Politics tends to heat up after over a month-long festive season that starts with Dashain and ends with Chhath. This year it is the two largest Madhes-based parties that could cause the biggest ruction, and mount perhaps the first serious challenge to the mighty government of KP Sharma Oli. Numerically weak, they may not as yet be able to unseat Oli but they could make things rather dicey for him.PM Oli has time and again assured the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN)—a part of the federal government Oli leads—and the Rastriya Janashakti Party Nepal (RJPN)—that supports the federal government but is not a part of it—that the constitution ‘should and will’ be amended as per their demands. He better do so, the two parties say, as only reason they supported his government was because of a credible assurance on amendment.
But seven and a half months into Oli’s prime ministerial-ship there has been no headway on that front. Chief among the Madheshi parties’ demands are revision of provincial borders, amendment in citizenship clauses, proportional representation of Madhesis in state organs, and release of Madhesi cadres arrested during various protests. They also want RJPN’s Resham Chaudhary—who was elected to the federal lower house from Kailali district, but was barred from taking office after being accused of masterminding the killings of eight police officers during protests in 2015—sworn-in as a lawmaker.
None of these demands will be easy to meet. The constitution makes redrawing provincial boundaries a herculean endeavor; most in the ruling NCP party deem even current citizenship provisions for Madhesis lax; on proportional representation, NCP is under tremendous pressure not to ‘dilute’ the rights of the Pahades in the name of empowering Madhesis; and the entire police apparatus will resist swearing-in Chaudhary. With the growing appeal of secessionist forces in Madhes, especially among its youth, token concessions from the NCP-led government will not cut ice. The two mainstream Madhesi parties fear irrelevance if they cannot wring out substantive constitutional changes from the federal government. But if the stalemate persists even after Chhath, it is not farfetched to imagine the two parties making common cause with extremists like CK Raut. In fact, there have been plenty of hints that they are contemplating this course. As Oli strives to keep his own wrangling party in order he will have his task cut out managing the growing challenge from Tarai-Madhesh as well.