‘Madhesis believe RJP-N is the only party fighting for their rights’

The Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal and Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal, which jointly contested parliamentary and provincial polls vowing to fight unitedly to empower Madhesis and other marginalised communities, have parted ways with the   FSF-N  joining the  government and  the RJP-N  choosing to  sit in the opposition. The RJP-N is more vocal about the issues of Madhesi empowerment, including constitution amendment. Ram Kumar Kamat of The Himalayan Times caught up with RJP-N presidium member and firebrand Madhesi leader Rajendra Mahato to know about his party’s strategies for effecting amendments to the constitution.  Excerpts:

Is your party joining the government anytime soon?

We have extended outside support to KP Sharma Oli’s government hoping that the government, which commands two-thirds majority in the Parliament, will address our demands. We have no plan to join the government without getting our demands addressed because Madhesi people sacrificed their lives during Madhes movements to win their rights, not just to send a party to the government. Our concerns and demands remain unaddressed. For Madhesis, amendment to the constitution is more important than joining the government. There are some other issues we want the government to address. In fact, our lawmaker Resham Chaudhary, who has been indicted in Tikapur killings, remains in judicial custody. He has not been able to take the oath of office and secrecy. Another Tharu leader Laxman Tharu is also in jail facing trial in the same case. Our leader Abhiram Sharma, a member of Province 2 assembly has also been indicted in a criminal case. There are many other party leaders and cadres who have been falsely implicated in criminal cases. We want the government to withdraw those cases. Therefore we cannot imagine joining the government.

What issues do you want the government to address?

The new constitution deprived people of rights that they had enjoyed under previous constitutions. Citizens by birth cannot hold more than 10 constitutional posts, which is not fair. We want the boundaries of the province revised to enable Madhesis to remain in provinces dominated by them.

On the issue of language, we want constitutional recognition of all languages spoken within the territory of the country. Similarly, more languages should be recognised as official language at the centre as per the recommendation of the Language Commission. We want provinces’ to have the right to determine which and how many languages they want to recognise as official languages. For example, in Province 2, they can choose Nepali, Maithili, Bhojpuri and Hindi as official languages. Similarly, the other provinces can choose their own official languages.

How do you want to fight for the cause of Madhesis in the new context after elections?

Madhesis have not got their rights yet. As long as disparity remains in society, whether it is regional or other disparities, people will continue to protest seeking equality and guarantee of non-discrimination. On the one hand, we have to protect the political gains we have achieved thus far; while on the other, we have to be ready to fight for those rights that we are yet to win. At present we are in a wait-and-watch mode. If this government does not address our demands, then we would have no choice but to protest in the Parliament and on the street. People cannot be patient beyond a certain time, and I think, we will perhaps take a decision soon to protest against the government.

Do you want to serve an ultimatum to the government before protesting against it?

We have been talking to the government about our demands. The government gives positive assurances to us but it never acts on its pledge. Lip service is not enough. We can choose the path of struggle anytime.

Recently the Nepali Congress wanted to forge a partnership with your party to oppose the ‘government’s wrong move’. Is there any possibility of your party joining hands with the NC?

If the NC supports our issues, we are ready to collaborate with it and jointly fight for our cause, but if that does not happen, then we are ready to collaborate with the NC on a case by case basis. We are ready to support the NC on those issues where both parties have similar views.

Are you hopeful that the incumbent government will amend the constitution to address your party’s demands?

This is the right time for the government to move a constitution amendment bill. The government has assured us that it will amend the constitution but it has not done anything.

How do you view the Upendra Yadav-led FSF-N’s participation in the government?

The FSF-N joined the government without ensuring the amendment to the constitution to address Madhesis’ demands. Therefore, Madhesis are frustrated with Yadav. Madhesis now believe that the RJP-N is the only party fighting for their rights. We want to live up to the expectations of Madhesi people.

Your party has been criticised for allowing factional interests and favouritism.

After the six Madhes-based parties merged to create RJP-N last year, the party should have been able to perform as a united party, but I admit that the party has not been able to do so. We are preparing to hold party’s first General Assembly in May next year. I am confident that our party will be able to function as a united party after the convention as all the leaders of the party will get their roles within the party as per the decisions of party cadres. The GC will inject a new life into our party.

It seems that the influence of your party and the FSF-N was limited to the eight districts of Province 2. What is your party doing to expand its political base across Madhes?

It is true that we got major chunks of our vote from eight districts mainly because those districts were at the forefront of the Madhes movement. We won a good percentage of votes in Kailali also because the impact of our movement was fresh in that district. It is true that we have not been able to organise programmes in all districts of the Madhes from Jhapa to Kanchanpur, but we will certainly do so in the days ahead. Our cadres want our party to launch political programmes in all districts of Madhes to make the public aware of their rights and the struggle that lies ahead.

How do you evaluate the government’s six months in power?

The government has not been able to live up to people’s expectations. The government, which commands a two-thirds majority in the Parliament, is very arrogant about its strength in the House. The government had a good opportunity to steer the country on the path of economic prosperity by addressing the demands of Madhesis, Janajatis and other marginalised communities, it, however, is not doing that. The government arbitrarily arrested a government employee from Tribhuvan International Airport and imposed a ban on a protest at Maitighar Mandala. It is more interested in overturning the decisions of the Sher Bahadur Deuba government than doing things to change the lives of the people.

The government has neither taken any people-friendly decision nor has it delivered services to the public.  If the situation continues, then all sectors will rise against the government leading to a situation of a wider movement.

People are frustrated because tax on certain services has increased multi-fold in the local levels. What’s your take on this?

The central government must be blamed for this because it has kept the power to levy the tax in most of the sectors. The central government keeps the lion’s share of revenue with it without giving enough budget to local and provincial governments. People cannot bear such a huge tax burden. They should not be taxed by all three tiers of government for the same service. The central government has been playing a game against federalism by depriving provincial governments of revenue resources. There should be a fresh debate about the percentage of share of revenue for central, provincial and local governments.