisted of SPA ministers.
What is in the eight point deal? The eight point deal states succinctly that the federal units including Madhes will be made autonomous; Madhesis and other marginalized communities will be proportionally recruited in Nepali Army; those killed during Madhes agitation will be declared Nepali martyrs; the injured will be provided free medical treatment; and the Koirala government will request the National Election Commission (NEC) to allow the Madhesi parties to file nominations for the CA election under the extended deadline. In effect, the eight point pact endorses the concept of one singular country Nepal but with the promotion of inclusive democratic rights within the state structure, and hopefully a future constitution that is all Nepali in character.
The eight point deal signed with the agitating Madhesi parties is considered a victory for all Nepalis, including not only those who have been championing rights of the Madhes community since it will promote a more equitable sharing of national state resources, but also Pahades of Madhesi origin like Mr Koirala and Mr. Nepal. Currently 80% of Nepal’s economic and agriculture production comes from the Madhes though it is only represented in 17% of state structures.
As a result of the new evolving normalcy in the political situation, rocketing commodity prices, fuel and gas supply lines are expected to ease within a day or two. Many of the Nepali youngsters were already back to their favorite haunts in Kathmandu’s Durbar Marg, Thamel and New Road area spending joyous evenings with each other in celebration.
Also, Terai townships rejoiced with candlelight and bonfires everywhere, this time rekindled in the spirit of peace and national rapprochement. Life in many parts of the Nepalese south is expected to get back to normal in the next few days. According to latest Nepalese news reports, Siraha, Saptari, Dhanusha, Mahottari, Parsa districts, all in the Nepalese Terai, are looking forward to the opening of local supermarkets, shops and businesses tomorrow. However it is also learnt that in certain parts of the middle and eastern Terai belt, people are afraid to venture out from their homes fearing vandalism and hooliganism. Long route buses and other contractual transportation services also have not been resumed to the full, but are expected to happen anytime soon. In the past two weeks preceding the agreement, UDMF supporters were busy clashing with the local police and celebrating their 16th day of bundh(general strike).
Both the United States and India, warmly welcomed the agreement, as did the UN. According to the Indian Embassy releasing a statement from its Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, the agreement would pave the way for the April elections. The Indian government also expressed its hope for full implementation of the agreement. The statement read,” It is our hope that all parties would honor and implement this agreement and their previous understandings. It is for the people of Nepal to choose their representatives, their future and the manner in which they wish to be governed. As always, India will continue to support Nepal in every way possible to achieve the goal of a democratic, stable and prosperous Nepal."
The US State Department also quickly released a press release which in effect reads,” The US welcomes the decision by the three United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) parties to sign a political agreement today with the Government of Nepal. We expect this agreement will lead the UDMF parties to end their Terai bandh (general strike) with immediate effect and will pave the way for the three parties to participate fully in the upcoming Constituent Assembly election on April 10." The US statement further emphasized, ”We expect further that both sides will fulfill the terms of the agreement. A free and fair election is the desire, we believe, of all Nepalis – in the mountains, the hills and the plains – and the United States is committed to doing its part to assist the people of Nepal in making this historic opportunity a reality." Nepal is a country that is closely tied down to both Indian and American aid ever since the country’s opening up to the West in 1951 with the first foreign aid projects run in parallel with USAID PL 480 and other programs in India.
Similarly the UN’s chief in Nepal and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s special representative, Mr. Ian Martin appeared jubilant and optimistic, ”I warmly welcome today's agreement between the Seven-Party Alliance Government and the United Democratic Madhesi Front. Its implementation will be an important contribution to the election of an inclusive Constituent Assembly in a conducive climate." For Mr. Martin, this comes as a big relief since some in the Nepali media had been criticizing the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) as not being effective in peace building in the Nepali post-conflict transitional scenario. This is a big victory for Mr. Martin. Martin is considered a maverick UN diplomat who had swiftly helped East Timor come back to normalcy within a spate of month after his arrival there during his earlier assignment there. In recent months, India and China had objected to the political role of the UN in Nepal, wishing it focus on development cooperation instead, but later on after intensive closed door UN Security Council shuttle negotiations over a watered down British proposal, agreed to give it a continued Sherpa role with an extended six month tenure, which is expected to be renewed again. The UN also maintains a separate development presence in Nepal with UNDP as the lead agency, the total budget estimated at US$ 195 million. The U.S. government helps out Nepal every year with nearly US$ 40 million, past contributions totaling nearly US$ 800 million. Besides, the UK, Japan, Germany, the EU all play a major significant role in assisting Nepal get back to normalcy, not only promoting Nepalese tourism but also assisting on the ground in helping Nepal gain peace, prosperity and democratic growth. Both the UK and India maintain substantive Gurkha forces both for their symbolic value and their fierce ability as renowned fighters.
It is also anticipated the eight point agreement will get resounding endorsement from other countries soon. The Rastriya Janshakti Party(RJP) led by Surya Bahadur Thapa, which has been working to bring in national rapprochement between the democratic and royalist moderate forces, has also decided to participate in the CA Poll on 10 April, that will elect a 600 member Interim Parliament. Mr. Thapa’s voice has been long trusted by India in Nepali politics, though he is a full time supporter of Constitutional Monarchy and middle road democracy just like Prime Minister Koirala.
However the National Election Commission now needs to readjust its dates. The Commission headed by Dr. Bhoj Raj Pokhrel a former top gun civil servant from Nepal, is considered the key institution in Nepal to guarantee a fair and independent CA Poll, which will have significant meaning to Nepalis and foreign friends of Nepal. Dr. Pokhrel’s job is well respected among Nepali political parties and has gained full confidence of the foreign diplomatic circle.
Students in Kathmandu and surrounding mountainous districts have also breathed a sigh of relief since the shortage of kerosine and gas had impacted heavily on their studies. Nepal has a shortage of hydro-electricity thus resulting in 11 hour load shedding on an average day. However the Ministry of Water Resources of Nepal and India are jointly known to be working out a solution on helping Nepal overcome this temporary crisis.
In conclusion, Mr. Koirala’s magnanimous decision has added a further global cap to his exalted role as Nepal’s ambassador for the global freedom agenda. The earlier rumors were he was not prepared to hold the CA Poll 2008 on time, and might even rotate some cabinet jobs to get some full time negotiation experts on board. However, it is clear now that CA Poll will be held on time, although conducting it might still need the mobilization of the Nepal Army, which incidentally has recent high public acclaim in recent national polls. The Nepal Army has gotten most of its training from top American, British, Indian, EU and other South Asian military institutions and is considered a highly professional disciplined force going by their achievements in UN international peacekeeping. The government decision also keeps independent globally renowned election and peace building institutions such as the Carter Center, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others content since it guarantees all inclusive human and political rights to all Nepalese now, including from the Madhes, besides assuring Nepali national reconciliation.
(Surya B. Prasai is a regional contributor to Nepal Horizons from Maryland as well as writes as for the American Chronicle National Media Network, Los Angeles besides contributing as Google Global News Resource Expert on international affairs, development, HIV/AIDS impact mitigation, US and Asia-Pacific immigration, gender and global climate change ).
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