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The UML’s Madhes crisis

Sunday, June 11th, 2017
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In March, five people were killed in police firing as Madhesi cadres disrupted the East-West election campaign of the UML. The mob that attacked the rally in Siraha was led by Dinesh Yadav, a defector from the UML and once protected by the party’s Suman Pyakurel. Many saw him as being almost his foster son.

But Pyakurel did not support Yadav in the party’s seventh district convention in 2009, and Yadav fought party elections as a rebel candidate, but was defeated. After that he quit the UML and joined the Madhesi Jan Adhikar Forum.

Since then, Yadav has always nursed a deep grudge against the UML. He has torched the UML office in Saptari twice in the last three months, his supporters even attacked Pyakurel’s family, forcing them to flee Saptari for two months.

Some Madhesi leaders of the UML say that their party is losing ground in the Tarai, and it is mainly because of their party’s wrong policy, behaviour and actions like this.

UML Secretary Yogesh Bhattarai disagrees. He says only some Madhesi activists have quit the party because of personal animosities, but it has nothing to do with the party’s policy. “There is a conspiracy afoot to weaken us in the Tarai, and it is not difficult to see who is behind all this. Madhes-based parties are attacking us because our cadres refused to join them,” Bhattarai said.

However, it just takes a journey through the heartland of the Tarai to understand that Madhesi cadres of the UML are not turning against their party due to personal reasons. The main opposition party has largely failed to counter accusations that it is anti-Madhesi because its top leaders have often made statements that were misinterpreted as being anti-Madhesi.

Shrawan Yadav, a local resident in Janakpur, “Madhesi parties have often spearheaded powerful protests not because of their own strength but because they could cash in on UML Chair KP Oli’s derogatory statements.”

Oli has often tried to explain that he is not anti-Madhesi, and his statements have been misreported and misinterpreted.  But this explanation has not reached the Tarai, and Som Prasad Sharma, the UML secretary in Dhanusa admits: “Because of what our leaders say in Kathmandu, we find it difficult to retain our cadres.”

The UML has often neglected its loyal Madhesi supporters, creating an impression that there is indeed no room for them within this party. Jaya Krishna Goit, an influential UML leader in Saptari, was expecting a party ticket in the last local elections in 1997. But the party’s zone committee recommended Satya Narayan Mandal for the ticket, and the party high command did not approve Mandal either.

UML fielded Diwakar Devkota as its candidate for the Saptari DDC president. Devkota was junior to Goit, who felt humiliated and did not just leave the party but went on to form a violent armed group, inspiring many other outfits to take up arms.

Devkota did not win, but the UML did not learn its lesson. It kept ignoring its loyal Madhesi supporters, adding to the impression that it is just a hill-dominated party. UML leader Satya Narayan Mandal says his party’s Madhes policy has been in disarray ever since the death of charismatic leader Madan Bhandari in a car crash in 1993. According to him, Bhandari had formed a taskforce to study problems in the Tarai just a day before his
death. The taskforce held a discussion in some Tarai districts even after Bhandari’s death, but its report was abandoned by the new leadership.

Says Mandal: “If the UML had understood Madan Bhandari’s vision, no one would have dubbed our party as anti-Madhesi today.”Mukesh Pokharel in Janakpur

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