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The seven provinces provided in the constitution are not completely based on the spirit of federalism, which was based on five attributes of identity and four elements of capacity. Hence, the achievement of the present federalism can be seen as a glass that is ‘half empty, half full’

When I heard that the Provincial Assembly had named Province 2 as Madhes and Janakpur as its capital with a thumping two-thirds majority on January 17 this year, I was elated.

Suddenly a flurry of memories related with the Madhesi movement started occupying my mind.

In 1979, when I was a student in Delhi, I had a brief brush with Bedananda Jha, then the Nepali ambassador to India, not knowing that he was once a politician who had founded the Nepal Tarai Congress seeking autonomy for the Tarai region. He had warned me not to indulge in politics when we went chanting against the monolithic Panchayat system in Nepal in front of the Nepali Embassy.

Similarly, around 1982, my first experience with the Madesi way of life was when I, a Newar and core city inhabitant of Kathmandu, visited the house of Ramrijhan Yadav in Sanhaitha village in Siraha in a clandestine manner, carrying Janadesh magazine during the Panchayat era!

And what a contrast I found Tarai was, physically, culturally and linguistically from the Newari nationality!

During the People’s War period, I remember having met Upendra Yadav when I was on my way to Thawang in Rolpa. He was then a regional bureau member of the Maoist party, and he had given me a book on the Madhesi movement. I remember those days how we had coined ‘Garva se kahu ham madhesi chhi!’ After the People’s War in 2007, when I became Minister of Physical Planning and Works, I was in a dilemma when the Madhesi movement started. The projects within my Ministry related to the Tarai were all stalled due to the movement!

Then I was too busy to know the details of the Madhes movement.

After the People’s War, I got to feel the pulse of the Madhesis, when K P Sharma Oli started using all sorts of derogatory terms for the Madhesis and Madhesi movement when he was the Prime Minister.

Today being an executive member and head of the Inclusive Department of the Janata Samajbadi Party, I have become all the more interested in Madhes Province.

Certainly Province 2 has made history by naming the province in the spirit of federalism. It is to be noted that similar attempts were made in some other provinces too, but could not garner enough support!

Historically, it is important to note that the seven provinces provided in the constitution are not completely based on the spirit of federalism, which was based on five attributes of identity and four elements of capacity. Hence, the achievement of the present federalism can be seen as a glass that is ‘half empty, half full’.

I am still sceptical as a mother would be after naming a baby as she worries about the baby’s structural growth. Similarly, after naming Madhes Pradesh, I now wonder whether it will be able to answer the multilayer questions that come with its naming.

Federally, if one is to study the recommendations of the State Restructuring Committee and commission, then the Tarai should have been divided into two distinct regions, Madhes-Mithila-Bhojpura and Madhesh-Awadh-Tharuwan.

From the perspectives of these two recommendations, naming of Province 2 as Madhes should be welcomed.

However, at present, the territories of the Tarai are included in five provinces, contradicting the recommendations of both the commission and committee.

From the inclusive point of view, how will it give a sense of belonging to the marginalised communities within the Madhes province, the Madhesi dalits, Madhesi janjatis and the Madhesi Muslims? Similarly, how is it going to solve the gender disparity, which is more feudalistic and conservative than in the mountains? Geographically, Madhes is flat land in a predominantly mountainous Nepal.

Flat land is suitable for urbanisation, which can easily lead to planned urbanisation.

However, in the absence of planned urbanisation and the presence of pockets of underdeveloped villages, how can it take the advantage it has against the mountain terrain? Similarly, how will it tackle this disparity within the province? Nationally, how is it going to tackle the influx of Pahadias, whose numbers are growing in that province? Given the diverse demographics of the Tarai, will Madhes be a geographic entity or an ethnic entity? Also let us not forget that the present Madhes is Nepal’s smallest province in terms of area but the second largest in terms of population.

Linguistically, how is it going to manage various languages? Which will be the provincial language as the Madhesi people speak Maithili, Bhojpuri and Hindi? Internationally, it borders the Indian state of Bihar.

How is it going to manage this porous border, considering that this is Nepal’s soft underbelly? East and Central Madhes have historically been part of the larger Mithila region, which covers part of Bihar as well.

No wonder there are frequent inter-marriages between families on either side of the border. This has created fears in the central government manifest in the form of a discriminatory citizenship policy. And how is it going to tackle flooding that affects both the countries? In terms of resources, nearly two-thirds of the natural resources lie in the whole of the Tarai region, but some of the poorest districts in Nepal lie within this province. Economically, the challenge lies in breaking the feudal system rooted in the land holdings.

The challenge today is to transform it into an industrial capitalist economic system. In short, how is it going to balance the growing nationality feelings with developmental issues within that state? Futuristically speaking, will naming of this province affect naming or renaming of the other provinces in a similar manner? Will it lead to formation of Tharuwan Province? And will it assert a true spirit of federalism in its fight against the central government which is still conservative? These questions will be haunting the new Madhes province in the days to come!

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