Province 2 has been ground zero in the battle for federalism. After signing a peace accord in November 2006, the Maoists did not show much interest in the federalism they fought a war for. But the Madhesi people did, and they protested until the government agreed to institutionalise federalism through the Interim Constitution in 2007.
In 2015, the mainstream parties wanted to pass the new Constitution without determining the number and boundaries of provinces. As a result, protests broke throughout the southern plains, and more than 50 people were killed in violent clashes. Mainstream parties were eventually forced to carve out provincial boundaries before the promulgation of the Constitution.
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The Madhes-based parties were still not satisfied, but they took part in last year’s elections hoping to push for Constitution amendments at a later date. After two Madhes-based parties formed a coalition government in Province 2, Dipendra Jha, a lawyer critical of the Constitution, left Kathmandu and settled down in Janakpur as Chief Attorney.
He says: “I was not lured by a top government post, but by the prospect of helping make federalism work. We now have a chance to deliver what we fought for on the streets with our own bureaucracy, police, and autonomy.”
Indeed, Chief Minister Raut knows that the failure of federalism in Province 2 could be used as an excuse by status quoists in Kathmandu to cut back on regional autonomy. So he is aiming for rapid economic transformation of Province 2, and its development into Nepal’s #1 province.
Janakpur-based analyst Surendra Labh says people in the Madhes care deeply about federalism, and want to make it work because they have suffered from Kathmandu’s neglect.
“If federalism fails here, it will fail in the whole country,” he says.
The capital of Province 2 was cleaned up for the Modi visit, but is now dusty and scruffy again. A $19 million ADB project faces delays in expanding major roads and building a drainage system. Facades of houses are being bulldozed in the core city, and roads are dug up everywhere. But local people are patient, and hope the cradle of the Mithila Civilisation will get a much-needed facelift when the project is completed in 2020.