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Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region International Crisis Group 2007-07-09

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Asia Report N°136 - 9 July 2007
Crisis Group
A. Politics in the Tarai 5
B. Parties 6
C. Militant and Fringe Groups 9
A. Violence in the Tarai 12
B. The Response 13
A. The Lie of the Land 15
B. The Establishment: Shaken, Not Stirred 16
1. The NC and UML 16
2. TheNSP(A) 17
3. The Maoists 17
C. Rebels without a Roadmap? 19
1. The MJF and other Madhesi leadership 19
2. The JTMM 20
A. Cross-Border Connections 22
B. Indian Interests 24
1. Central government 24
2. State governments 25
3. Party perspectives 26
4. The Hindu Dimension 27
C. Other Internationals 28
A. Communal Risks ... but Incentives To Talk 29
B. The Agenda 30
C. Fixing Kathmandu First 32
A. Map of Nepal 35
B. Glossary of Acronyms 36
C. Chronology of Key Madhes Events 38
D. About the International Crisis Group 41
E. International Crisis Group Reports and Briefings on Asia 42
F. International Crisis Group Board of Trustees 44
 Crisis Group
Asia Report N°136
9 July 2007
Unrest in the Tarai plains has exposed the weaknesses of
Nepal's peace process, could derail elections for a
constituent assembly in November and, if not properly
addressed, could start a new form of conflict. Madhesis -
plainspeople who are some one third ofthe country's
population - have protested, sometimes violently, against
the discrimination that has in effect excluded them from
public life. Weeks of demonstrations and clashes between
political rivals recently left several dozen dead. The
government has offered to address issues such as increased
electoral representation, affirmative action for marginalised
groups and federalism but has dragged its feet over
implementing dialogue. Tension had been building for
several years but was largely ignored by the political
elites and international observers, and the scale ofthe
protest shocked even its own leaders. The problems will
only be resolved by strengthening the national political
process and making it both inclusive and responsive -
starting with free and fair elections to a constituent
assembly later this year.
The Tarai plains stretch the length ofthe southern border
and are home to half the total population, including many
non-Madhesis (both indigenous ethnic groups and recent
migrants from the hills). With comparatively good
infrastructure, agriculture, industrial development and
access to India across the open border, the Tarai is crucial
to the economy. It is also an area of great political
importance, both as a traditional base for the mainstream
parties and as the only road link between otherwise
inaccessible hill and mountain districts.
The leaders ofthe Madhesi movement face difficult
choices: they have mobilised public support but have also
angered powerful constituencies. They now need to decide
between a strategy of accommodation or continued
confrontation. The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) has
emerged as a powerful umbrella group but lacks an
organisational base and clear agenda. It is entering the
electoral fray but if it is to challenge the established parties,
it must first deal with rival Madhesi politicians competing
for the same votes. There has also been a proliferation of
Madhesi armed groups; some have expanded significantly
in numbers, and their strategy and attitudes will affect the
political process.
The mood among Tarai residents is increasingly
confrontational, with collapse of trust between most
Madhesis and the government. Most believe that further
violence is likely. Unresolved grievances and the hangover
from the Maoist insurgency, especially the lack of
reconciliation and the greater tolerance for violence, make
a volatile mix. The unrest has given a glimmer of hope to
diehard royalists and Hindu fundamentalists, including
some from across the border, who see it as a chance to
disrupt the peace process.
The mainstream parties have changed their rhetoric but
are as reluctant as ever to take action that would make for
a more inclusive system. Strikes in the Tarai squeezed
Kathmandu but not enough to force immediate
concessions. Mainstream parties, particularly the Nepali
Congress, rely on their Tarai electoral base but are unsure
how to deal with the new state of flux. Unable to compete
with Madhesi groups in radicalism, they have also been
ineffective at communicating the positive steps they have
taken, such as reforming citizenship laws. Competition
within the governing coalition is hindering any bold
moves. For the Maoists, the Tarai violence was a wake-up
call: much of it was directed against their cadres, whose
appearance of dominance was shattered. Nevertheless, they
remain well organised, politically coherent and determined
to reassert themselves.
Engaging in serious negotiations will be a delicate
process, with no party wanting to lose face. But the key
issues are clear and still offer room for a reasonable
□ fair representation: the critical issue is ensuring the
electoral system gives Madhesis a serious stake in
the constituent assembly;
□ federalism and autonomy: the government's
commitment to federalism has yet to translate
into action; without pre-empting the constituent
assembly, steps are needed to demonstrate more
serious intent, such as formation of a technical
research commission that could develop a
knowledge base for future discussions;
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page ii
□ rebuilding trust: confidence in national and local
government will only come if there is decent
governance, public security based on local
community consent and improved delivery of
□ redress for heavy-handed suppression of protests:
demands for compensation, honouring of dead
protestors and follow-through on a commission of
enquiry need to be met; and
□ steps towards affirmative action: some immediate
moves to increase Madhesi representation in parties
and state bodies could pave the way for longer-term
measures to remove inequalities.
Fixing the Tarai means first fixing some issues in
Kathmandu and then dealing not only with Madhesis
but all excluded groups. Cross-party unity in listening
to grievances and pushing for their resolution through a
legitimate, elected constituent assembly is the only way
to a lasting solution. This requires a change in outlook
and a delicate political balancing act: the Kathmandu
government must do some things immediately in order
to earn Madhesi trust but deciding any major issues
before the elections to the constituent assembly could
compromise the constitutional process. Despite the
instability, elections are still possible and essential. But
reshaping state identity and institutions to make all Nepali
citizens feel part ofthe nation is a long-term task that will
present challenges in the constituent assembly and beyond.
To the Government of Nepal:
1. Address the reasonable demands for political
participation of all excluded groups (notjust those
whose protests have forced attention) by:
(a) undertaking to discuss and resolve
grievances not only with protest leaders
but also with concerned parliamentarians,
local community representatives and civil
society representatives;
(b) starting back-channel communications to
draw armed factions into peaceful dialogue,
while emphasising that they must sign up to
the political process; and
(c) using all available leverage to control armed
groups and other organisations founded in
reaction to the Madhesi movement, draw
them into negotiations and prevent the
communalisation of Tarai issues.
2. Show willingness to make concessions on the basis
of equal rights for all citizens by:
(a) revising the electoral system to ensure fair
representation of Madhesis and all other
marginalised groups, including a fresh
delineation of constituency boundaries if
the mixed electoral system is retained;
(b) improving communication, ensuring the
government's approach is clearly explained
and that there are means to invite and pay
attention to citizens' concerns;
(c) sending senior party leaders to the Tarai -
as eight parties together not individually -
to explain what the government has done
and is doing to improve representation and
make the constituent assembly a meaningful,
inclusive exercise;
(d) implementing some immediate affirmative
action measures to boost Madhesi presence
in the civil service;
(e) initiating discussion on options for
federalism, their implications and how
to implement them; and
(f) honouring Madhesis killed in protests,
compensating their families and those
injured, supporting the commission of
enquiry into the state's handling ofthe
movement and guaranteeing its
recommendations will not be ignored.
Demonstrate firm commitment to constituent
assembly elections by:
(a) agreeing promptly on an acceptable electoral
system, preferably by ensuring the Electoral
Constituency Delimitation Commission
delivers a revised proposal within its
extended deadline that addresses Madhesi
fears of gerrymandering;
(b) announcing a realistic election timetable;
(c) developing election security plans with
support of all political constituencies and
communities; and
(d) insisting that other issues should not be
addressed by further interim constitutional
amendments but instead be left to the
constituent assembly as the sole legitimate
forum for resolving them.
Restore law and order and rebuild trust in local
administration and security forces by:
(a) improving community relations through
meetings between chief district officers
(CDOs) and Madhesi political actors and
intellectuals; holding meetings to listen
and respond to the public's concerns; and
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page iii
ensuring that local government offices
are well staffed, performing basic duties
and more accessible;
(b) balancing deployment of armed police with
a greater emphasis on civil and community
(c) starting discussion on using affirmative action
to redress ethnic and regional imbalances
in the security forces through recruitment,
training and promotion; and
(d) considering the transfer of district
administrators and police chiefs responsible
for excessive security action and the
appointment of more Madhesi officials in
sensitive districts.
To Madhesi Political Leaders and Opinion-makers:
5. Continue pressing for fair electoral representation
and inclusion within the framework of the
constituent assembly by:
(a) rejecting violence, devising forms of protest
that do not adversely affect the economic and
social life of people in the Tarai and bringing
armed groups into the political process;
(b) taking part in the elections to the constituent
(c) showing flexibility on the new electoral
system if the government commits itself
to fair representation; and
(d) cooperating in the commission of enquiry
and seeking to redress grievances by
judicial means.
6. Avoid replicating exclusive models at the regional
level and work to reduce communal tensions by:
(a) making space for women's voices in the
movement and on negotiating delegations;
(b) ensuring representation of Muslims, Tarai
janajati communities and all Hindu castes
including Dalits; and
(c) not insisting on a unitary Madhesi identity
if it is unacceptable to some communities.
To the National Political Parties:
7. Consult excluded groups witriin and beyond parties
and start to explore detailed policies of concern to
them such as federalism and affirmative action.
8. Wherever possible build eight-party consensus and
also involve parties not represented in government,
including the legislature's official opposition.
9. Implement Comprehensive Peace Agreement
commitments on representation of marginalised
communities within parties, explore ways to make
party leaderships more representative and pay
greater attention to the concerns of Madhesi and
other activists within parties.
To the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN):
10. Extend technical support to inter-party discussions
on development of revised electoral models.
To the International Community:
11. Continue to support the peace process, stressing
respect for the principles enshrined in peace
agreements and urging full implementation ofthe
Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the interim
12. Maintain momentum for elections with both
positive political pressure and practical assistance,
welcome the announcement of a realistic election
timetable and maintain strong public support for
the process.
13. Support resolving the demands of Madhesis and
other groups within the framework of the peace
agreement and following its principles.
14. Donors offering development and peace process
assistance should consider additional help for
building Madhesi civil society capacity and
supporting serious, independent academic research
into issues affecting all marginalised communities.
Kathmandu/Brussels, 9 July 2007
 Crisis Group
Asia Report N°136
9 July 2007
The Tarai, a long-neglected borderland, now occupies the
centre of Nepal's political stage.1 The demands for
political representation raised by its people cut to the heart
of the peace deal and constitutional process; they also
offer more direct challenges to the governing Seven-Party
Alliance (SPA)-Maoist coalition.2 Violent clashes have
left the Tarai districts in a fragile state: people are angry
and have lost trust in the state; politics is in flux as new
groups emerge; demands have become more radical; and
constructive talks have yet to get underway, even though
the outlines of a negotiable agenda are clear.
Lack of background knowledge and the fast pace of recent
events make this situation particularly hard to assess with
certainty. Although clashes between plains-origin
Madhesis and hill-originpahadis have gained prominence,
identity politics in Nepal is far more complex than this
split suggests. The Madhesi issue must be seen in the
broader context of the centre-periphery divide and the
interplay of geography, caste, ethnicity and politics in
1 Background reading on the Tarai includes Frederick H. Gaige,
Regionalism and National Unity in Nepal (Berkley and Los
Angeles, 1975); Hari Bansh Jha, The Tarai Community and
National Integration in Nepal (Kathmandu, 1993); Basanta
Thapa and Mohan Mainali (eds.), Madhes: samsya ra
sambhavana (Kathmandu, 2006); Mahendra Lawoti, Towards a
Democratic Nepal (New Delhi, 2005); and Bhuwan Joshi and
Leo Rose, Democratic Innovations in Nepal: A Case Study of
Political Acculturation (Berkley and Los Angeles, 1966).
Seminar papers include Ram Prakash Yadav, "Madhesi; A
Disadvantaged Social Group", presented at a conference
organised by Jaghrit Nepal, Kathmandu December 2006; and
Shree Govind Shah, "Social Inclusion of Madheshi Community
in Nation Building", presented at a conference on "Social
Inclusion and Nation Building in Nepal", Kathmandu February
2006. Blogs including and Paramendra
Bhagat's are useful sources on
Madhesi issues and also sites for some debates.
2 The parliamentary parties that make up the SPA are the Nepali
Congress (NC); Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-
Leninist, UML); Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandidevi, NSP
(A)); Nepali Congress (Democratic, NC(D)); Janamorcha Nepal;
Nepal Workers and Peasants Party (NWPP); and United Left
Front (ULF).
Nepal. Discrimination spans the country, with several
communities in the hills facing similar exclusion.
However, Madhesis have grievances unique to them,
and the Madhesi movement has unquestionably raised
critical issues; whether and how they are addressed will
have a profound impact on the peace process and the
reshaping of national politics.
This report sets out the issues, describes the political
players and their interests, assesses the course ofthe
Madhesi movement and outlines possible scenarios. It is a
first effort to present essential information on a situation
to which most outsiders, Crisis Group included, should
probably have paid more serious attention earlier.3 Based
primarily on field research in the eastern-central and mid-
western Tarai, bordering Indian states and Kathmandu, it
includes detailed coverage not only of domestic actors but
also of Indian interests and the particular significance
ofthe open border and the web of social, economic and
political links that stretch across it. The report reflects the
concentration of much recent political activity in the
eastern Tarai districts (a disproportionately high proportion
of Madhesi leaders come from Maithili-speaking
communities in Saptari, Siraha and adjoining districts4);
Crisis Group also interviewed activists of minority Tarai
communities, including Tharus and Muslims, and future
reporting will examine their concerns (often at odds with
Madhesi leaders) in more detail.
Some commentators did warn of trouble, for example, CK.
Lai, "Tlie Tarai cauldron", Nepali Times, 28 February 2003, and
"We Nepalis. How to make Nepalipan more inclusive", Nepali
Times, 14 March 2003; and Suman Pradhan, "Tarai tinderbox",
Nepali Times, 11 August 2006. Recent Crisis Group reporting
includes Asia Reports N°115, Nepal: From People Power to
Peace?, 10 May 2006; N°126, Nepal's Peace Agreement: Making
it Work, 15 December 2006; N°128, Nepal's Constitutional
Process, 26 February 2007; and N°132 Nepal's Maoists: Purists
or Pragmatists?, 18 May 2007.
4 Maithili-speakers include MJF leader Upendra Yadav,
senior Maoist Madhesi leader Matrika Yadav, both JTMM
faction leaders (Goit and Jwala Singh) and prominent
mainstream leaders such as NSP's Rajendra Mahato and
Anil Jha, NC's Mahant Thakur and Ram Baran Yadav and
NC(D)'s Bimalendra Nidhi.
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 2
The Tarai is the mostly low-lying land along Nepal's
border with India.5 It forms about a quarter ofthe country's
total area, in an 885km strip stretching from the Mahakali
River in the west to the Mechi River in the east, with a
width varying from four to 52km. The Tarai also includes
some low hills (the Siwalik range) and valleys to their
north (the inner Tarai). It was incorporated into the territory
of Nepal during its unification in the late eighteenth
century and in the decades of expansion that lasted until
the 1814 war with the British East India Company.6
Historically sparsely populated in part because of its once
dense malarial jungles, the Tarai is now home to around
half the country's population.7 They can be broadly divided
into three categories: indigenous groups; communities
which have cross-border cultural, linguistic and kinship
links; and a large number of migrants from the hills, who
moved into the area as it opened for development in the
latter half of the twentieth century.8 Migration has also
taken place from the southern plains (present-day India)
into the Tarai in earlier periods as well as in the twentieth
century, though to a lesser degree. According to the 2001
census, hill-origin groups make up roughly one third of
Tarai residents.9
The term "Madhes" is used as a near synonym of Tarai but
it, and "Madhesi" (used for people), have distinct political
connotations.10 Madhes generally denotes the plains of
Tlie Tarai includes twenty districts: from east to west, Jhapa
Morang, Sunsari, Saptari, Siraha, Dhanusha, Mahottari, Sarlahi,
Rautahat, Bara, Parsa, Chitwan, Nawalparasi, Rupandehi,
Kapilbastu, Dang Banke, Bardia Kailali and Kanchanpur.
6 The current boundaries of Nepal, including the extent of its
Tarai territory, were defined in the 1816 Sugauli treaty following
the defeat at the hands of the British East India Company. The
only subsequent change was the UK's return of some areas to
south western Nepal (known as the naya muluk, "new country")
in recognition of its assistance in the 1857 Indian rebellion.
7 In 1954, one third of Nepal's population lived in the Tarai; by
2001 the figure was almost one half. Ram Prakash Yadav,
"Madhesi: A Disadvantaged Social Group", op. cit. All Madhesi
political actors view the census with suspicion, claiming that
pahadis were over-counted (migrants to the Tarai sometimes
being included there, in their original district, as well as in
Kathmandu if they had a home there) while Madhesis lacking
citizenship certificates and land title were undercounted.
8 Gaige, Regionalism, op. cit., p. 2.
9 Yadav, "Madhesi", op. cit.
10 "Madhes" is derived from the Sanskrit madhyadesh, meaning
"middle country". In broad terms it can refer to a region
stretching from the Himalayan foothills to the Vindhya hills
of central India. The narrower reference "Madhes" in current
usage is a relatively recent development.
eastern and central Tarai, while Madhesis have been
defined as non-pahadis with plains languages as their
mother tongue, regardless of their place of birth or
residence.11 The term encompasses both caste Hindus12
and Muslims and, in some definitions, the indigenous Tarai
ethnic groups.13 However, many ethnic groups, especially
the Tharus in mid-western Tarai and Rajbanshis, claim
an independent identity, saying they are the original
inhabitants ofthe Tarai, and Madhesis came in much later
as migrants.14 Most Tharus in the eastern belt, which has a
Madhesi majority, are comfortable being identified as
Even as they accept that some migration did take place,
Madhesis take offence to being called outsiders and see
themselves as people who have always lived in the
region.15 Some argue that hill migrants settled in the Tarai
should be labelled Madhesis as well but most plains people
do not see them, however long resident, as Madhesi. The
term is often distorted as Madise and used pejoratively
for any plainspeople not considered "true Nepalis".16
Madhesis have only recently sought to reclaim the term;
one slogan ofthe movement, which also appeared in
11 Gaige, Regionalism, op. cit, p. 15.
12 The Madhesi andpahadi caste systems are based on the same
principle but are entirely separate and have been formally
recognised as such since the development of Nepal's first
national legal code in 1854. Both theoretically encompass five
categories: four varnas (major castes) - Brahman, Kshatriya,
Vaishya and Shudra - and non-caste, "untouchable" Dalits. In
practice, however, the pahadi system has no Vaishyas and
Shudras while the Madhesi system (like that of Kathmandu's
Newars) is fully elaborated.
13 Crisis Group interviews, Madhesi activists, Janakpur and
Nepalgunj, May-June 2007. Most Madhesi politicians and
academics argue Jam janajatis should be defined as Madhesis
because they live in the Madhes region. Yadav, "Madhesi",
op. cit.
14 Crisis Group interview, Tharu activist, Nepalgunj, 12 June
2007. TTiaru activists say they are the Tarai's original inhabitants
and entirely distinct from Madhesis, and the region should be
called Tharuhat. Bhulai Chaudhary, "The Social structure of
Madhesi community resembles more to the Indian states like
UP and Bihar than any Nepalese society", The Telegraph, March
2006. Tharus are spread across the Tarai. Despite efforts to
develop a unitary identity, there are major linguistic and cultural
differences between the (dominant) mid-western communities
(whose language, Dangaura, is normally recognised as "standard"
Tharu) and those in the east, who speak the languages of the
surrounding Madhesi communities. See Giselle Krauskopff
"An 'Indigenous Minority' in a Border Area: Tharu ethnic
associations, NGOs and the Nepalese state", in Gellner (ed.),
Resistance and the State, op. cit, pp. 199-243.
15 Crisis Group interviews, Madhesi activists and analysts,
Kathmandu, Birgunj and Janakpur, May-June 2007.
16 Other terms such as dhoti (the Indian-origin dress of many
Madhesi men) and bhaiyya (an informal term of address) are
sometimes used insultingly or condescendingly.
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 3
Maithili-language wall-painting in Kathmandu and
elsewhere, was "Say with pride, we are Madhesis".
The Tarai encompasses great linguistic and social diversity.
Madhesis speak Maithili, Bhojpuri, Awadhi and Hindi,
languages also spoken across the border, while ethnic
groups such as the Tharus have their own languages.17
Among Hindus, Brahmans and Kshatriya groups, primarily
Thakurs and Rajputs, are at the top ofthe caste hierarchy,
while the untouchables, Dalits, are considered impure.18
There is also a substantial presence ofthe "middle castes",
like the Yadavs, who are otherwise at the bottom ofthe
caste structure but rank above Dalits. Caste divisions
govern social relations, play a significant role in forming
political choices and often shape economic stratification.
Across castes though, the family and social structure is
deeply patriarchal. Women have little say in decisionmaking, are at the bottom of development indicators
and often have to work for long hours in exploitative
conditions.19 Muslims form about 3 per cent of Nepal's
population and are largely spread across Tarai districts,
especially Rautahat, Banke, Bardia and Kapilbastu.20
Agriculture is still the basis ofthe Tarai economy but the
region has slowly emerged as an industrial belt, especially
the central to eastern corridor between Birgunj and
Maithili is the most widely spoken language in Nepal after
Nepali; along with Bhojpuri and Awadhi, it is closely related
to Hindi and often referred to on the Indian side of the border
as a regional variant. Ethnic groups speak languages from the
Tibeto-Burman, Austro-Asiatic and Dravidian families. See
Novel Kishore Rai and Vishnu S. Rai, "Language issues in
Nepal", in D.B. Gurung (ed.), Nepal Tomorrow: Voices and
Visions (Kathmandu, 2003), pp. 498-499.
18 In the Tarai, significant Dalit communities include Chamars
(1.19 per cent ofthe national population) and Musahars (0.76
per cent). TTiere are also Dushad, Dhobi, JKhatwe, Tamta, Santhal,
Jhangad, Wantar, Kahar, Mali, Dome and Halkhor communities.
For data and other information on Dalit issues, see Jagaran Media
Centre,; Hari Bansh Jha (ed.), Dalit
and Dalit Women of Terai (Kathmandu 2003); and "The Terai
Dalits inNepal", ActionAidNepal, 1999.
19 According to one study, women's literacy rates among Tarai-
origin groups are only one quarter of men's. The female to male
literacy ratio is 28:100, compared to 52:100 amongpahadis. D.
Chhetri, "Educationally Disadvantaged Ethnic Groups of Nepal",
study conducted for the Agricultural Projects Services Centre
and International Development Research Centre, Kathmandu,
1996. Madhesi Dalit women's literacy rates are even lower, as
little as 3.8 per cent in some communities. "Analysis of Caste,
Ethnicity and Gender Data from 2001 Population Census in
Preparation for Poverty Mapping and Wider PRSP Monitoring",
Tanka Prasad Memorial Foundation, Kathmandu, 2005.
20 TTiere is very little academic work on Muslims in Nepal. The
most significant dates to the 1970s: Marc Gaborieau, Minorites
musulmanes dans le royaume hindou du Nepal (Nanterre, 1977)
and, in English "Muslims in the Hindu Kingdom of Nepal",
Contributions to Indian Sociology, l(v) (1972), pp. 84-105.
Biratnagar.21 With a large section of the younger
workforce migrating abroad as labour, the economy relies
heavily on remittances. Madhesi communities are also
divided along class lines. Some Madhesis have profited
from their large landholdings; others have benefited from
high educational qualifications to enter academic positions
in Kathmandu and elsewhere. The experience and form of
discrimination can vary according to class. For example,
a middle-class Madhesi professional may face subtle
insinuations about his national loyalties and find it hard to
rise above a certain level but a lower-class Madhesi will
find it hard to get basic access to opportunities and may
receive lower wages than his co-workers; similarly,
middle-class Madhesis with property or other interests in
Kathmandu have a more positive view ofthe advantages
of retaining an integrated state.
Modern Nepali nationalism, largely conceived and
institutionalised in the latter half of the twentieth
century, was shaped around the monarchy, Hinduism
and the Nepali language. This restrictive concept has
always excluded Madhesis, whose distinct cultures and
cross-border links have led hill Nepalis to view them
with suspicion and derision. The psychological distance
between Madhesis and the Nepali state, as well as other
citizens, was aggravated by discriminatory policies. Some
of this distance is centuries old but much reflects the more
deliberate constructs of Rana and Panchayat policies.22
Few older Madhesis will forget the harsh insistence on
conforming to pahadi cultural norms embodied in the
Panchayat slogan "ek desh, ek bhesh, ek bhasa" ("one
country, one dress, one language"). Even moderate Madhesi
intellectuals describe the cumulative effect as a form of
"internal colonisation" and say that the overall goal oftheir
movement is to achieve "emancipation from slavery".23
Academia and the media have paid scant attention to
Madhesi concerns.24 While the grievances ofthe hill ethnic
21 For a district-wise classification of major industries, see
"Registered Industries in Department of Industries", Federation
of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Kathmandu
22 TTie Ranas ruled Nepal under a hereditary premiership from
1846 to 1951; the partyless Panchayat system, in effect direct
royal rule, was instituted by King Mahendra two years after his
1960 palace coup dismissed Nepal's first elected government.
See Crisis Group Asia Report N°99, Towards a Lasting Peace
inNepal: The Constitutional Issues, 15 June 2005.
23 Crisis Group interview, Dr Hari Bansh Jha, Centre for
Economic and Technical Studies, Lalitpur, 23 May 2007.
24 International attention has been limited: political historians of
the 1950s pay some attention to the Tarai, for example, Joshi
and Rose, Democratic Innovations in Nepal: A Case Study of
Political Acculturation, op. cit.; there has only been one full-
scale book dealing with regional politics, Gaige, Regionalism,
op. cit; there have been some more detailed studies of particular
communities, for example, Arjun Guneratne, Many Tongues,
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 4
groups did command some attention in the democratic
interlude between 1990 and 2002, Madhesi issues were
ignored. Human rights organisations did not take up the
issue of discrimination against Madhesis either,25 while
international development agencies preferred to focus on
hill ethnic groups (janajatis). This lack of interest was one
ofthe spurs to the establishment of organisations such as
the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum.
There are a number of key issues:
Citizenship. The 1964 Citizenship Act and 1990
constitution imposed stringent criteria based on descent.26
Already perceived as Indians, the absence of birth
certificates and other documents to prove their Nepali
origin made it almost impossible for Madhesis to acquire
citizenship. Local officials often demanded land ownership
titles before granting citizenship, which trapped Madhesis
in a vicious cycle, because they could not get land titles
without citizenship certificates. The naturalisation process
required fluent spoken and written Nepali. A government
commission in 1994 reported that almost 3.5 million
Nepalis did not yet have citizenship certificates.27 As
well as not owning land, those without citizenship could
not apply for government jobs, register births or marriages,
get a passport, stand for elections, register a business, get
bank loans or access government benefits. In November
2006, the citizenship law was amended, making anyone
born in Nepal before 1990 and permanently resident
eligible for citizenship. Naturalisation is now open to
people who can speak or read any language used in Nepal.
Language. State monolingualism has contributed to
Madhesi marginalisation, be it from not benefiting from
Nepali-language education, facing disadvantages in
entrance exams and job applications or being unable to
join in national debates. Language has been a politically
sensitive issue since the 1950s, with different groups
demanding the right to communicate in their own
languages and/or Hindi. When some municipalities sought
to introduce local languages as the official language in
their districts, the Supreme Court blocked the move.28
Under-representation. Madhesis are under-represented
in all areas of national life. They occupy less than 12 per
cent of the posts in influential areas, including the
judiciary, executive, legislature, political parties, industry
and civil society, and less than five per cent in international
organisations and multilateral donor projects.29 The
security forces are most actively discriminatory, in
particular the army, which has no senior Madhesi officers.
Although statistics are hard to come by, there is a sense
the post-1990 democratic period made things worse. A
Madhesi commentator points out: "Until 1990 there used
to be at least a dozen or more Madhesi CDOs [Chief
District Officers] at any one time but now you're hard
pushed to find even a few. The palace had a long time to
learn how to co-opt influential regional figures".30
Economic discrimination. The Tarai is the backbone of
the national economy, containing more than 60 per cent
ofthe agricultural land and contributing over two thirds of
the GDP.31 Investment in some infrastructure has been
significant but the focus has been on developing national
communications rather than serving local populations. For
example, the east-west highway, a vital transport artery,
does not link even one Tarai district headquarter directly -
all are on poor feeder roads. Madhesis are poorer and
One People: The Making of Tharu Identity in Nepal (Ithaca,
2002) and JKrauskopff op. cit, on TTiarus; and on religion in the
Tarai, for example, Richard Burghart, The Conditions of
Listening: Essays on Religion, History and Politics in South
Asia (Delhi, 1996). Nepali academics, including Madhesis, have
done little on Madhesi politics, though more on economic and
development issues as well as much work on Maithili literature.
On the Nepali media's lack of coverage of Madhes, see
Dhirendra Premarshi, "Madhesko tutulko matra dekhne nepali
midiya", in Basanta Thapa and Mohan Mainali (eds.), Madhes:
samsya ra sambhavana, op. cit. TTiere are some exceptions: for
example, in March 2005 the Social Science Baha organised a
conference on Madhes, resulting in Thapa and Mafnalis' edited
collection; the Kathmandu-based discussion forum Martin
Chautari has also sustained long-term engagement,
research and debate on Madhesi issues.
25 Crisis Group interviews, Madhesi activists, Rajbiraj, Janakpur
and Birgunj, May-June 2007. Many Madhesis complain national
human rights organisations are staffed by pahadis who are
insensitive to their concerns and do not take up Madhesi issues.
26 Constitution of Nepal 1990, Part 2 (Arts. 8-10).
27 For details see B.C. Upreti, "Nagariktako rajniti", in Madhes:
samasya ra sambhawana, op. cit, p. 108.
TTie decision was given on 1 June 1999, a date still marked as
a black day by ethnic and regional activists. See Karl-Heinz
JCramer, "Resistance and the State inNepal: How representative
is the Nepali state?", in David Gellner (ed.) Resistance and the
State: Nepalese experiences (Delhi, 2003), p. 189.
29 Madhesis were 21 per cent of MPs in 1991, 18 per cent in
1994 and 20 per cent in 1999; in the upper house, representation
hovered between 8 and 15 per cent. Yadav, "Madhesi", op. cit.
In 2000, there were only nine Madhesi senior bureaucrats and
three members of constitutional bodies. Madhesis hold just over
one tenth of senior positions in the public and private sectors.
Govind Neupane, Nepalko jatiya prashna (Kathmandu, 2000),
cited in "Unequal Citizens: Gender, Caste and Ethnic Exclusion
in Nepal - Summary", DFID/World Bank, Kathmandu, 2006, p.
60. In the two decades to 1991, they increased in the civil
service by only 1.4 percentage points (to 8.4 per cent). Shah,
"Social Inclusion", op. cit. In 2001, they were 5.2 per cent ofthe
staff in 91 international organisations and projects implemented
by multilateral agencies. "Directory of the United Nations and
Its related Specialised Agencies in Nepal", UNDP, 2001, cited
in ibid.
30 Crisis Group interview, Kathmandu, 18 June 2007.
31 See Shah "Social Inclusion", op. cit.
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 5
have lower education and health indicators than hill
communities.32 Activists argue that this is an inevitable
result of Kathmandu's stranglehold on decision-making:
even when large revenues are generated locally, they are
disbursed on the whims of capital-centric bureaucrats.
Changing demographic profile. Since the 1950s, the
government has encouraged hill people to migrate to the
plains. Facilitated by malaria eradication programs,
clearing of forests and land resettlement schemes, the
pahadi proportion of the population in the Tarai has
increased five-fold from 1951,33 Hill-origin migrants even
constitute the majority in several districts. Madhesi
activists complain that with their relatively privileged
background and extensive contacts in local administration
due to cultural links, pahadis wield disproportionate
influence. Many in the Kathmandu establishment have
harboured fears that India would use Madhesis to increase
control or take over Nepal; encouraging hill migration was
a move to keep Madhesis, perceived as sympathetic to
India, in check.
Electoral under-representation. Madhesis make a strong
case that they have been systematically under-represented
in the electoral system: (i) the number of parliamentary
seats in the Tarai does not reflect its population;34 (ii)
constituencies have been delimited to dilute the Madhesi
vote (many on a north-south strip pattern that introduces a
sizeable hill electorate); and (iii) a disproportionate number
of pahadis are selected by the main parties for their most
winnable seats (in the 1999 elections, pahadi candidates
won a majority of Tarai seats).35
Literacy among Madhesis is 41 per cent but 68 per cent
among Bahuns and Chhetris (the hill high castes) and Newars.
Ram Prakash Yadav, "Madheshi issues", paper presented at
Jaghrit Nepal, Kathmandu, December 2006. TTiere is disparity
among Madhesis: Musahars, a Dalit community, have the
lowest rate (7.3 per cent). Chhetri, "Educationally Disadvantaged",
op. cit. Tarai districts dominate the list of those furthest from
Millennium Development Goal education targets. Crisis Group
interview, Education for All program expert, Kathmandu, May
2007. A 2002 study found half of Tarai districts but only 29 per
cent of hill districts "worst affected" by poverty. Within the Tarai,
there is higher poverty in Madhesi-majority districts, less in
districts with mors pahadi population. Sharma and Shah "Nepal
Report: The link between poverty and environment" cited in
Shah "Social Inclusion", op. cit. For detailed statistics on health
indicators, see www.unorg.r^/healtiVdistrict-profUes/fndex.htm
33 TTie 1951 census recorded 6 per cent pahadi population in
the Tarai, the 2001 census 33 per cent.
34 MJF leader Upendra Yadav said: "There are 10,000 people
in one constituency in the hills and upper reaches and 100,000
in the Tarai. TTiis goes against the principle of one person, one
vote". Crisis Group interview, Birgunj, 28 June 2007.
35 Yadav, "Madhesi", op. cit. Ofthe 88 seats, 46 were won by
Since 1950, the Tarai has been a major political centre
and a critical base for the mainstream parties. Most Nepali
parties were formed in the Indian cities of Banaras or
Calcutta, and leaders participated in the Indian freedom
struggle.36 With the flow of people and ideas across the
border (slightly less open during the rule of the Ranas
before 1950 but still permeable), the parties naturally
expanded into the Tarai. The insurrection against the
Ranas was waged in Tarai districts with local support.
India was a source of arms and a safe base for activists to
launch cross-border attacks. While the main action was in
the Tarai, the issues and demands were national.37
A distinct, identity-based political consciousness emerged
with formation of the Nepal Tarai Congress under
Vedanand Jha in 1951. Its core demands included an
autonomous Tarai, recognition of Hindi as a national
language and adequate representation in the civil service.38
The government's 1957 imposition of Nepali as the sole
medium of instmction sparked protests and clashes between
the Tarai Congress and nationalists.39 The Tarai Congress
failed to win a single seat in the 1959 parliamentary
elections. The other prominent Madhesi leader during
that period was Raghunath Thakur, who formed the
Madhesi Mukti Andolan and demanded autonomy for
the Tarai, appointment of Madhesis in police, army and
the bureaucracy and landownership rights. Thakur also
campaigned actively in India to win support for the Madhesi
Mainstream leaders, such as the Nepali Congress's B.P.
Koirala, were seen as sympathetic to Madhesis and more
TTie Banaras group included expatriates and exiles connected
with earlier political episodes in Nepal and a large number of
Nepali students. The Nepali Congress (NC) was formed with
the merger of the Banaras-based Nepali National Congress and
the Calcutta-based Nepal Democratic Congress. Joshi and Rose,
op. cit, pp. 55,61,71.
37 TTie anti-Rana agitation picked up in November 1950 after
NC activists attacked Birgunj and captured government offices.
Joshi and Rose, op. cit, pp. 74-75.
38 Gaige, Regionalism, op. cit, p 109.
39 Activists formed "Save Hindi" committees and held mass
protests. The government temporarily abandoned enforcement
ofthe Nepali-only primary education policy but later pushed it
40 Jai Krishna Goit, "History of Terai in Nepal", at madhesi. Thakur
later formed the Madhesi Janakrantikari Dal. Other leaders
who raised the Madhesi issue in the 1960s included Ramji
Mishra, Satyadev Mani Tripathi and Raghunath Raya Yadav.
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 6
willing to respect differences. Those who had long lived
in Patna and Banaras and spoke Hindi publicly probably
did not share the Kathmandu elite's prejudices. However,
King Mahendra viewed language issues as one tool in his
effort to create a hill-based, homogeneous identity.
Nepal's division into five development regions and
fourteen zones, seen as a ploy to maintain pahadi
domination because it forced hill and plains areas into
single units, created discontent but few Madhesi politicians
challenged the state's discriminatory tendencies, instead
mostly allowing themselves to be co-opted at different
levels.41 Still, democratic politics retained strong support.
The Nepali Congress (NC) was the best established party
but there was also a tradition of peasants' and workers'
protest movements.42 An insurrection inspired by India's
Naxalites (South Asia's original Maoists) shook the far
south eastern Jhapa district in the early 1970s.43
Caste has an important role in Tarai politics. The failure
of radical left movements is attributed to the entrenched
caste structure that makes it difficult to mobilise lower
castes in significant numbers.44 During elections in 1959
and more so through the 1990s, caste was significant for
both selecting Madhesi candidates and determining
voting patterns. A former politician of the Communist
Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist, UML) said: "It
all boils down to caste. For example, Yadavs, across
parties, will coalesce if there is a Yadav candidate in the
fray, not only in parliamentary but also civic association
41 Crisis Group interview, Madhesi activist, Rajbiraj, 26 May
2007. Madhesi politicians across the political spectrum claim
the division was unscientific, did not take into account local
aspirations and blocked devolution to the local level. Crisis Group
interview, analyst, Kathmandu, June 2007. Many members of
the politically influential Madhesi landowning elite joined the
royal council or other government bodies, accepted district and
regional administrator positions and had no interest in
destabilising the situation Nevertheless, in the 1980 referendum
on the Panchayat system, there was higher support for multiparty
democracy in the Tarai. See Martin Hoftun, William Raeper and
John Whelpton, People, Politics and Ideology (Kathmandu,
1999), p. 93.
42 Crisis Group interview, Anil Shrestha, CPN(M) Parsa district
in-charge, Birgunj, 28 May 2007.
43 See Crisis Group Report, Nepal's Maoists, op. cit, pp. 8-12.
The Jhapali movement was the breeding ground for several
leftist leaders who later moved in different directions, from R.K.
Mainali (who joined the 2005 royal cabinet) to his brother C.P.
Mainali, who heads the ULF party, a member of the SPA. On
the Jhapali movement, see Deepak Thapa A Kingdom Under
Siege (Kathmandu, 2003), pp. 26-27.
44 Crisis Group interview, Chandrakishore, Director, Centre
for Social Research Birgunj, 1 June 2007. Given the tight
framework of Marxist class analysis, Nepali leftists, like
their Indian counterparts, long refused to recognise caste and
ethnicity as valid categories for political mobilisation.
elections. The non-Yadav castes form another silent front
with the sole aim of ensuring the victory of a non-Yadav".45
B.       PARTIES
The mainstream national political parties. The NC and
UML have strong organisational structures and support
bases in the Tarai. Mainstream leaders have their
constituencies in the Tarai - for example, Prime Mnister
Koirala in Sunsari and UML General Secretary Nepal in
Rautahat. In the first general election (1959) and in post-
1990 elections, a large majority of Madhesis has voted for
the major national parties, especially NC.46 Though they
have never offered a real voice to Madhesis, association
with the large, established parties offers benefits such as
government jobs and contracts, local and national political
access and social status.47 Voting for national parties may
also reflect Madhesis' desire to be part ofthe mainstream
and counter suspicions over their loyalties.48 Several
Madhesis have risen to important leadership positions,
especially in the NC,49 whose old guard won the support
of many Madhesis. With electoral politics not revolving
around issues of Madhesi identity, Madhesi leaders did
not feel the need to raise grievances and concerns within
parties and were content with posts for themselves.
Mainstream parties have also tried to address Madhesi
sensitivities at least on symbolic issues and especially
during campaigns.50 With the recent rise of Madhesi
identity politics, they have begun establishing Madhesi
fronts. The UML has a Loktantrik Madhesi Sangathan
(Democratic Madhesi Organisation), while the Krantikari
Madhesi Morcha is affiliated with Janamorcha.51
45 Crisis Group interview, Rajbiraj, 26 May 2007.
46 The Nepal Tarai Congress failed to win a single seat in
1959. The NSP won between three and six seats in each of the
post-1990 parliamentary elections. For the two main parties
the totals were: 21 UML, 50 NC in 1991; 35 UML, 39 NC in
1994; 18 UML, 59 NC in 1999.
47 Crisis Group interview, NC leader, Rajbiraj, 27 May 2007.
48 Crisis Group interview, Chandrakishore, Birgunj, 1 June
49 Mahendra Narayan Nidhi was a top NC leader during the anti-
Panchayat agitation; Mahant Thakur was prominent through the
1990s in NC party and ministerial positions; other Madhesi
ministers in democratic governments have included Bijay Kumar
Gachhedar, Jay Prakash Prasad Gupta, Ram Baran Yadav
and Bimalendra Nidhi; Chirralekha Yadav has earned respect as
House of Representatives and interim legislature deputy speaker.
50 Hill-origin leaders give speeches in Hindi and other local
languages during village meetings and door-to-door campaigning.
Even conservative nationalists like the Rashtriya Prajatantra
Party use Hindi posters to publicise rallies.
51 The Krantikari Madhesi Morcha (KMM) is led by Ram
Rijhan Yadav, a Madhesi leader from Siraha who had long
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 7
Nepal Sadbhavana Party. The NSP was the only
regional party active in the post-1990 multiparty system.52
Unable to register openly as a political movement, it was
launched as a cultural association, the Nepal Sadbhavana
Parishad, in 1983. Its core aim was political and cultural
rights for Madhesis.53 With introduction ofthe multiparty
system, it became a political party on 17 April 1990,
headed by Gajendra Narayan Singh, a senior democratic
leader from Saptari district, in the eastern Tarai. A longtime NC activist and exile in India for eighteen years, he
was elected to the National Panchayat in 1986 and raised
Madhesi issues.54 Past association with a mainstream
democratic party, extensive links in Kathmandu and Delhi
and a support base in some Tarai districts helped him gain
acceptability in the capital. Key NSP demands have been
reformed citizenship laws; official recognition for Hindi;
a federal system; and greater Madhesi representation in
the civil service and security forces.55 It opposed the 1990
constitution, though working within its framework, and
has consistently demanded a constituent assembly.56
The NSP has district committees across the Tarai but is
stronger in the east.57 During the instability ofthe 1990s,
it allied with all political groups to be in government and
justified this by saying it was trying to make a difference
for Madhesis from within. But this, coupled with inability
to deliver on any of its demands, eroded the party's
credibility in the Tarai. The other top leaders were mostly
been with the MJF and retained this affiliation for some time
while heading the KMM.
52 It gained official recognition despite constitutional restrictions
on regional and ethnic parties and has maintained national party
status by consistently winning over 3 per cent of the national
vote in general elections.
53 Well-known demographer and planner Harka Gurung's
categorisation of Madhesis as people of Indian origin helped
trigger the NSP's formation. Gajendra Narayan Singh was
arrested while campaigning against Gurung's stance; he
established the NSP on his release. Rajendra Mahato,
Hamare prerana ke srot - Karamvir Swargiya Gajendra
Narayan Singh (Kathmandu, 2004).
54 Ibid.
55 See Hoftun et al., op. cit, pp. 330-333. A brief summary
of the party position is at
56 The NSP burnt copies ofthe 1990 constitution and demanded
a new one through the democratic period but it participated
in the political system. "Vartaman samasaya ka ek hi hal,
samvidhan sabha ke liye Janata main chaE, undated NSP(A)
57 The NSP won six seats (4.1 per cent of the vote) in the
first parliamentary elections in 1991, three seats (3.6 per
cent) in 1994 and five seats (3.18 per cent) in 1999. Its
candidates have won seats in Morang, Saptari, Sarlahi,
Nawalparasi and Rupandehi but none from the west, midwest or far-west districts.
upper caste landowners.58 Singh's death in 2002 deprived
the party of its most charismatic face and left it rife with
factionalism and leadership squabbles. When the next
leader, Badri Prasad Mandal, supported the king's 4
October 2002 decision to sack Prime Minister Sher
Bahadur Deuba, the party split, with one faction headed
by Mandal, the other, the NSP(A), a member ofthe SPA,
by Singh's widow, Anandi Devi.59 The two factions
reunited in June 2007 under Anandi Devi.
The Maoists. The Maoists established a Madhesi
Rashtriya Mukti Morcha (Madhesi National Liberation
Front, MRMM) in 2000 in Siliguri, India, under the
leadership of Jai Krishna Goit. This was part of their
strategy to tap into identity politics and win support
among excluded communities. While MRMM leaders
say the goal is an autonomous and discrimination-free
Madhes, its true role is largely subordinate: supporting the
CPN(M) by providing a regional front, developing locally
popular policies, recruiting and organising. The Maoists
emphasise the Madhes's difference from the hills in terms
of social structure and production relations and also stress
that its problems stem from both pahadi, ruling-class
policies and Madhesis' own exploitative feudal and caste
structures.60 MRMM leader Prabhu Sah says: "MRMM is
the true representative ofthe Madhes. The NSP did raise
the issue before us but we put it on the political agenda. We
fought for it and lost our comrades in the armed struggle.
Our contribution must be recognised".61
The Maoists face tough policy decisions. Since the
formation of their autonomous people's governments
they have divided Madhes into two units: Tharuwan (in
the west) and Madhes (in the east). This has angered
Madhesi leaders; the official line has not changed but
Maoists say they are open to revising it, although a unified
province could still incorporate a separate Tharu
administrative unit.62 The Maoists support the right to
self-determination but caution this does not include
secession.63 The MRMM demands proportional Madhesi
The top leaders of the party include Hridayesh Tripathi,
Rajendra Mahato, Sarita Giri and Anil Jha. All four are
upper caste.
59 This was not the NSP's first split. It had earlier seen one
leader, Ram Janam Tiwari, walk out and Hridayesh Tripathi
form a short-lived Nepal Samajwadi Janata Dal before
60 Crisis Group interview, Prabhu Sah MRMM general secretary,
Kathmandu 23 May 2007.
61 Crisis Group interview, Kathmandu, 23 May 2007.
62 Crisis Group interview, Athak, CPN(M) Banke district in-
charge, Nepalgunj, 15 June 2007.
63 Crisis Group interview, Maoist leaders, Kathmandu, 23
May 2007. See also Baburam Bhattarai, "Madhesi prashnalai
heme dhrishtikonham", Lai Madhes, March 2006. Bhattarai
recognises the differences in the population composition of
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page <
inclusion in state institutions; full distribution of citizenship
certificates; use of Maithili, Bhojpuri and Awadhi as
local official languages and protection of other cultural
rights; reinvestment of Madhes tax revenues in the region;
revolutionary land reform; and an end to dowry, women's
exploitation, untouchability and social discrimination.64
Unlike the NSP, it opposes Hindi as an official link
language in the Tarai, calling it an upper caste and
Indian ploy.65
The CPN(M) and MRMM have a common ideological
and policy stand. A few top MRMM leaders are also
influential within the Maoist hierarchy but Front leaders
say they have autonomy to decide on policies and running
of the organisation, and MRMM members are not
necessarily Maoist members.66 The MRMM has a central
committee of 22, three regional coordination committees
and district committees.67 Matrika Prasad Yadav, who
was appointed head ofthe MRMM in 2004, also led the
Madhes autonomous government. However, at the district
level, the head of the MRMM and the people's
government were usually different persons, though there
was close cooperation between the organisations.68
The MRMM has internal tensions, with Sah objecting
to Yadav's dual appointments as head ofthe front and
minister; the rift is also attributed to caste tensions
between members ofthe Yadav caste and non-Yadavs.
In late June 2007, matters came to a head when the
differences became public, and the party took direct
control of the MRMM and appointed a new ad-hoc
central committee. This division has trickled down to
district units. Yadav has the upper-hand in the party
hierarchy and commands more support but Sah has
eastern and western Tarai and says federal units must be based
on language and culture, economic and social situation,
geography and popular will. The Maoists believe regional
and ethnic self-determination is not only inherently justified
but also better for national unity than a top-down, centralised
approach. One Maoist Madhesi leader explains: "Even if you
make Madhes a separate country, it will not be independent
in this age of globalisation. What is needed is autonomy". Crisis
Group interview, Kathmandu, May 2007.
64 Prabhu Sah Janayuddha ra madhesi muktiko karyadisha
(Madhesi Rashtriya Mukti Morcha, 2006), pp. 19-20.
65 Ibid, p. 20.
66 Crisis Group interview, Prabhu Sah Kathmandu, June 2007.
He said: "MRMM's key aim is the national liberation of Madhes;
the CPN(M)'s is communism. Theoretically, all those who
support the MRMM cause may not support Maoist aims. In
practical terms however, there is an overlap, and most MRMM
members are also in the party".
67 The Mithila, Bhojpur and Awadh coordination committee
serves as the link between central and district levels.
68 Crisis Group interview, Maoist leader, Kathmandu, June
pockets of influence and the support of a few senior
Maoist leaders.69
The MRMM has links with all other Maoist fraternal
ethnic organisations. It talks with leaders of these fronts
but mostly within the framework of the party. Any
decision on a common approach is made by the party
leadership in consultation with the front leaders. The
unity ofthe excluded nationalities is a key part of Maoist
strategy. "Even if we get proportional representation, at
best Madhesis are 40 per cent of the population", Sah
says. "If we ally with other communities, our voice can
become decisive".70
Madhesi Janadhikar Forum.71 The MJF was established
in 1997 and initially registered as an NGO. Founding
leaders say the Maoists supported its creation.72 It
developed as a cross-party intellectual forum to discuss
and promote Madhesi concerns, publishing several
research papers and books.73 Other activities included
seminars and training programs to spread awareness,
building an organisation and reaching out to Indian
leaders.74 The MJF emerged as a leading force in the
Madhesi movement and in April 2007 applied to the
Election Commission to register as a political party.75 It
had two main leaders - Jai Prakash Prasad Gupta (a
Koirala protege and former NC minister from Saptari who
adopted the Madhesi cause after falling out of favour with
the party leadership) and Upendra Yadav (a UML
Crisis Group interviews, analysts, local journalists and
Maoist activists, Kathmandu, Janakpur and Birgunj, May-
June 2007.
70 Crisis Group interview, Prabhu Sah, Kathmandu, 23 May
71 The MJF is sometimes referred to in Nepal's English-
language media as the MPRF, reflecting a translation of its
Nepali name (Madhesi People's Rights Forum).
72 Crisis Group interviews, present and former MJF leaders,
Biratnagar, May 2007.
73 Among others, the MJF included Amresh Singh (NC),
Ram Rijhan Yadav (Janamorcha) and independent activists.
Publications include: Upendra Yadav, Nepal ka madhesi
samuday: ek vivechana (Biratnagar, 1997), Nepali janandolan
aur madhesi mukti ka sawal (Biratnagar, 2004), Madhes;
madhesi samasya ra samadhan (Kathmandu 2005), Conspiracy
Against Madhesh (Kathmandu, 2005); Jai Prakash Prasad Gupta,
Hari Bansh Jha, Amresh Narayan Jha and U. Yadav, Nepali
madhesika samasya: char bichar (Kathmandu, 2004); Madhes
bani (Kathmandu, 2003).
74 "Madhesi janadhikar phoramko pratinidhi mandal bharat
bhramanmd\ Madhes Mulyankan, January 2006. A four-
member delegation led by Upendra Yadav visited Delhi, Patna
and Lucknow in November 2005. Yadav has frequently visited
India to rally support.
75 The MJF provided over 32,000 signatures to support its
application; the Election Commission is yet to make a formal
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 9
candidate in the 1991 elections from Sunsari who briefly
joined the Maoists but left them in 2004);76 Gupta quit the
MJF in June 2007. Although it seeks to build a Madhes-
wide base, most leaders come from the eastern Tarai,
and its central committee consists largely of upper and
intermediate caste Hindus, with a predominance of
The MJF identifies internal colonisation as well as regional
and racial discrimination against the Madhes as its key
concerns. Its demands include declaration of a federal
democratic republic with an undivided, autonomous
Madhes, secularism, a proportional electoral system,
citizenship certificates for all Madhesis, inclusion of
Madhesis in all state organs, special schemes for Dalits and
other oppressed Madhesi castes, local promotion and use
of Maithili, Bhojpuri and Awadhi languages, recognition
of Hindi as a lingua franca, end to internal migration of
pahadis to Madhes, investment in Madhes of a substantial
portion of taxes raised in the region, an end of discrimination
against Nepali Muslims and official recognition for
madrasas.78 MJF has also tied Madhesi politics to larger
national developments. It opposed the king's rule and
Maoist violence and called for elections to the constituent
assembly based on equitable population representation
under UN supervision.79
Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha. The JTMM is an
armed Madhesi militant group which has split into three
factions. Former MRMM leader Jai Krishna Goit broke
from the Maoists to set up the organisation in July 2004.
He was unhappy with pahadi domination of party
leadership positions in the Madhes and discrimination
against Madhesis in the People's Liberation Army; he
also resented Matrika Yadav's appointment as the head of
MRMM while he was shifted to the position of senior
adviser.80 In August 2006, he expelled the group's eastern
commander, Nagendra Paswan (Jwala Singh). Goit says
he acted against Singh for indiscipline; Singh, who
complains of Goit's dictatorial tendencies and caste
attitudes,81 established his own JTMM group. Both
factions endorse violence and have been responsible for
abductions, extortion, physical attacks and murders. Still,
neither can be dismissed as purely criminal.
Goit and Singh have political agendas. Goit was a political
activist with the UML before joining the Maoists, and
Singh comes from a journalism background.82 In late June
2007, JTMM(Goit (G)) split again, with eight rebels,
led by Bisfot Singh, forming a splinter faction.83
The Jwala Singh faction claims to have an organisation
modelled on the Maoists, with a central committee, central
and district level Tarai governments, a Tarai Liberation
Army and district committees across the region.84 Goit
has a central committee, East and West Tarai Regional
Bureaus, village, ward and cell committees, and a parallel
military organisation. For both factions, it is hard to
confirm how their claims translate into ground reality,
although they have certainly recruited members and
expanded significantly.
Goit's faction identifies the Tarai issue as one of
colonialism and has demanded independence. He refuses
to call himself a Nepali citizen and believes that Nepal
has no legal claim to Tarai.85 Goit has also demanded that
all administrative posts in Tarai be filled by Madhesis and
the government return the tax revenues raised from the
region back to the people.
Jwala Singh also questions Nepal's historical claim to
the   Tarai.86   He   identifies   three   main   issues:   the
See "Madhes Violence: The Identity Clash in Nepal", Conflict
Study Centre, Kathmandu, 30 January 2007. Yadav also attended
the Madhesi Rashtriya Mukti Morcha's first national convention
on 10-11 July 2003. MRMVL press statement, 30 July 2003.
Upendra Yadav, Matrika Yadav and Suresh Ale Magar were
arrested in Delhi in February 2004. While Matrika Yadav and Ale
Magar were quietly handed over to Nepali authorities, Upendra
Yadav was released within a few months. The Maoists accuse
him of selling out to the Indian establishment and acting as an
informer. He has spent most of his time after release in India
especially Bihar, although no one has evidence, some suspect that
he developed ties with leaders of the Hindu right (including the
then-governing BJP that ordered his release), other politicians and
possibly intelligence agents. Crisis Group interview, former MJF
leader, Biratnagar, 24 May 2007.
77 Crisis Group interviews, MJF leaders, various districts,
May-June 2007.
78 MJF manifesto, 1997.
79 Resolution of MJF central committee, 19 October 2005,
Birgunj, reprinted in Madhes Mulyankan, January 2006.
Crisis Group interview, analyst, Kathmandu, May 2007.
81 Crisis Group interview, Jwala Singh, May 2007.
82 Interview with Jwala Singh, INSEC Online, at
Jwala Singh joined the Maoist parliamentary front Samyukta
Janamorcha Nepal (United People's Front) as Siraha district
secretary in 1993. He was also a reporter with the Maoist
weekly Janadesh and an office-bearer of the Federation of
Nepalese Journalists, Siraha.
83 "JTMM(G) also splits", The Kathmandu Post, 27 June
2007. Bisfot Singh accused Goit of seeking personal benefits
and deserting the Madhes cause.
84 Crisis Group interview, Jwala Singh, May 2007.
85 Crisis Group interview, Jai Krishna Goit, June 2007. Goit
asserted that the Tarai became a part of Nepal after 1816 and
1860 treaties between British India and Nepal which were
annulled after the Indo-Nepal treaty of 1950. This leaves Nepal,
in his view, with no legal claim over the Tarai.
86 Crisis Group interview, Jwala Singh, May 2007.
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Page 10
authoritarian pahadi state and its colonial exploitation of
Madhes and Madhesis, class differences and caste
differences.87 He believes the Madhesi movement has
failed until now because its leaders have not picked up
guns, saying: "First, the colonial problem needs to be
solved through an armed struggle - our main aim is
independence. Once we are free from pahadi rule, we
can solve the other problems".88 However, JTMM(Jwala
Singh (JS)) sympathisers say this is a bargaining
position; Singh recognises that independence may not be
feasible and would be satisfied with a unified Madhes
province within Nepal.89 He has also asked for a fair
electoral system, a fresh census conducted in Madhes by
Madhesis, appointment of only Madhesis in citizenship
distribution teams, an end to Maoist fundraising and the
return of seized property, as well as for all revenue
collected from the Tarai to be spent in the region.90
Fringe groups/local alliances. Some dozen armed groups
in the Tarai claim to be fighting for the Madhes cause,
including both JTMM factions.91 Little is known about
them, and residents view them as opportunistic, making
the most of weak law and order. Their activities are largely
criminal, and most have not issued political manifestos.
The Madhesi Tigers, formed almost a decade back but
only recently again active, are believed to be led by Praful
Yadav.92 Activities include abductions and killings,
especially in Sunsari, Saptari and Siraha. The Tigers have
clashed with the security forces in Saptari.93 The Nepal
Defence Army supports a Hindu kingdom in Nepal. It
may have royal links but it is unlikely Indian Hindutva
(militant Hindu) organisations actively support it.94
The Chure Bhawar Ekta Samaj (CBES) was set up by
pahadis in the eastern Madhes, primarily those living
around or north of the main highway, to protect their
interests against growing Madhesi mobilisation. Its
central committee is reportedly dominated by UML-
affiliated persons;95 others point to strong ties with the NC
Interview with Jwala Singh, INSEC Online, op. cit.
88 Crisis Group interview, Jwala Singh May 2007.
89 Crisis Group interviews, Janakpur, May 2007.
90 Crisis Group interview, Jwala Singh May 2007.
91 Crisis Group interview, Chandrakishore, Birgunj, 1 June 2007.
92 Crisis Group interviews, Madhesi activists, Biratnagar,
Rajbiraj and Lahan, May 2007.
93 For example, two Madhesi Tigers activists were killed in a 4
May 2007 clash in Saptari. "Saptari, Siraha affected by
Madhesi Tiger Terai strike",, 5 May 2007.
94 Crisis Group interview, RSS activist, Raxaul, June 2007.
Hindu fundamentalists in India dismiss the Nepal Defence
Army as insignificant.
95 A well-informed observer says nine of fourteen members
are UML cadres. Crisis Group interview, Kathmandu, 18
June 2007.
and the fact that there are ex-servicemen in its ranks.96
Most Madhesis believe their opponents (including
mainstream parties, state administration and security
forces) encouraged and support it97 The government has
in effect recognised it by holding two rounds of formal
talks with its representatives.98
Hindu and royalist groups. The relationship between
religion, royalism and Madhesi activism is complex and
sometimes contradictory. Madhesi intellectuals quickly
point out that King Mahendra's palace-led Panchayat
system, instituted in 1962, was most responsible for
institutionalising discrimination and actively imposing
unitary, pahadi, cultural norms; they also note King
Birendra repeatedly used residual powers even in the
democratic period to block citizenship reform" The MJF
and JTMM agree on secularism and fighting for a federal
republic.100 The MJF's letter introducing its demands for
the 1 June 2007 talks with the government was strongly
anti-palace, accusing the NC, UML and CPN(M) of
conspiring to retain a ceremonial monarchy, contrary to
the wishes ofthe people's movement.101 The Tarai seems
to have retained some affection for the monarchy,
however; Gyanendra attracted larger crowds for his tours
there than elsewhere; some towns had relatively high
turnout in the palace-backed, party-boycotted February
2006 municipal elections; and local Madhesi elites have
kept ties to the palace.102
While all Madhesi political formations point to the need
to address caste exploitation, the Maoist MRMM and
JTMM(JS) identify Hindu Madhesi caste structures as
one of the root causes of underdevelopment. For most
Crisis Group interview, analyst, Kathmandu, June 2007.
97 Crisis Group interviews, eastern Tarai districts, May-June
98 See "Govt, Chure Samaj start second round of talks",, 17 June 2007.
99 For details on the legislation's progress, see B.C. Upreti,
"Nagariktako rajniti", inMadhes, op. cit, pp. 108-109.
100 On secularism, MJF manifesto, 1997; Crisis Group
interview, Jwala Singh May 2007. On anti-monarchism, MJF
leader Upendra Yadav's Conspiracy Against Madhesh, op.
cit., published in the wake of Gyanendra's takeover, was a
blistering critique, whose two sections were "Royal regression
and the future of democracy" and "Madhesh: a colony of
terror under monarchy of Nepal".
101 MJF letter to government talks team, 1 June 2007.
102 On crowds, Crisis Group interview, Madhesi civil
society activist, Kathmandu, May 2007. On the elections,
see "Poor turnout, hundreds arrested, one shot dead as
municipal polls end", The Kathmandu Post, 8 February
2006. On palace ties, Crisis Group interview, Vijay Kanta
Kama, Jaghrit, Lalitpur, May 2007. He suggested that Tarai
feudal elites may have survived the conflict more easily
than their hill counterparts because the Maoists were never
strong enough to uproot them entirely.
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 11
other politicians (apart from Dalit activists), caste is of
interest mainly as a potential basis for securing votes,
and few complain about caste-based inequities.
Although Madhesi and pahadi caste structures are
separate, some observers suggest the shared adherence
to mainstream Hinduism is one ofthe more solid bonds
between hill and plains dwellers.103 The Madhesi
movement did have some Hindu strands: resentment
against the government's May 2007 secularism
declaration was used as a rallying call; some MJF
central committee members have past associations with
Hindutva groups; the MJF has also used inflammatory
Hindu imagery in publicity.104 Smaller sects and
popular gurus may also have helped rally anti-secular
opinion.105 Although religious sentiment does not
necessarily translate into Hindu nationalism or
monarchism, there may be more sympathy for Hindu
politics than Madhesi leaders and secular-oriented
commentators would like to admit.106
Pro-palace and active Hindutva groups also have
multifaceted agendas. For some formerly prominent
royalist politicians, active support of the Madhesi
movement may have been an opportunity for
rehabilitation as much as a deliberate plan to boost the
king. A Birgunj-based analyst said:
Royalists used a movement for social justice to gain
social acceptability and get rehabilitated back in
local politics after having been marginalised. It is
also useful to remember that royalist politicians
have other interests, too. Just because they are pro-
palace does not mean everything they do is for the
king. But there was definitely an element which
wanted to create anarchy and destabilise the
Some smaller, moderately royalist parties have a small
base in some Tarai pockets.108 Some Hindu political
organisations, generally with Indian origins or links, have
long been present in Nepal, including the Shiv Sena Nepal,
the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu
Mahasangh.109 Newer organisations have also sprung up,
although some may exist largely on paper.110
Many Madhesi commentators and activists stress the
importance of religious ties, although most caution that these
do not necessarily imply political support for the palace. Crisis
Group interviews, May-June 2007.
104 On resentment, Crisis Group interviews, Madhesi activists,
May 2007. Much opposition centres on lack of consultation as
much as the announcement, many arguing the government
should have deferred the issue to the constituent assembly. On
Hindutva associations, Crisis Group interviews, independent
Madhesi analysts, local journalists, Kathmandu, Birgunj and
Janakpur, May-June 2007. On inflammatory publicity, a magazine
sympathetic to MJF carried an image of a Hindu rioter from the
2002 Gujarat pogrom on its back cover (bizarrely juxtaposed
with a Gandhi quote), Madhes Mulyankan, January 2006.
105 For example, Sai Baba, Kripali Ji Maharaj, Radhe Radhe
and other smaller, independent sects, organisations and
religious leaders. Crisis Group interview, analyst, Kathmandu,
May 2007.
106 Crisis Group interview, analyst, Kathmandu, June 2007,
Some point out that even Muslim maulvis (clerics) found royal
Hinduism comfortable to live with because they knew where
they were in Koranic terms - in a land of non-believers.
Crisis Group interview, Chandrakishore, Birgunj, 1 June
108 For example, the Rashtriya Janashakti Party's Renu Yadav
is an MP for Saptari. She was formerly with the Rashtriya
Prajatantra Party.
109 The Shiv Sena Nepal participated in elections in the 1990s
but had a negligible vote and failed to win a single seat. The
Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh is the Nepal wing of the Indian
Hindu extremist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
(RSS) and maintains close links with it and Vishwa Hindu
Parishad (VHP). Theoretically, Vishwa Hindu Mahasangh
(VHM) is a global Hindu organisation and VHP is affiliated
with it; in practice, VHM relies almost wholly on VHP and
other Indian Hindutva leaders.
110 For example, Madhesi Hindu Samaj, Arjun Shakti Kendra,
Ram Shakti Dal and Pashupati Lathi Samiti but little is known
about them.
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 12
A.    Violence in the Tarai
Madhesi discontent had been rising since it became
apparent the April 2006 people's movement would not
lead to a rapid addressing oftheir grievances. Federalism
emerged as a key demand of all Madhesi groups; armed
outfits increased their activities; and Maoist-Madhesi
tensions escalated, in some cases violently. The parties,
happy to be back in power and concentrating on talks
with the Maoists, paid little attention to Madhesi issues or
political dynamics.111 When the draft interim constitution
- prepared by the SPA and Maoists without broad
consultation112 - became public in December 2006, it
prompted protests. Madhesi groups, as well as Madhesi
MPs across party lines, objected to silence on federalism
and what they saw as an unfair electoral system.113
The first flashpoint was in Nepalgunj, where the NSP had
called a strike. The administration tried to block the march;
at the same time, pahadis attacked Madhesi-owned shops
in the heart of town. There were reports of retaliation by
Madhesis but pahadi violence and police complicity were
captured on camera. A DVD showing the anti-Madhesi
rampage was widely circulated, fuelling anger and raising
The promulgation ofthe interim constitution spurred 21
days of protests in January-February 2007. On 16 January,
MJF leaders were arrested while burning copies of the
document in Kathmandu. Three days later, MJF activists
protesting the arrests in Lahan, Siraha district, clashed with
Maoists, who shot dead Ramesh Kumar Mahato, a young
MJF activist. On 20 January, as the MJF demanded action
against the perpetrator and compensation, Maoist cadres
seized his body and cremated it. The MJF stepped up
protests against both the government, for inaction, and the
Maoists, whose leaders grudgingly and belatedly
apologised. The escalation of tensions surprised even
those who led the movement. "Everyone, including
Madhesi leaders, failed to read the intensity of [popular
sentiment]", commented an Indian diplomat who followed
events closely. "Even when Upendra Yadav and his
colleagues burned the interim constitution, they did not
quite realise what they were doing - and when the NSP
called a bandh [strike], its own leaders were shocked at its
Mahato's killing was the spark for prolonged agitation.
Madhesi activists called for a general strike in the Tarai
and organised widespread protests; the government
responded with curfews and an increased police presence.
On 25 January, the MJF announced it would continue the
protests indefinitely until the interim constitution was
amended. Activists looted government offices, police posts,
banks, mainstream parties' district offices and media
organisations; in a move reminiscent ofthe Maoists' anti-
monarchy actions during the April 2006 movement, they
vandalised statues of pahadi political leaders. The blocking
of Kathmandu's key supply routes had a more direct
impact, leading to travel dismption, price rises and a petrol
shortage. Although there were sporadic attacks on Tarai-
based pahadis, communalism was not a defining feature
ofthe unrest. The state response was harsh: police shot
dead more than 30 people and wounded 800.116
The protests initially centred around Lahan and Janakpur
but soon spread to all other major Tarai towns. The MJF
organised some demonstrations but others were
spontaneous or organised by local groups.117 These
mobilised people, provided support to the injured and
helped coordinate protests.118 Malangwa, Birgunj, Lahan
and Biratnagar saw major clashes, hi some cases, agitators
turned their ire on journalists, blaming them for not
covering the movement sufficiently.119
Suman Pradhan, "Tarai tinderbox", Nepali Times, 11 August
112 See Crisis Group Report, Nepal's Constitutional Process,
op. cit, pp. 5-10,23-26.
113 The interim constitution (Art. 63(3)) provided for a 425-
member constituent assembly with 205 elected by a first-past-
the-post system, 204 elected by proportional representation and
sixteen "distinguished persons" selected by the interim council
of ministers. Madhesi groups' basic objection is that
electoral constituencies are not delineated by equitable
population representation.
114 Crisis Group interview, human rights activist and eyewitness,
Nepalgunj, 12 June 2007. Maoists say they created the DVD to
expose the administration's attitude towards Madhesis but NSP
and MJF leaders used it to support their cause - something that
still rankles with the Maoists. Crisis Group interviews, Maoist
activists, May-June 2007.
Crisis Group interview, Kathmandu, 31 May 2007.
116 The number of people killed remains unclear. Human rights
organisations speak of 27, while Madhesi leaders say 40 or 42.
Most Madhesis accept the highest figure, although around a
dozen ofthe deaths may have come in clashes between Madhesi
activists rather from police fire. Crisis Group interviews,
Kathmandu, Biratnagar, Janakpur and Birgunj, May-June 2007.
117 Crisis Group interviews, Madhesi activists, Birgunj and
Rajbiraj, May 2007.
118 Crisis Group interview, Rajeev Jha, Tarai Samrakshan
Samiti (TSS), Janakpur, 29 May 2007. Organisations like the
TSS kept in touch with all protesting groups, provided some
logistical support, took injured to the hospital and collected
donations for medical care.
1:9 For example, protestors vandalised the Birgunj FM station and
the Federation of Nepalese Journalists' office; reporters covering
demonstrations in Biratnagar, Birgunj, Tnaruwa, Lahan, Bara and
Saptari were threatened. Journalists say they covered the
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Page 13
The MJF emerged as the movement's leading group but
the protests lacked clear planning. "It was Lahan that
created Upendra, not the other way around", commented
one observer.120 Caught off-guard by its sudden
prominence, the MJF was not prepared to make the most
ofthe public support. A district level leader admitted:
We didn't know how to handle the movement. We
had four to six leaders and about 20 to 30 activists
in each district, who had to suddenly deal with
thousands of protestors. We had neither the
organisation nor the leadership to channel this
energy for the benefit of our party or to keep in
touch with people who might have turned into long-
term supporters.121
Participation in the protests cut across political divides;
activists of other groups, from NC and UML to both
JTMM factions, played a major role. Madhesis' longstanding grievances, aggravated by exclusion from the
peace process, even spurred CPN(M) cadres to join in,
despite the anti-Maoist theme of many protests.122
B.    The Response
The intensity and duration of the protests took the
government by surprise. It had ignored similar demands
by Madhesi MPs across party lines and did not negotiate
with Madhesi groups when trouble was brewing. Instead,
it treated the protests as a law and order problem, arresting
leaders, imposing curfews and authorising police to shoot
violent protestors. Many mainstream politicians were
happy to see a militant Tarai force emerge to challenge
the Maoists.123 Only when they themselves became targets
and the unrest showed no signs of abating did SPA leaders
start looking for a political solution. The Maoists dismissed
the MJF and JTMM as criminals, claiming royalists and
Hindu fundamentalists from India were driving the
movement. They urged the government not to grant it
legitimacy through negotiations and consistently argued
that the newly prominent activists were "irresponsible"
and lacked the "moral authority" to represent Madhesis.124
After a week of protests, Prime Mnister Koirala, in a 31
January televised address, invited protesting groups to
negotiations, promised to increase electoral seats in the Tarai
and announced a commitment to federalism.125 On 2
February, the government set up a ministerial-level talks
team.126 However, Koirala misjudged the popular mood.
MJF-led protestors rejected the offer and complained he did
not empathise with their movement. Many Madhesis felt
that the speech was high-handed and unilateral and did not
recognise Madhesi demands as rights that were due to them.
A week later, as the situation deteriorated further, Koirala
made a second address, recognising the contribution of
Madhesis to strengthening democracy, expressing regret
over loss of life127 and promising electoral representation
and inclusion of marginalised groups in state bodies on a
proportional basis.
The MJF cautiously welcomed this announcement,
suspending its agitation for ten days to allow the
government to implement its promises but setting
preconditions for talks: the home minister's resignation,
action against those responsible for the killings and a
judicial commission to examine the government's
behaviour. The JTMM(JS) conditionally agreed to talks
but the JIMM(Goit) (then the much stronger faction)
rejected the offer. The government prevaricated. It
delayed amending the constitution, backed the home
minister and did not even address uncontroversial
demands such as compensating victims. The promised
judicial commission - which, given the tradition of such
enquiries in Nepal, would probably have been a painless
way of deferring judgement on tricky issues - was only
formed months later and dominated by establishment
figures, including the police chief, whose own
force's actions are under investigation.128 There were no
talks with the JTMM(JS).129
movement consistently but sometimes missed information about
activities in villages where there were no reporters. Crisis Group
interview, journalist, Biratnagar, 25 May 2007. See also
"IFJ Outraged Over Violence Against Journalists During
Demonstrations in Nepal", 30 January 2007, and "Journalists
Attacked and Work Destroyed in Nepal", 28 February 2007,
International Federation of Journalists press releases.
120 Crisis Group interview, Kathmandu, 31 May 2007.
121 Crisis Group interview, MJF leader, June 2007.
122 Madhesi Maoist activists not only participated but in some
cases actively mobilised people to join the movement. One said:
"This is what we had been fighting for all along - a Madhesi
consciousness. I see no contradiction in being a Maoist and a
part ofthe agitation". Crisis Group interview, Maoist district
activists, Parsa, 3 June 2007.
123 Crisis Group interviews, NC leaders, Biratnagar and
Rajbiraj, May 2007.
Crisis Group interview, Prabhu Sah MRMM Kathmandu,
23 May 2007. Maoists see themselves as the true representatives
of the Madhesi people, having forcefully raised Madhesi issues
and shed blood while fighting for them.
125 A translation of the address was published in The Rising
Nepal, 1 February 2007.
126 It was headed by NC's Mahant Thakur; the other members
were NC(D)'s Gyanendra Bahadur Karki and UML's Rajendra
127 A translation of the address was published in The Rising
Nepal, 8 February 2007.
128 The cabinet formed the commission on 25 May 2007, with
Supreme Court Justice Khifraj Regmi as its head; other members
are the eastern regional police chief Rabindra Pratap Shah;
Deputy Attorney General Rajnarayan Pathak; National
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 14
The movement prompted mixed reactions outside the
Tarai, including in /?a/2at/z'-dominated civil society.
Although the need for a more inclusive state is now a
rhetorical commonplace, Madhesi militancy prompted
fears and resentment, often reinforcing old prejudices.
Despite concern for a backlash from other communities
feeling threatened by Madhesi strength, most marginalised
communities expressed support and emphasised they
shared the demand for federalism and proportional
representation. Civil society groups visited the troubled
districts, agreed the agitation was mostly spontaneous and
urged the government to address legitimate demands.130
Media attention was finally drawn to Madhesi concerns,
prompting some sympathetic reporting. However, much
pahadi reaction mirrored the party response. While some
human rights organisations accused the government of
excessive force, some Madhesi commentators charged
/?a/2at/z-dominated human rights groups and the media
with bias.131 Many Kathmandu residents vociferously
opposed the movement, believing it had been stirred up
by "regressive elements" or was an Indian conspiracy
to undermine Nepal's sovereignty.132
There was a cross-border dimension. Indian political and
social groups, especially in Jogbani and Raxaul, organised
camps to give shelter and medical care to the injured.133
Many politicians were quietly supportive, with some
border legislators making public statements in favour of
Madhesi rights and others organising rallies on the Indian
side.134 Some members of legislative assemblies (MLAs)
are reported to have told district administrators not to
lean too heavily on Madhesi activists, both armed and
Maoist-MJF tensions continued to increase and turned
violent in Gaur on 21 March, when the MRMM
organised a mass meeting at the same time and venue as
the MJF. MJF activists allegedly destroyed the MRMM
stage, provoking a similar response.136 After initially
fleeing, MJF partisans attacked the outnumbered Maoists,
killing 27. Some human rights activists allege that five
women were raped and mutilated and accuse the MJF of
hiring professional killers.137 Other assessments, including
the UN report, say there were no rapes and blame the
police for not enforcing order, the Maoists for
provocation and the MJF for preparing and resorting to
violence. Several victims were summarily executed.
There may have been a caste component to the clash, for
Gaur has sizeable Rajput and Yadav populations. Angry
with the Maoists for mobilising lower castes, they used
this as an opportunity to assert local dominance.138 The
massacre has left the MJF with a legitimacy crisis and
encouraged the Maoists to build a more organised
militant force in the Tarai.
Investigation Department deputy head Sukhchandra Jha and
Siraha district court judge Sahadev Bastola.
129 The JTMM(JS) had declared a ceasefire and set up a talks
committee after the prime minister's address but said the
government did not reciprocate. Jwala Singh said: "It did not
respond to our efforts and instead continued with their strategy
of using force. They filed cases against our activists and did
not try to engage with us". Crisis Group interview, May 2007.
130 See, for example, Citizens' Movement for Democracy and
Peace, press statement on goodwill visit to the Tarai, 26 January
2007, at
131 Paramendra Bhagat, "The Madhesi Movement in Nepal is
Lonely", American Chronicle, 12 March 2007.
132 Crisis Group interviews, Kathmandu January-February 2007.
133 Crisis Group interviews, Madhesi activists, Biratnagar and
Birgunj, May 2007.
134 Crisis Group interviews, Raxaul and Patna, June 2007.
Sitamarhi MLA Shahid Ali Khan gave an interview to local
FM stations in the Tarai supporting the "Madhesi straggle for
dignity". Anil Sinha ofthe Bharatiya Janata Party organised a
protest march in Raxaul and urged the government to support
protestors more actively.
Crisis Group interview, civil society activist, Janakpur,
May 2007. There appears to be a basic protocol, and Madhesi
leaders do not cany arms in India.
136 "Findings of OHCHR-Nepal's Investigations into the 21
March killings in Gaur and Surrounding Villages", United
Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,
April 2007, at
137 Interview with Mathura Shrestha,, 26
March 2007.
138 Crisis Group interview, NSP leader, Kathmandu, May 2007.
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Page 15
A.    The Lie of the Land
When the government dragged its feet in the wake ofthe
second prime ministerial announcement, the MJF resumed
its agitation and added new demands, such as autonomy
for the Tarai and the appointment of Madhesis as chief
district officers in all Tarai districts.139 Madhesi support
for a fully autonomous and unified Madhes government
appears to have increased significantly.140 With no talks
between the government and JTMM, options for bringing
armed groups into the political process were closed. The
Tarai's political landscape became characterised by
frequent MJF protests and strikes, Maoist-MJF clashes,
occasional JTMM attacks on government posts and killings
of political rivals.
The movement threw up new forces and leaders.
Mainstream parties can no longer rely on token Madhesi
faces to appear inclusive. To retain support they must make
fundamental changes in their approach. The government
will have to address Madhesi grievances seriously, which
means not only announcing new policies but also
embarking on a slow, painful and complex process of
institutional change across state institutions. The MJF is on
the defensive after the Gaur massacre; NC and UML are
yet to carve out a new strategy; the Maoists have lost
support; and both JTMM factions remain underground.
The shape of politics may be changing, with a rise in
identity-driven allegiances (be they Madhesi vs. pahadi or
caste- and religion-based) and most players considering
new alliances.
Observations in this section are based mainly on Crisis Group
interviews in Morang, Dhanusha, Saptari, Siraha, Parsa, Banke
and Kathmandu, May-June 2007; no interviews were conducted
in far-west and west Tarai. Interviewees included representatives
of all political parties and other organisations, including armed
groups; government officials and security forces; journalists,
human rights activists and civil society; Tharu and Muslim
activists; businesspeople, trade unionists and other residents.
140 Crisis Group interviews, May-June 2007. Across the
eastern Tarai, support has grown for a unitary "Madhes sarkar
[government]". All major Madhesi political groups and
mainstream party activists say this is the only way to gain
control of their own political affairs and economic resources,
and any other form of federalism would mean pahadi
dominance. However, some intellectuals point to opposition
within the Tarai (especially, but not exclusively, from Tharus)
and possible economic difficulties. "I would prefer to build
mutually beneficial integrative mechanisms with the hills than
go it alone", a Birgunj-based academic said. Crisis Group
interview, Birgunj, May 2007.
Trust deficit. The government is intensely distrusted
throughout the Tarai. Many Madhesis are convinced it
wants only to suppress protests, manipulate, bribe or split
parties, distract from the real issues and craft short-term
compromises. They feel mainstream parties encouraged
the movement to counter the Maoists but then became
scared of its strength and built up opponents like the
CBES. While the government moved quickly to declare a
murdered pahadi engineer a martyr, the lack of similar
recognition and compensation for the dozens of Madhesi
dead suggested to many that a pahadfs life was worth
more - and the home minister's career was more
important than Madhesis' grievances.141 Pahadis alarmed
by Madhesis' confident, sometimes militant demands
have been severely disappointed by the state's failure to
maintain law and order and offer a sense of security.142
Confrontational mood. There is a general sense that
further confrontation - in the form of a rekindled agitation
or, more probably, sporadic violent incidents - will be hard
to avoid. Most people are keen on constituent assembly
elections but few believe they are likely to happen, mainly
because they believe the major parties do not want them.
If they occur, they will be considered meaningless if
Madhesi issues have not been addressed. Madhesis across
the political spectrum feel another round of agitation is
necessary. "This is only the beginning ofthe struggle. We
have woken up after so long and will not give in so easily.
They do not want to share power and go beyond tokenism",
says a Madhesi activist.143
Madhesis feel they are viewed with suspicion more than
ever and that discrimination in the hills has increased.144
Although most Madhesis do not want to turn the
movement into a communal conflict, even some moderates
now say privately that pahadis should leave the Tarai,
even those who have lived there for generations. A civil
society activist in Birgunj said: "They settled here as a
The engineer's name was Nabaraj Bista: "Govt declares
Bista martyr",, 21 May 2007. Crisis Group
interviews, Madhesi activists, Biratnagar, Rajbiraj, Lahan,
Birgunj, Nepalgunj and Kathmandu, May-June 2007.
142 Crisis Group interview, factory owner, Birgunj, 1 June 2007.
Many upper and middle-class pahadis say firm government
security action could quickly contain the Madhesi movement.
143 Crisis Group interview, Abdul Sattar Ansari, Biratnagar,
25 May 2007.
144 Crisis Group interview, hotel owner, Rajbiraj, 3 June 2007.
Also see CK. Lai, "Playing with matches", Nepali Times, 8
June 2007. Crisis Group interviews, Rajbiraj and Janakpur,
May-June 2007. Anecdotal evidence suggests Madhesis are
increasingly being harassed in the hills. "Their insecurity has
turned into aggressiveness in areas where they are strong. But
pahadis should know they cannot get away with treating
Madhesis like dirt, here or in the hills. We will give it back", a
bus driver said.
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 16
part of a systematic plan. We need to drive some of them
out not as much to decrease the numbers as to pass on a
strong message. The rules ofthe game have changed and
they can no longer take us for granted".145 While the general
sentiment is that MJF missed the moment by not talking
to the government in February, a few criticise Upendra
Yadav for compromising prematurely; some feel that if
they had kept on after the second prime ministerial address,
their demands would have been fulfilled.146
Acceptance of armed action. Although open support for
armed action remains limited, many moderates quietly
condone it, arguing it is an understandable last resort
when all other means of being heard have failed. Most
Madhesis see both JTMM factions as retaining a political
core but dismiss other armed groups as criminals.147 A
Janakpur-based civil society activist said: "I don't support
violence but I can understand why they're doing it. They
have played an important role. If it was not for them, the
government would have suppressed the movement long
back".148 Many still view the armed groups positively for
standing up to the Maoists and breaking their culture of
fear. At the same time, they point to Maoist "success" as
paving the way for the groups' rise and acceptance.149
Constant communication with the mainstream means the
armed groups are not beyond the pale. Moderates worry
that a resort to arms could degenerate into violence for
its own sake and criminality, which would increase
Madhesis' problems by encouraging the government to
crack down, but still feel that "yah hamare pahalwan
ham" ("these are our fighters").150 Even NC activists
admit there is a degree of sympathy for armed groups.151
Radicalisation is not yet irreversible but the space for
moderation is being squeezed.
Crisis Group interview, 1 June 2007.
146 Crisis Group interview, MJF sympathisers, Rajbiraj and
Lahan, May-June 2007.
147 Crisis Group interviews, May-June 2007. There is concern
about JTMM criminal activities and members' lack of political
training but leaders (especially Goit, who is often referred to by
the respectful term netaji) tend to be seen as following a more or
less coherent political agenda.
148 Crisis Group interview, 29 May 2007.
149 Crisis Group interviews, Biratnagar, Janakpur, Rajbiraj and
Nepalgunj, May-June 2007. Armed group leaders, sympathisers
and non-violent moderates all say the Maoist example has been
the main spur for Madhesi militants. An analyst said: "The
general feeling is that if the Maoists can get 83 MPs and five
ministers through the sheer power of the gun, what is wrong if
other groups with more genuine causes take the armed route?"
150 Crisis Group interviews, NSP leaders, Kathmandu and
Rajbiraj, May 2007.
151 Crisis Group interview, NC leader, Janakpur, July 2007.
Caste politics. Caste has always been a feature of politics
in the Tarai and elsewhere. However, most politicians and
observers assume it will play a growing role in shaping
future voting patterns. It is already a feature of agitation
politics but fault lines have been partly suppressed by
shared interests in countering pahadi domination. In the
MRMM, MJF and JTMM(G), the predominance of Yadav
leaders has bred resentment, especially among non-Yadav
intermediate and lower castes who feel relatively more
alienated from the movement. JTMM(JS) includes a large
number of Dalits and Brahmans. "People relate to party
leaders oftheir own caste. It's natural for Yadavs to
dominate given the large size of their community", says
an MJF leader.152 Many Brahmans worry that proportional
representation will weaken them if it means guaranteed
votes for other, numerically superior, castes. Caste loyalties
can trump party loyalties.153
The movement forced the political class, civil society and
the international community to pay attention to Madhesi
grievances. Mainstream actors, including the Maoists,
could have used this opportunity to make the peace process
more inclusive by fulfilling some minimum preconditions
laid down by agitating groups and creating an open
environment for talks. Instead, the eight parties calculated
that conceding some substantive demands unilaterally
could obviate the need for negotiations. Koirala's second
address aimed to defuse the situation and undercut the
Madhesi agenda but Madhesi groups claimed the parties
were not sincere about a negotiated settlement and resumed
agitation.154 Continuing protests, intemational pressure and
stalemate in March and April forced a rethink and more
openness to talks but underlying attitudes have hardly
1.       The NC and UML
Party leaders have realised that Madhesi identity politics
are here to stay but lack a coherent message and are
unwilling to address real issues of inclusion. Although they
have organised mass rallies in some Tarai towns, their
district units have been inactive, failing even to
communicate achievements. Party leaders have not been
Crisis Group interview, Biratnagar, 25 May 2007.
153 Crisis Group interviews, Brahman leaders, Kathmandu and
Rajbiraj, May 2007. One activist said he might campaign for
his party but vote for someone of his own caste, even if from
another party. Crisis Group interview, Janakpur, 29 May 2007.
154 Crisis Group interview, Upendra Yadav, Birgunj, 28 May
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Page 17
listening to their own Madhesi colleagues.155 The
emergence of new political actors threatens their support
base: Madhesi central- and district-level leaders are yet to
leave in significant numbers but discontent is brewing; they
know their parties will lose out if they do not articulate
Madhesi concerns.156 NC and UML activists participated
in the Madhesi movement; their parties reined them in only
after Koirala's second address.157
Still, Madhesi activists now have greater baigaitiing power
and better prospects for promotion. "Ifthe party leaders
don't listen to us, we will move on to other groups and
they will lose out. The days of imposing a pahadi agenda
are gone", an NC activist said.158 Dealing with assertive
identity politics requires new political strategies, for
example, promoting local and national Madhesi leaders,
offering a regional agenda and explaining why, despite
being in power for so long, the bigger parties did not
address Madhesi grievances. Unless the established parties
innovate, politics may follow the pattern of neighbouring
Indian states, whose experience suggests that national
parties find it hard to cater to identity-based aspirations
and lose ground to local groups.159
2.       The NSP(A)
The NSP(A) organised protests after the interim
constitution was drafted but was unwilling to give up the
perks of power. In retrospect, some party leaders believe
that if they had quit the government and adopted a more
radical stance, the MJF might not have emerged as a
power.160 Party leaders said they supported the movement
but would work for change from within, pressing other
parties to accept demands. When the government did not
respond, the sole NSP(A) minister, Hridayesh Tripathi,
resigned on 29 January.
The NSP(A) is unclear about the implications ofthe rise
of MJF and Madhesi identity politics and the nature of
other groups. While some leaders claim that other Madhesi
leaders are criminals who should be fought, most feel the
emergence of other groups, including armed ones, will
benefit the Madhesi cause by forcing the government to
pay attention.161 Newer Madhesi parties may not harm the
NSP(A)'s electoral base, given that though it has won less
than 15 per cent ofthe Madhesi votes in past elections, it
has a loyal constituency.162 The assertion of Madhesi
consciousness may in fact provide an opportunity for the
NSP(A) to expand its base in the absence of other strong
Madhesi parties. For this, leaders realised they needed to
consolidate the party organisation and expedited the
reunification of both factions.163 Party leaders plan a two-
pronged electoral strategy. In the wake ofthe radicalisation
of political discussions, some leaders will adopt more
hardline slogans.164 At the same time, NSP(A) will play
up its image as a responsible party which has stuck to the
Madhesi cause without creating communal disharmony.
"We are the party that raises Madhesi issues, yet is
committed to protecting pahadis in the Madhes and the
Madhesis in the hills", said an NSP(A) leader.165
3.       The Maoists
The Maoists' public image took a severe battering during
the movement, largely due to their own mistakes, and they
have continued to be damaged by disputes over control of
Madhes policy. They resisted Madhesi demands even
District-level Madhesi activists had warned that the interim
constitution needed revisions. Crisis Group interviews, Rajbiraj,
27 May 2007. NC(D)'s Bijay Kumar Gachhedar, for example,
made a speech in the first sitting of the interim legislature
articulating Madhesi objections.
156 NC activists say it is largely leftists who have joined the
JTMM and MJF (although a few NC members have joined the
latter); they feel less threatened by possible defections. Crisis
Group interviews, Rajbiraj and Biratnagar, May 2007.
157 Crisis Group interview, NC leader, Biratnagar, 25 May 2007.
158 Crisis Group interview, NC district committee member,
Rajbiraj, 27 May 2007.
159 All of India's major national parties have suffered from the
rise of regional, ethnic and caste-based parties that have eaten
into their former support bases. See Kanchan Chandra Why
Ethnic Parties Succeed: Patronage and ethnic head counts in
India (Cambridge, 2004) and Zoya Hasan, Parties and Party
Politics (Delhi, 2004).
160 On perks of power, Crisis Group interview, NSP central
leader, Kathmandu, May 2007. NSP district leaders say the rift
between the two main central leaders, Rajendra Mahato and
Hridayesh Tripathi, was responsible for failure to seize the
moment. Crisis Group interview, NSP leader, Janakpur, May
Crisis Group interview, Babunandan Yadav, NSP Morang
district president, Biratnagar, 25 May 2007. Yadav sees other
Madhesi groups as the biggest enemies of the Madhesi cause
and warns their actions will create a backlash against Madhesis
in the hills. He welcomed the deployment of the Armed Police
Force on the border as a counter to criminals in armed groups.
Others, however, welcomed the rise of armed groups as a sign
of Madhesi consciousness. Crisis Group interviews, NSP
members, Kathmandu and Rajbiraj, May 2007.
162 Crisis Group interview, NSP leaders, Kathmandu, May
2007. NSP leaders realise they generally win few Madhesi
votes. Even if they do not gain from the present mobilisation,
other Madhesi groups or candidates will win - at least an
improvement onpahadi domination.
163 NSP(A) and NSP reunified in June 2007 under the
leadership of Anandi Devi. The party kept the NSP(A) name;
its declared aim is a federal democratic republic.
164 NSP(A) minister Rajendra Mahato asserted that only
Madhesis have the right to rule in Madhes. "Mnister Mahato's
remarks spark protests",, 13 May 2007.
165 Crisis Group interview, Anil Jha, NSP central committee
member, Kathmandu, May 2007.
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Page 18
though many were in line with their own longstanding
policies and refused to engage with protesting groups.
They were on the defensive since their action in Lahan
and misjudged the popularity of Madhesi groups.166 Their
insistence that they were the first to raise key Madhesi
demands and their frustration with newer groups hijacking
their agenda left them looking like bad losers, even among
their supporters. "There is no point in complaining",
observed a Maoist-nominated MP. "This happens in
democratic politics, and the Maoists need to get used to
it".167 Nevertheless, the Maoists have shown restraint in
not retaliating violently despite the killing of more than
four dozen oftheir cadres in Gaur and other incidents. The
recent pattern of targeted assassinations of mid-level
Maoist leaders in the Tarai runs a direct risk of inciting a
heavy response.
The problem was not so much that people had forgotten
their championing of these issues but that they failed to
deliver. In the words of an MJF sympathiser, "the Maoists
contributed to the militant mood in the Madhes. They
sowed the crop but lost out when the time came to reap the
harvest. They armed us with new consciousness but then
the bullet turned on them".168 Maoist leaders claim they
had merely left these issues for the constituent assembly
because of the need for compromise on the interim
constitution.169 Madhesi activists do not buy this. "Why
is it that the Maoists are so easily willing to compromise
and give in on Madhesi issues, while remaining steadfast
on other things that concern them? This shows the real
motive ofthe pahadi leadership".170
The Maoists also suffered from the fact that disparate
groups - from the SPA to the MJF and JTMM and India
- were keen to use the genuine disillusionment felt
towards them to weaken them.171 Many in the Tarai
Crisis Group interview, Maoist leader, Birgunj, May 2007.
Maoist activists admit they underestimated Upendra Yadav as
well as both factions of JTMM.
167 Crisis Group interview, Kathmandu, April 2007.
168 Crisis Group interview, Birgunj, 1 June 2007.
169 Crisis Group interview, Athak, CPN(M) Banke district in-
charge, Nepalgunj, 15 June 2007.
170 Crisis Group interview, human rights activist and former
Maoist sympathiser, Nepalgunj, 12 June 2007.
171 For the SPA, Crisis Group interviews, NC activists,
Biratnagar and Rajbiraj, May 2007. The Tarai has been a
Congress bastion, and the party was keen to weaken its rival.
The UML will be competing with the Maoists for the same
leftist votes. Given that the Maoists had won over some
segments of marginalised Tarai communities, it benefited UML
to erode their support. For the MJF, Crisis Group interviews,
party activists, Kathmandu Biratnagar, Janakpur, Nepalgunj,
May-June 2007. In view of their past antagonism and the fact
that their substantive demands are similar, MJF views the
Maoists as their primary competitors. This is coupled with
and India consider the movement and subsequent
protests to be directed as much against the Maoists as
the state.172 There are frequent references to the struggle
between Madhesis and Maoists. The Maoists clearly
failed to counter the widespread perception that they
were responsible for Madhesis not getting rights.173
Leaders admit this has eroded the party's support and
credibility in the Tarai.174 Organisational strength has
dropped, with some members defecting to JTMM
factions and MJF.175
Some Madhesi activists witriin the party are also upset with
its leader, Prachanda, for advocating strong-arm measures
against other groups.176 "This puts us in a difficult spot. It
is impossible to defend that kind of stand at the ground
level. We will vote for our own party but will also support
pro-Madhesi activities of all other outfits as well", an
activist said.177 Internal leadership tensions within the
Madhes came to a head in June 2007, when the CPN(M)
central secretariat took direct control of activities in the
Tarai, sidelining the MRMM.178
The weakening ofthe Maoists, however, needs to be seen
in perspective. They were never as strong in the Tarai as
intense personal bitterness between activists. Most members of
the JTMM are reportedly former Maoists who left because they
were disillusioned with their attitude on the Madhes issue or
because of personal enmity. They seized the chance to wrong-
foot the Maoists. On India Crisis Group interviews,
government officials and analysts, Patna and Delhi, June 2007.
The general impression in India is that Madhesi groups have
been a welcome counter-force to the Maoists.
172 For the Tarai, Crisis Group interviews, Madhesi activists,
Biratnagar, Rajbiraj and Janakpur, May 2007. For India Crisis
Group interviews, government officials and analysts, Patna
and Delhi, June 2007.
173 "We have not been able to explain our policies. There is
fear and anger and a question mark on our agenda and
commitment". Crisis Group interview, Prabhu San, MRMM
general secretary, Kathmandu, May 2007.
174 Crisis Group interviews, Maoist leaders, Kathmandu,
Birgunj and Nepalgunj, May-June 2007.
175 Crisis Group interview, Maoist trade union leader, Birgunj,
June 2007. The activist says that in his village in Parsa district,
the MJF and the Maoists have about 800 members each with
MJF's strength increasing steadily. Both factions ofthe JTMM
have about 60 members each mostly ex-Maoists.
176 Prachanda has advocated strong police action against
Madhesi groups. See "Aba ekaisaum shatabdiko naulo
janabidroh hunechha", Janadesh, 20 March 2007.
177 Crisis Group interview, Maoist trade union leader, Birgunj,
June 2007.
178 "Madhes banda sthagit", Janadesh, 19 June 2007. The
MRMM central committee was dissolved and Maoist MP Ram
Kumari Yadav was appointed coordinator of a new ad-hoc
committee formed in its place. "Maoist Madhesi Front central
body dissolved over appointment row",, 22 June
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Page 19
made out to be. Their strategy to mobilise lower castes
antagonised several powerful sections; talk of revolutionary
land reform scared the mid-sized land owners, who felt
their only asset would be lost; the use of intimidation
alienated many; the presence of pahadis as party leaders in
the Tarai led to suspicions about their commitment; and
the leadership was never united - several key members
quit the party.179 Fear has diminished with their entry into
a more open, competitive political system, making people
more confident to express these grievances.
Yet, it would be naive to write off the Maoists. They are
well organised; have trained and articulate party leaders
who can communicate persuasively; retain support among
very marginalised communities;180 and have clear policies
which place Madhesi issues within a broader framework.181
They are trying to rebuild support and explain their stand
by organising mass rallies in Tarai towns. They adopted a
multi-pronged strategy, which includes emphasising MJF
links with royalists and Hindu fundamentalists, claiming
credit for raising Madhesi issues early, encouraging other
communities like Tharus in the west, Kochilas in the east
and Dalits to assert their identity, publicly apologising for
the Lahan incident, targeting deprived Madhesis by
increasing focus on land reform and seeking sympathy by
pointing to the Gaur massacre.182 They announced a
month-long "people's war"-styled protest in the Tarai in
June 2007 but dropped it amid an acrimonious clash that
saw the MRMM cut out of decision-making.183 In the
wake of this embarrassment, it is not clear if there is yet a
revised concept.
The reluctance ofthe government to initiate negotiations
explains only part of the problem. Madhesi groups
themselves face internal tensions and lack of clarity on
immediate demands and long-term strategy.
1.       The MJF and other Madhesi leadership
The movement left the MJF as a leading force: it had
mobilised people and changed national political dynamics.
But translating this into lasting political advantages
Crisis Group interview, Chandrakishore, director, Centre
for Social Research Birgunj, 1 June 2007.
180 C.K. Lai, "Playing with matches", Nepali Times, 8 June
181 Crisis Group interview, Prabhu Saft Kathmandu, 23 May
182 Crisis Group interview, Chandrakishore, 1 June 2007.
183 The CPN(M)'s 15 June central secretariat meeting
decided to launch a "strong struggle" in the Tarai but
withdrew the MRMM's scheduled bandh. "Madhes banda
sthagit", Janadesh, 19 June 2007.
will be difficult, and its leaders differ over strategies of
confrontation or accommodation.184 Following the prime
minister's second address, some had wanted to push their
demands, believing the movement still had momentum.185
Others felt the time was ripe for dialogue, and there would
be little support for renewed agitation. The leadership
hedged its bets by "cautiously welcoming" the address
but imposing preconditions for talks.186 In hindsight, MJF
leaders admit they were mistaken.187 Public sympathy
dipped, and there was no focus for recruitment and
organisation-building; the MJF was criticised for
misjudging its agenda.188 Efforts to claim sole credit for
the movement alienated non-MJF activists.189
The MJF's suspected links with royalists and Hindu
fundamentalists in India have raised suspicions in the Tarai
about its true agenda, especially among left activists and
Muslims.190 Upendra Yadav has also faced criticism for
promoting people of his own caste.191 The Gaur massacre
was a greater challenge. Some leaders believe the incident
bolstered their anti-Maoist credentials, privately take pride
in having "taught the Maoists a lesson" and resisted calls
to apologise.192 But the incident brought national and
international censure, restricted activists' movements, left
top leaders scared for their physical security and weakened
Crisis Group interview, MJF central committee member,
Kathmandu, 23 May 2007.
185 Crisis Group interviews, MJF leaders, Biratnagar and Lahan,
May 2007.
186 Crisis Group interview, MJF central leaders, Kathmandu
and Birgunj, May 2007.
187 Crisis Group interviews, MJF central and district leaders
and sympathisers, Kathmandu, Birgunj, Nepalgunj and
Rajbiraj, May-June 2007.
188 For example, critics say it should not have insisted on Home
Mnister Sitaula's resignation as a precondition when it could
have pushed for substantive progress. Crisis Group interview,
Madhesi political activists, Kathmandu and Biratnagar, May
189 Crisis Group interview, NC and NC(D) activists, Biratnagar
and Janakpur, May 2007; journalists and civil society members,
Birgunj and Janakpur, May 2007.
190 "We support the Madhesi cause but are confused when we
hear about MJF's links with Hindu extremist organisations
like the RSS. The MJF must come clean on this". Crisis Group
interview, Mohammadi Siddiqui, civil society activist, Nepalgunj,
12 June 2007.
191 Some key MJF district leaders in eastern Tarai and a
disproportionate number of central committee members are
192 An MJF-appofnted commission exonerated it for the Gaur
incident, blaming the Maoists and the local administration. A
MJF leader present at Gaur said: "The Maoists had it coming.
They disrupted our rallies in other towns and provoked us in
Gaur. The backlash was inevitable and necessary and shows
only we can counter them effectively". Crisis Group interview,
May 2007.
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 20
MJF bargaining capacity. Upendra Yadav had to flee to
India, where it appears he was advised to halt all violent
activities and immediately start talking with the government
and participate in the broader process.193
The decision to register as a political party has raised
its own problems. As a cross-party forum, the MJF could
draw broad support but sympathisers with existing
affiliations will think hard before jumping ship to join the
new party.194 Yadav argues the decision is still well
founded: "A political party is essential to run a sustained
movement, institutionalise its gains, solve problems and
address issues. We are ready to bear short-term costs but
the MJF as a political party is a historic necessity"195 The
MJF also started talks with the government, privately and
then officially, without its preconditions being met.196
Party leaders argue they retain their demands but are
talking so as not to appear obstructive.197 Some activists,
however, accuse them of inconsistency and weakness.198
The MJF retains political strengths. It has won widespread
recognition as the main champion of Madhesi rights (even
many who disagree with its tactics accept it has pushed the
Madhesi issue onto the agenda in a way the NSP failed to
do for two decades);199 it has flexed its muscles with strikes
that can close down the eastern Tarai and hurt Kathmandu;
its leaders have extensive links in India and can still gain
from presenting themselves as the only effective counter
to the Maoists. Yet, there are questions over its political
Crisis Group interviews, analysts, Kathmandu and Birgunj,
May-June 2007.
194 "We had hoped MJF could be a training ground for Madhesi
activists and a broader ideological school. It is just another
political party now". Crisis Group interview, NC(D) activist,
Biratnagar, 24 May 2007.
195 Crisis Group interview, Upendra Yadav, Birgunj, 28 May
196 Minister for Peace and Reconstruction Ram Chandra Poudel
met Upendra Yadav in Birgunj in May 2007, paving the way
for formal government-MJF talks in Janakpur in June.
197 On the home minister's resignation, Upendra Yadav
explained: "In the larger interest and for the sake of going
forward, we have shown flexibility. But the entire episode
reveals how the home minister sticking to his post is more
important for the ruling class than the sentiments of all
Madhesis". Crisis Group interview, Birgunj, 28 May 2007.
198 Crisis Group interviews, journalists and activists, Birgunj,
Janakpur and Rajbiraj, May 2007. One MJF leader responded:
"We have done what everyone was urging us to do: drop our
insistence and start talking. But now the same people are turning
back and saying that we have deserted the cause. That is unfair
and no one can blame us. It is now up to the government".
Crisis Group interview, Janakpur, 20 May 2007.
199 Some believe it has a strong connection with villagers who
view it as a "Madhesi force", but even if true it probably lacks the
organisation to leverage rural support. Crisis Group interview,
Atma Ram Saft civil society activist, Birgunj, 1 June 2007.
judgement and planning. Madhesi politicians are not
rushing to join, and some feel it has missed its moment.200
It may be displaced by other forces now that it has put the
issue on the agenda. As a close observer puts it, "there are
many people who think the MJF has done a great job but
will be happy to see the torch now handed on to other
Madhesi parliamentarians have been active within their
own parties and in giving more coordinated support to the
Madhesi agenda. An informal 26-member, cross-party
alliance rejected the proposal ofthe Electoral Constituency
Delimitation Commission (ECDC) and called for a new
delineation of constituencies. Breaking with their own
parties, they blocked the functioning of the interim
legislature for more than a month.202 The group is led by
NC(D)'s Bijay Gachhedar and Jai Prakash Prasad Gupta,
NSP(A)'s Hridayesh Tripathi and UML's Mahendra
Yadav; some have considered forming a common Madhesi
party. They see association with national parties as a liability
when people are demanding radical change, and the political
vacuum leaves space for another force.203 But unity will
be difficult because of differences on leadership and a
long-term strategy. Other challenges would include building
an organisation and explaining why they had not raised
the Madhesi issue until now.204
2.       The JTMM
Both factions participated in the Madhesi movement and
had activists shot by police.205 In the post-movement
vacuum, the armed groups have gained strength; their
organisational base and activities have increased, and they
have even gained a level of acceptability in some Madhesi
intellectual circles. Goit and Jwala are underground and
live mostly in Bihar but are in close contact with other
Madhesi leaders, give occasional interviews and travel in
Tarai districts. Both factions are comfortable with using
violence: abductions - primarily of pahadis but increasingly
of Madhesis as well;206 stealing property and confiscating
"Unless we have faith in the political instincts of the MJF
leaders, how can we jump ship and leave an established party?"
Crisis Group interview, NC activists, Rajbiraj, 27 May 2007.
201 Crisis Group interview, Kathmandu, 22 June 2007.
202 Bhojraj Bhat, "Avradh gati", Nepal, 27 May 2007.
203 Crisis Group interviews, Madhesi politicians, Biratnagar,
Rajbiraj and Janakpur, May 2007. Activists are pressuring
leaders to come together.
204 As an analyst put it, "these MPs are trying to be radical now
after others have done the ground work and put Madhes on the
agenda. People can see through this new-found radicalism".
Crisis Group interview, Birgunj, 1 June 2007.
205 Crisis Group interview, JTMM sympathisers, Janakpur, 29
May 2007.
206 Pahadis have sometimes been targeted as representatives of
the state (district administration officials have been particularly
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 21
land, mostly from pahadis but also from Madhesis;207
attacking government posts and carrying out bombings;
and threatening pahadi administrators.208
Jwala Singh's faction has expanded rapidly209 and appears
stronger in numbers and activities. JTMM(JS) is willing to
begin talks with the government if certain preconditions
are met: declaring killed party activists martyrs, a ceasefire
and withdrawal of cases against JTMM members. This
may stem from the need to win recognition as a legitimate
political actor. Singh believes Madhesi politics requires a
loose alliance of all groups and calls Goit the key obstacle
to forging such unity.210 Goit has publicly expressed his
willingness to talk in the past but the government did not
respond actively. Goit feels let down and is reluctant to
commit himself to sustained dialogue.211 However, he
says he is not against negotiations and will come on board
ifthe Maoists withdraw their publicly declared war against
JTMM(G) and the government assures him of full security
and creates the proper environment by reaching out to
Goit's activities are similar but more limited. He appears
less compromising on independence, telling several
interlocutors this is his final political battle, and he will not
relent. But he realises this may not be feasible in the short
term and says he is laying out the theoretical foundations
for future generations to take the struggle forward.214
JTMM(G) has suffered because of internal tensions and
its leader's frail health. Goit's real advantage, however,
lies in his reputation as a committed political activist. He
commands respect in Madhesi civil society and among
political activists of all hues and his activists are seen as
more politically inclined than those of JTMM(JS). That
JTMM(G) has been relatively more restrained in its
violence may reflect either limited strength or a calculated
attempt to be seen as more responsible.
JTMM(JS) has emerged as the preferred alternative for
non-Yadav castes in the armed movement and can create
disturbances in eastern Tarai districts. Jwala Singh is the
younger and more energetic ofthe two leaders but knows
his limitations and that he must compromise ultimately. He
is perceived to lack political maturity, has very few senior
advisers and has limited links in Kathmandu, which
restricts his access to information and ability to play groups
against one another. He also does not command much
support in Madhesi civil society or intelligentsia. Many
recruits do not have adequate political training and are
believed to come from criminal backgrounds. JTMM
sympathisers argue it is necessary to rely on all kinds
of people in an armed movement but insist that the
organisation retains a political core.213
vulnerable) and Madhesis for extortion, but the division is not
207 For example, JTMM(JS) took over land owned by NC
leader Ram Baran Yadav in Dhanusha and poet Siddhicharan
Shrestha in Siraha. "Andolanko adma aparadh", Himal
Khabarpatrika, 30 May 2007.
208 For example, see JTMM(JS) press statement, 14 April 2007.
209 Crisis Group interview, Jwala Singh May 2007. Singh
claims by early July 2007 he will have a presence in all Tarai
210 Ibid.
211 Crisis Group interview, JTMM(G) sympathiser, Kathmandu,
June 2007.
212 Crisis Group interview, Jai Krishna Goit, June 2007.
213 "Intellectuals do not join armed groups. You need footsoldiers
who are comfortable with weapons and can communicate a
message persuasively". Crisis Group interviews, JTMM
sympathisers, Rajbiraj and Janakpur, May 2007.
Crisis Group interview, Jai Krishna Goit, June 2007.
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 22
In an unsettled neighbourhood, New Delhi does not want
to add hostile relations with Kathmandu to a lengthy list
of headaches.215 'We already have strained ties with
Pakistan and China and do not get along too well with
Bangladesh. The relationship with Sri Lanka is complex
because ofthe civil war and its implications for us. Nepal
can be India's true diplomatic success in the region", said
an Indian analyst.216 Yet, expertise on Nepal and
sustained attention to its politics is hard to come by, not
only in Delhi but even in the capitals of bordering states
which have very direct interests.217 Nevertheless, India is
concerned about instability and has supported the peace
process. Key security concerns include what policymakers see as the rising influence of Pakistani intelligence
agencies, the increase in madrasas in the Tarai, links
between Maoists and Indian Naxalites, large-scale cross-
border crime and possible Chinese intervention.218
Although almost all Indian politicians and diplomats
preface remarks by emphasising that they do not dabble
in foreign politics, many Indians do not see the Tarai as
"foreign".219 A degree of cross-border political
involvement is considered perfectly natural. There is
The analysis of Indian attitudes in this section is primarily
based on Crisis Group interviews in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and
New Delhi in May-June 2007. Interviewees included
representatives of most major Indian political parties, bureaucrats,
police officers, journalists, civil society activists, serving and
retired diplomats. One interviewee was of Irtdianpahadi origin.
216 Crisis Group interview, Delhi, 7 June 2007.
217 A senior Lucknow police official said: "Nepal occupies very
little space in the minds of policy-makers here". This view was
reiterated in Bihar, though interest in Patna is slightly higher. Two
senior home ministry officials of the Bihar government track
developments inNepal, especially if major events take place close
to the border. There is negligible interest among either national or
state-level journalists; no prominent Indian media has covered the
Madhes agitation extensively, though local editions from border
towns publish Nepal news. There is little public discussion of
Nepal politics and minimal civil society interest. Crisis Group
interviews, Patna and Lucknow, June 2007.
218 Crisis Group interviews, government officials, Patna and
Lucknow, May-June 2007.
219 This is especially true ofthe Hindu extremist organisations,
which include Nepal in their vision of a "greater India"
(Akhand Bharat). But it also applies to others, including
government officials, some left-leaning politicians and civil
society activists. A Lucknow police official said: "We are all
one. Nepalis are our people". A civil society activist admitted:
"For most Indians, Nepal is not a separate country, and it takes
time to register that it is independent." Crisis Group
interviews, Raxaul, Patna and Lucknow, June 2007.
widespread sympathy for the Madhesi cause, and most
politicians and bureaucrats do not hesitate to express
"moral support".220 Such feelings are especially intense
in the border areas, which are more familiar with the
situation. 'We know exactly what Madhesis go through
in Nepal because we experience the same treatment
when we visit Nepal ourselves", observed a Raxaul-
based j ournalist.221
There are common features to the outlook of many India
interest groups, from government and political parties to
journalists and academics. Most (like pahadi Nepalis) see
Madhesis as basically Indian or of Indian origin. In Patna,
a senior bureaucrat constantly referred to Madhesis as
Biharis and of Bihari origin and was surprised to know
there was more to it than that.222 Many politicians talked
about Madhesis "as our own people who settled in Nepal".
Even academics saw Madhesis in the same vein and
wondered about the absence of a sub-national Bihari
consciousness.223 Despite a generally supportive outlook,
most Indians (apart from those living near the border) have
little sense ofthe detail of Madhesi demands. Those who
take an interest generally say they will be happy if demands
are addressed but stress that Madhesis have to shape and
lead their movement themselves. There is no obvious
support for Madhesi independence among either officials
or the wider population.224
There is awareness among officials that serious unrest
would not be good for India but agitation like that of
January-February 2007 has little direct impact, except the
very local level where strikes and shutdowns affect border
residents. Most people are still more concerned about
Maoist influence; there is a widespread sense that the
Madhesi movement was primarily anti-Maoist and usefully
set the former insurgents back. No one interviewed
mentioned the risks for mainstream parties. While some,
Crisis Group interviews, Raxaul, Patna and Delhi, June
2007. Individual leaders from the Hindu nationalist BJP to
the centrist Janata Dal (United) and Samajwadi Party and the
above-ground Naxalite Communist Party of India (Marxist-
Leninist) expressed support for the Madhesi cause.
221 Crisis Group interview, Bijay Giri, Dainik Jagaran bureau
chief, Raxaul, 1 June 2007. Giri said Nepali security forces
attacked him while he was covering the Madhesi movement,
smashing his camera and abusing him for supporting the
movement by reporting on it.
222 Crisis Group interview, Patna, 5 June 2007.
223 Crisis Group interviews, Patna, 4-5 June 2007.
224 Crisis Group interviews, Patna and Delhi, June 2007. Even
sympathetic politicians made it clear Indian parties would not
support a Madhesi movement request for independence. Some
BJP politicians may have silently encouraged some Madhesi
groups to radicalise their demands but there is no support for
independence among mainstream Indian parties, security
agencies and bureaucrats.
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 23
especially on the right, worry about Chinese interference,
concerns about the UN role in the Tarai or increased U.S.
involvement are very limited and attract almost no attention
in the mainstream press.225
There is little expertise on Madhesi issues in either New
Delhi or any ofthe bordering states.226 Many Indian
politicians explicitly compare Nepal's recent upheavals
to India's struggle for independence.227 They assume that
Nepali politics will gradually take on Indian-style features
- possibly republican, most likely secular, with an
increased focus on caste-oriented vote banks, a natural
process of different groups agitating for greater
representation and a system flexible enough to
accommodate them.228 A sense that Nepal is very similar
to India and its politics can be understood in similar terms
may partly explain Indians' generally relaxed view ofthe
risks posed by unrest in the Tarai.
The open border. Nepali and Indian citizens cross the
1,753km open border without formal identification and,
at least in theory, enjoy the same employment rights.229
There are longstanding traditions of seasonal migration
from Nepal to find work in the agricultural off-season,
some economic migration in the other direction and
Crisis Group interview, former senior government official,
Delhi, June 2007. He said: "The U.S. or UN cannot do anything
in Nepal without us. When we have a clear thought, we can go
ahead, and they cannot stop us. The UN is helping our cause right
now, and we do not need to worry". Indian concerns on the Tarai
and other cross-border interests rarely feature in the Indian press.
226 While a few analysts and journalists in New Delhi track
Nepal closely, there is no expert on Madhesi issues. Seminar
organisers have difficulty finding speakers on Tarai politics
and have to rely on part-time journalists from the region.
227 Crisis Group interviews, Bihar MLA, Patna, and Communist
Party of India leader, Lucknow, June 2007.
228 India itself has gone through many reconfigurations, from
the 1955 States Reorganisation Commission, which redelineated
it along linguistic lines, to the creation of Uttaranchal, Jharkhand
and Chhattisgarh largely on ethnic lines in 2000. India also
experiences frequent straggles, sometimes violent, over quotas
and occasional identity-based outbursts such as the June 2007
Guy ar agitation that shut down parts of New Delhi.
229 The 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship (Arts.
6 and 7) grants citizens of each country reciprocal rights to cany
out industrial, economic and commercial activities and in matters
of residence, ownership of property and movement. The text is
indo-nepal_treaty_peace.htm Useful coverage of cross-border
relations can be found in Hari Bansh Jha (ed.), Nepal-India
Border Relations (Kathmandu, 1995); Hari Bansh Jha (ed.),
Duty-Free Border Trade and Special Economic Zone between
Nepal and India (Kathmandu 1995); and C.K. Lai, "Cultural
flows across a blurred boundary", in Kanak Mani Dixit and
Shastri Ramachandran (eds.), State of Nepal (Kathmandu 2002),
pp. 100-118.
settlement, both in neighbouring areas and further afield.230
Many Madhesis say the border is in any case "artificial".231
Despite occasional tensions, it has only rarely been
sealed.232 Customs posts control goods, and security
forces, especially Indian, have bases and use patrols to
monitor people but this has not affected cross-border
Family links. There are strong family and kinship ties
across the border, with overlapping religious, linguistic
and social structures - a roti-beti (bread and daughters)
relationship in which mutual dependence can be seen in
economic and marital ties. A Biratnagar-based Madhesi
said: "This border means little to me. My wife's family is
in Jogbani in Bihar. We visit each other every few days
and hop across if we need any support, financial, social or
anything else".234 For both Hindus and Muslims, caste
structure shapes social relations more than nationality:
people celebrate the same festivals and practice similar
rituals.235 Those with cross-border marital ties have several
advantages, such as legal title to property and a greater
chance of accessing second passports. Many on both sides
admit they have dual citizenship, though this status is not
recognised in either Indian or Nepali law.236 Nepali
citizenship makes it easier for Indians to own property in
Nepal, get visas for foreign countries, keep their assets on
both sides, obtain admission for children in professional
colleges under the reserved category for foreign students
and exert political influence legitimately. For Nepalis,
Many Madhesis travel to bordering states and the agriculture-
rich Punjab for seasonal employment, while people from Bihar
work in Nepal as agricultural or construction labourers, fruit and
vegetable vendors or semi-skilled technicians. Particular Indian
occupational castes have always been welcome - from bangle
sellers in Kathmandu to barbers and mattress-makers. A good
train network and road links from Indian border towns allow
Nepali migrants to spread across India.
231 Crisis Group interviews, Madhesi activists, Birgunj and
Janakpur, May 2007. This interpretation is bolstered by the
horse-trading over border districts that went on in both the pre-
British period and following the 1814-1816 Britain-Nepal war.
232 For example, the border is sealed during elections on either
side for a day or two. Most border points were blocked for a
sustained period in 1989, when Indo-Nepal relations were tense,
and for some time after the 2001 royal massacre in Nepal. Some
points may be blocked briefly when there is local trouble.
233 Security was beefed up on the Indian side during the Maoist
rebellion; the paramilitary Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB) was
deployed on the border.
234 Crisis Group interview, Biratnagar, 24 May 2007.
235 Conversely, some groups - notably Tharus - have developed
quite differently due to the different political environment on
each side, despite sharing the same origins. See Krauskopff,
"An 'Indigenous Minority' in a Border Area", op. cit.
236 Crisis Group interviews, Kathmandu, Janakpur and Patna,
May-June 2007.
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 24
there are similar economic incentives as well as easier
access to government offices and subsidised schemes.
Economic interests. The open border has crucial economic
implications. Nepal needs to import fuel and other essential
supplies; India is more interested in access to a growing
consumer market, while its manufacturers benefit from
cheap labour and tax breaks when setting up joint
ventures.237 Urban centres have emerged as both trading
and industrial hubs but some ties are much more local: for
example, Indian farmers get better prices in Nepal and sell
sugarcane for processing to Nepal-based industries.238
Politics. Inhabitants have a keen interest in the politics
ofthe other side. Politicians cross over to campaign for
friends, allies and family members.239 The fact that the
border is sealed during elections reflects the awareness
that such linkages are exploited on both sides. Many
people are enrolled on voters' lists in both countries.240
Politicians admit there is also a tradition of hired Indian
criminals coming over to support candidates during
elections in Nepal.241 Border sealing does not do much
to impede these activities; as one Indian politician
explained, "by the time the border is sealed, everyone
is in place anyway".242
Crime. The open border also brings problems. Criminal
groups from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, states with poor law
and order records, use Nepal as sanctuary and operational
base, especially for car thefts and kidnappings.243 A
crackdown by Bihar's government coupled with Nepal's
weak law enforcement may have encouraged some groups
to shift to the Tarai, especially Birgunj .244 Critics allege
that Madhesi groups have used some of these criminals
to incite unrest;245 there are similar allegations that anti-
Maoist vigilante groups set up under royal rule may have
drawn on Indian criminal elements.246 Price differences
on basic commodities, such as food grains and petroleum
products, sustain a healthy smuggling industry.247 For the
Indian central and state governments, a greater worry than
all ofthe above is that the open border offers a soft entry
point for Pakistani agents.
B.    Indian Interests
1.       Central government
The Indian establishment appears sympathetic to Madhesi
demands but does not go out of its way to pressure
Kathmandu for concessions. Madhesi leaders have easy
access to senior Indian politicians and diplomats but many
feel India takes them for granted, uses their support as a
bargaining chip With, pahadi leaders and does not support
them substantively. A Madhesi politician said: "India
takes us for granted because it knows we will never turn
against them because of our unique relationship with
Indian people. If they had supported us, Madhesis would
not have been killed during the movement, and Koirala
would have given in to our demands".248 The government
This is in strong contrast to the pre-liberalisation days, when
Nepal was more important as a source of cheap imported
consumer goods; now Indian companies want to sell.
238 Crisis Group interview, Champaran politician, Patna, 4 June
239 Crisis Group interview, NC leader, Biratnagar, 24 May
2007. Politicians say their campaigning is useful because they
can influence relatives and other friends to support a particular
240 Crisis Group interviews, border politicians and residents,
Raxaul, Patna and Lucknow, June 2007. Double-voting has
become harder since the Indian Election Commission
introduced voter identity cards and the home ministry started
issuing identity cards for residents of some border areas.
241 Interviewees preferred to cite examples of their rivals'
misbehaviour. A former UML election candidate in Rajbiraj
said his opponent had brought two jeeps with arms and ten
criminals from India to intimidate other candidates' supporters
and seize voting booths. Crisis Group interview, Rajbiraj, 26
May 2007. A member ofthe Bihar Legislative Assembly from
Sitamarhi recalled helping a candidate on the Nepal side by
preventing his rivals bringing in hired muscle from India.
Crisis Group interviews, Rajbiraj and Patna, 5 June 2007.
242 Crisis Group interview, Champaran politician, Patna, 4 June
243 Crisis Group interview, senior police officer, Lucknow, 14
June 2007. Indian criminals have long taken stolen cars to
Nepal, from where they either demand a ransom or sell them.
See also Deepak Goel, "Cross border crime in the Indo-Nepal
border region", in Hari Bansh Jha (ed.), Nepal-India Border
Relations (Kathmandu, 1995), pp. 67-71.
244 Crisis Group interview, Abhay Mohan Jha, journalist, Patna,
4 June 2007. Bihar's Nitish Kumar-led government, elected in
November 2005, has been tougher on crime than its predecessor,
the long-serving Lalu Prasad administration There is a perception
that crime rates have come down
245 Crisis Group interviews, Maoist leader, Birgunj, 28 May
2007. Maoists allege that Indian criminals played a key role
in the Gaur massacre along with MJF. MJF leaders deny this
and any criminal links but admit Indians from the border
may have attended their rallies. Crisis Group interview, MJF
central leader, May 2007.
246 Crisis Group interviews, Patna and Lucknow, June 2007.
Some journalists and border politicians say Indian criminals
hired by vigilante groups have stayed on in Nepal and may have
acquired property. They have a strong interest in weakening the
247 Food goes from India to Nepal; petrol and diesel (subsidised
in Nepal) go the other direction Serious money can be made: a
long-running scam involves gangsters paying children to cany
small legal amounts of flour into Nepal on a rotating basis.
Crisis Group interview, retired senior Uttar Pradesh police
officer, Lucknow, 14 June 2007.
248 Crisis Group interview, Biratnagar, 25 May 2007.
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 25
opposes Madhesi secessionist demands and in general is
keen on a unitary state with a single point of contact in
Kathmandu; it has little desire to deal on issues such as
water resources with multiple regional administrations.
Foreign policy pronouncements increasingly stress that a
peaceful neighbourhood is essential if India is to emerge
as a global power.249 Given the open border, a stable Tarai
is particularly important, and New Delhi has in recent years
developed a clearer sense of how to use economic ties to
promote more stable (and binding) political relations. It
encourages cross-border ties between the Tarai and Bihar
and Uttar Pradesh and is interested in developing new rail
links. In 2005 it opened a consulate in the southern
industrial town of Birgunj; it has also reoriented its large
development aid program to fund many more projects in
border areas.250
Achieving a unified policy towards neighbours has never
been easy in New Delhi. Amid competing foreign policy
priorities, Nepal receives far less attention than many
Nepalis believe; there are also differing constituencies and
concerns within the government and beyond. The home
ministry and intelligence agencies view Nepal as a security
risk for its potential as a base for "anti-India activities"
offering easy access to underworld elements and Pakistani
intelligence.251 There are continuing suspicions regarding
Maoist influence and links to Indian counterparts.
Other institutions have strong Nepal interests: the army
includes some 40,000 Gurkha soldiers and maintains close
army-to-army links; a long tradition of marriage between
north Indian and Nepali royal families (both Shahs and
Ranas) means there are influential blue-blood ties. Large
businesses with significant Nepal investments have
political clout. Compared to these interests, government
composition (in either New Delhi or Kathmandu) has
relatively little bearing on policy: the key features of the
relationship and the parameters within which they can be
Shiv Shankar Menon, "India and International Security",
speech at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London,
3 May 2007, at 2007/may/04guesthtm.
He said: "We are acutely conscious that a peaceful periphery is
a prerequisite to sustain our growth and development".
250 An Indian diplomat explained: "We didn't pay enough
attention to the Tarai in the past but have made a conscious
decision in recent years to increase our investment". Crisis
Group interview, Kathmandu, 20 June 2007. Madhesis are
resentful of past policies and believe that even now Indian
spending is disproportionately on pahadis. Crisis Group
interview, Madhesi commentator, Kathmandu, 18 June 2007.
251 The 1999 hijacking of a Kathmandu-Delhi Indian Airlines
flight and reports of counterfeit Indian currency being introduced
into the Indian market from Nepal fuelled these worries further.
While India regularly demands a crackdown, independent
observers in Nepal believe the concerns are exaggerated.
altered are defined by factors that individual administrations
can do little to change.
Nevertheless, India has, since 2005, developed a more
coherent, proactive line and secured support for it from
most domestic constituencies. New Delhi remains strongly
committed to assisting the peace process and ensuring
that constituent assembly elections go ahead. This is
partly pragmatism. Most policy-makers still believe it
the best way for Nepal to regain stability and avoid further
conflict. It is also about reputation since, as the silent
framer and guarantor ofthe peace deals, India has invested
considerable political capital in making the process a
success. Seeing the elections through would also conclude
the UN mission, which India has supported but is not keen
to see extended indefinitely, and reduce opportunities for
any other countries to become more involved in politics
on the border. The ministry of external affairs views
Madhesi issues within this broader context: demands
for greater representation should be addressed at the
constituent assembly and not be an excuse for derailing
the process.
Indian diplomats insist they have no project to destabilise
the Tarai or use the Madhesi movement to weaken
Maoists, although some are perfectly happy to see the
Maoists suffer a set back.252 India has sent strong messages
to the MJF and JTMM to reject violence but has not used
all its leverage to drive this point home.253 Still, Indian
analysts point out that India cannot be seen as purely pro-
Madhesi. It also has significant hill populations (both caste
Hindus and ethnic groups) and has been through its own
hill-plains agitations: in Darjeeling in the mid-1980s and
in Kumaon and Garhwal more recently, leading to the
creation of a separate Uttaranchal hill state in 2000. With
sensitive electoral politics in these areas, Indian politicians
cannot afford to alienate their own hill constituencies
2.       State governments
In theory, Indian states do not have a say in foreign policy
but they do have interests and some influence.255 Nepal
shares borders with five Indian states: the longest and most
significant are with Bihar and Uttar Pradesh; there are also
borders with Uttaranchal, West Bengal and Sikkim.
Nepal's major parties, the NC and CPN, were both
founded in Banaras (Uttar Pradesh), the centre for much
Crisis Group interviews, Indian diplomats, May-June 2007.
253 On Indian leverage over Madhesi groups, see below.
254 Crisis Group interviews, Indian politicians and activists,
Delhi and Lucknow, June 2007.
255 The central government guards its foreign policy monopoly
but some diplomats argue that bordering states should build
more direct links to the Nepal government Crisis Group
telephone interview, Indian diplomat, 15 June 2007.
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 26
Nepali political activity during the Rana period; Bihar
hosted many exiled politicians in the Panchayat period,
and there were close personal ties, especially between JP.
Narayan's socialists and the NC but also between Nepali
communists and their Indian comrades. The interest
of these neighbouring states in Nepal's politics has
diminished in recent decades, as have the ties between
politicians.256 Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have high poverty
rates and poor records on governance, development and
law and order. In both, caste is a key feature of politics
but communal tensions have largely been kept in check.257
Although they are only sub-national units, their populations
For both Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, spillover from the
Madhes unrest ranks low among their security
concerns.259 More important are flooding (especially in
Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh - blamed on poor water
flow control in Nepal);260 possible links between Nepali
and Indian Maoists; other matters related to the porous
border (Pakistani infiltration, smuggling, arms dealing,
criminal refuge).261 Only after these do Madhesi issues
figure in security terms, and even then only if they
generate flows of refugees,262 lead to links with anti-state
256 That J.P. Narayan was Indira Gandhi's most prominent
critic did not help NC's relations with the Indian Congress
party, which should have been its most natural partner.
257 Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal, which ruled
Bihar from 1990 to 2005 was supported by Yadavs and
Muslims; in 2005, it gave way to a coalition ofthe Janata Dal
(United), which relied on non-Yadav intermediate castes for
support, and the upper caste-focused Hindu nationalist BJP.
The March-April 2007 state elections in Uttar Pradesh saw the
Dalit-oriented Bahujan Samaj Party win an unexpected
outright majority by allying with Brahmans and non-Yadav
lower castes. Bihar has not had Hindu-Muslim clashes for two
decades; Uttar Pradesh has been relatively calm since major
riots following Hindu activists' 1992 demolition ofthe Babri
Masjid, a mosque they said had been built on the site of Hindu
god Ram's birthplace.
258 In 2001, Uttar Pradesh's population was 166 million and
Bihar's 83 million, see
259 Uttar Pradesh security officials say Lucknow has negligible
interest in political developments across the border. In Bihar,
senior home ministry and police officials pay attention to
major developments in Nepal close to the border. There is
regular police and intelligence reporting to state capitals but
little political interest. Crisis Group interviews, government
officials, Patna and Lucknow, June 2007.
260 Experts admit that blaming Nepal is convenient for Bihar
and Uttar Pradesh politicians but largely unfair. Crisis Group
interviews, state disaster management chief and other
government officials, Patna, June 2007.
261 Crisis Group interviews, police officials, Lucknow, 14
June 2007.
262 While some officials worry about possible refugees, others
acknowledge they could probably be easily absorbed, like the
millions of Nepalis already living and working in India. Crisis
Indian armed groups or intensify so that there are real
economic effects. State politicians and administrators
have little interest in meddling in foreign policy but do
encourage quiet local cooperation and bend rules
occasionally if circumstances demand.263
3.       Party perspectives
Madhesi leaders have approached Indian politicians of
all parties for support. Apart from the Hindu nationalist
BJP (see below), no party has direct interest in the
movement. India's Congress party is not keen to see a
Maoist/moderate-left combine sweep Nepal but
beyond that has few partisan concerns; the fact that the
NSP emerged along traditional Congress-leaning lines
makes it a more natural associate in the Tarai but does
not preclude interaction with other groups. Both
Congress and the major national leftist parties have
little support in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This limits
their influence across the border, although the fact that
Congress leads India's coalition government, and the
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) supports it,
makes them essential interlocutors for Madhesi leaders.
The CPM would like to expand its base in Bihar and
Uttar Pradesh, which have a decisive role in shaping
national politics, and some activists hope a strong
parliamentary left in Nepal's border districts might
help.264 Naxalites, present in some parts of Bihar but
hardly in Uttar Pradesh, had similar plans but the
Maoists' decision to enter mainstream politics has
caused friction and reduced the already slim likelihood
of serious cooperation.265 Non-aligned leftists are more
likely to see the Madhesi movement as a subset of the
larger issue of state restructuring and urge that it not
degenerate into identity-based fundamentalism.266
Group interviews, Lucknow and Patna, 14 June 2007.
263 Local authorities, including security forces, often have strong
informal cooperation. A retired Uttar Pradesh police officer
cited a case of Nepal police near the border asking for Indian
help in the face of a planned Maoist attack. Without formal
contacts or clearance, Uttar Pradesh police deployed an armed
company on the Indian side of the border as a deterrent. "On
issues like this and more local-level crimes, we prefer to handle
it on our own instead of going through tedious bureaucratic
channels and following international law to the letter". Crisis
Group interview, Lucknow, 14 June.
264 Crisis Group interviews, CPM activists, Delhi, June 2007.
265 On Maoist-Naxalite relations, see Crisis Group Report
Nepal's Maoists, op. cit, pp. 8-12. Although they worry about
risks, senior police in both states point out there has never been
much if any, evidence for serious links beyond the ideological.
Crisis Group interviews, Patna and Lucknow, June 2007.
266 Crisis Group interview, Vijay Pratap, national convenor,
Socialist Front, New Delhi, 6 June 2007.
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 27
Madhesi activists have been speaking to state-level
politicians and trying to mobilise political support but
their efforts have either been very localised or sporadic.
They have yet to put Madhes on the agenda (it receives
hardly any media attention and has not been raised in state
legislative assemblies), cultivate links with Indian-based
organisations or set up India-based fronts along the lines
of other parties, including the Maoists.267 They have
developed some direct cross-border links: for example, in
the 2007 Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections, a Hindu
nationalist candidate promised to counter the cross-border
Maoist threat (MJF district leaders backed him); leftist
candidates looked to their counterparts in Nepal for
support.268 However, even if such aid could build useful
links, neither Bihar nor Uttar Pradesh face elections for
some years. Unless the situation significantly deteriorates,
Madhesi issues are unlikely to become a rallying point for
Indian parties beyond the immediate border.
4.       The Hindu Dimension
The relationship between the MJF and the Hindu right-
wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in India is
neither straightforward nor well documented. There are
certainly contacts (Upendra Yadav has visited RSS
leaders in Delhi to ask for support) but this is not
surprising. All parties try to foster links in Delhi across
the ideological spectrum; whom they speak to does not
in itself reveal much about their position. Right-wing
Hindu groups see Nepal as part of greater India (Akhand
Bharat). They still perceive and value it as the world's
only Hindu state, despite its turn to secularism, and like
that it has kept alive the traditional concept of Hindu
kingship and the idea (beloved to high-caste, hill Nepali
Hindus) that it preserved "pure" Hinduism untouched by
Muslim or Christian invasion.269
Unlike the Maoists, Madhesi groups have not built links
with human rights organisations such as Patna's People's
Union for Civil Liberties. Indian politicians say Madhesi
groups visit sporadically but do not sustain their engagement
or follow up with specific requests for help. Madhesi leaders
do not appear to have significant ties with Lucknow politicians
or even Uttar Pradesh border MLAs. Crisis Group interviews,
Patna, Delhi and Lucknow, June 2007. Most Nepali parties
have at least one pravasi (migrant/expatriate) Nepali-affiliate
organisation in New Delhi; some have branches across India.
The Maoist-affiliated Nepali Janadhikar Suraksha Samiti was
at times very active in India.
268 Crisis Group interview, Gorakhpur student leader,
Lucknow, 15 June 2007. Yogi Adityanatft BJP MP from
Gorakhpur, has campaigned on countering the Maoist threat
from Nepal. On MJF-Adityanath links, see Piyush Srivastava,
"UP's new Naxals", The Indian Express, 29 April 2007.
269 The preservation of Hinduism in the face of India's waves
of non-Hindu rulers is part of Nepal's founding nationalist
Hindu activists in India know the Madhesi movement is
unlikely to back the same values: the MJF and others may
be flexible but their stated goal is a federal republic, not
return to Hindu monarchical rule.270 The MJF has also
worked to cultivate secular credentials: it has called for
affirmative action for Muslims and has won the support
of Muslim politicians in Bihar, which it could hardly do if
it were hardline on religion.271 Rather than protecting
Hinduism, it sees the Madhes movement's main
advantage as resistance to Maoist penetration in the Tarai
- something no other party has managed so determinedly.
The RSS and its ally in Nepal, the Vishwa Hindu
Mahasangh, have always hoped to build a strong
organisational base but have had limited success.272 Their
efforts have been supported by the monarchy. The RSS is
worried not only about the Maoists but also what it sees
as rising influence of Islamic madrasas in the Tarai.273
The RSS and its political front, the Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP), which is a part ofthe Bihar government, have been
accused of supporting the MJF during the Tarai unrest,
something they deny.274 The RSS's limited strength in
Nepal means it can offer encouragement and some aid but
not engineer a movement. While it takes Upendra Yadav
more seriously than other activists (his RSS contacts are
in the border areas as well as Delhi and may have offered
something more than moral support275) it may view
backing the movement mainly as a chance to regain a
foothold in Nepali politics now that the active monarchy
appears finished.276 Even strong opponents point out that
identity. King Prithvinarayan Shaft who united the core ofthe
modem state in the late eighteenth century, defined his country
as a "true Hindustan". Ludwig Stiller, Prithwinarayan Shah in
the Light of Dibya Upadesh (Kathmandu, 1968).
270 Crisis Group interview, RSS activist, Raxaul, June 2007. The
MJF cannot back a Hindu rashtra (nation) if it wishes to retain
Muslim support but RSS leaders hope it will not actively oppose
a ceremonial monarchy.
271 Crisis Group interview, Shahid Ali Khan, Sitamarhi ML A,
Patna, 5 June 2007. Khan says he supports the Madhesi
movement and gave interviews to Tarai FM radio stations.
272 Crisis Group interviews, RSS sympathisers, Raxaul and
Delhi, June 2007.
273 Crisis Group interview, RSS activist, Raxaul, June 2007.
274 Crisis Group interviews, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, BJP national
spokesperson, New Delhi, 8 June 2007, and senior RSS leader,
New Delhi, 6 June 2007.
275 Crisis Group interviews, journalists, Raxaul and Lucknow,
June 2007. Some Hindu activists appear to have participated
in the Madhesi movement; some local journalists suspect they
may also have offered financial help.
276 This does not mean ties to the monarchy have been severed.
The palace's links to maths (Hindu seminaries) in border areas
are alive and symbolically valuable; at least one politician close
to the RSS travelled to Kathmandu in early 2007 to meet
Gyanendra and Crown Prince Paras. Crisis Group interview,
senior RSS leader, New Delhi, 6 June 2007.
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 28
the RSS and BJP are dedicated to firm governance and
are unlikely to seek instability in Nepal as an end in
Gorakhpur (an Uttar Pradesh railhead close to the
Bhairahawa border in central Nepal) has been the site of
the most active involvement. Local politics there has ties
to developments in Nepal, partly through business but
more through Hindu connections. Gorakhpur is home to
the Gorakhnath math, a Hindu seminary with close links
to Nepal's royals (Gorakhnath is the Shahs' family
deity). Its chief, the outspoken Hindu nationalist Yogi
Adityanath, built his political reputation campaigning
against the risks of Pakistani intelligence and Maoist
influence in Nepal.278 He has extensive ties with royalist
politicians; General Bharat Keshar Simha, a key royal
advisor and head of the Vishwa Hindu Mahasangh is a
frequent visitor to Gorakhpur.279 His active association
with the town has made him, in the words of a local
journalist, a "superhit" in the local Hindi media.280
Adityanath also has links with Madhesi politicians and
may have provided active support - money, people and
ideas - to the movement. Upendra Yadav and other
Madhesi activists attended a December 2006 meeting he
organised in Gorakhpur.281 But a Gorakhpur observer
pointed out that "Adityanath is not the quiet, diplomatic
type - if he were doing something he'd loudly tell the
world about it".282 Several Gorakhpur-based landlords
with major property interests in the Tarai have been
affected by the Maoist rise and might support Madhesi
groups. Rallies in Indian border towns venting ire at the
Maoists do have some impact on the other side and may
have contributed to the Hindi media's strongly anti-
Maoist stance.283
Crisis Group interviews, civil society activists and former
RSS associate, Lucknow, 15 June 2007.
278 Crisis Group interview, Gorakhpur student leader, Lucknow,
14 June 2007; also see Piyush Srivastava, "UP's new Naxals",
The Indian Express, 29 April 2007.
279 Crisis Group interview, journalist, Lucknow, 14 June 2007.
Simha was re-elected international president ofthe VHM at the
Virat Hindu Sammelan in Gorakhpur in December 2006. He
was chief guest at a program supported by Adityanath for select
MLAs who won seats in the March-April 2007 state elections.
280 Crisis Group interview, Lucknow, 14 June 2007.
281 Crisis Group interviews, Raxaul and Lucknow, June 2007.
A similar meeting was hosted by the RSS-associated Seema
Jagaran Manch in Raxaul on 2-3 December 2006. Yadav and
other Madhesi politicians attended; RSS leaders say they
discussed the possibility of a movement.
282 Crisis Group interview, Gorakhpur civil society activist,
Lucknow, 14 June 2007.
283 Crisis Group interview, journalist, Lucknow, 14 June 2007.
The Maoists have done little to counter the perception in Indian
border areas that they were responsible for an anti-Madhesi
reign of terror.
Other international involvement in the Tarai has so far been
limited. Powerful constituencies, including India, would
like to keep it that way but Madhesi activists have been
quick to appeal to outsiders and try to build foreign leverage.
Despite a large and longstanding development agency
presence, the Madhesi movement took internationals, like
Kathmandu, by surprise. Even donors who since the early
1990s had become committed to issues of social inclusion
had paid little attention to Madhesi concerns - partly because
ofthe under-representation of Madhesis on their local
staffs. Statistics on exclusion tended to subsume Madhesis
within broader categories or ignore them altogether.284
Forcing internationals to wake up to their grievances
has been one ofthe Madhesi activists' most striking
achievements. Apart from India, the U.S. is the only country
to have taken a strong political interest in Madhesi affairs.
It has added both JTMM factions to its terrorist list285 but
has also reached out to Upendra Yadav, affording him a
degree of legitimacy through well publicised meetings;
Yadav was also granted a visa to visit the U.S for a Tarai
diaspora event. The U.S. sees the MJF as an effective force
which can counter Maoist influence in the Tarai and appears
keen to promote it.286 Most development partners have
been concerned by the impact of unrest on their programs
and fear that worsened security may derail elections and
possibly evolve into communal warfare. Some have started
to review their staffing and project focuses so as to become
more inclusive in their practices.
The UN has taken on both public and quietly diplomatic
roles. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human
Rights (OHCHR) has started to champion social exclusion
as a core concerns to the delight of Madhesi activists
but leaving some observers concerned the attention is
disproportionate,287 while the UN mission (UNMIN) has
For example, the extensive DFID/World Bank exclusion
study "Unequal Citizens", op. cit., paid almost no attention to
Madhesis as a category.
285 For details, see the 2006 country report on tenorism, released
by the U.S. State Department's Office ofthe Coordinator
for Counterterrorism in April 2007. The overview is at
286 Crisis Group interview, analyst, Kathmandu, June 2007.
287 During the movement, OHCHR mobile monitoring teams
were in regular contact with protest organisers, authorities and
members of the police to seek assurances protest would be
peaceful and no excessive force would be used. It called on all
parties to talk. OHCHR press statement, 28 January 2007.
OHCHR Representative Lena Sundft said her office has given
highest priority to monitoring the Tarai situation, OHCHR press
statement, 11 February 2007. Some feel OHCHR has allowed
inclusion issues to overshadow other central tasks such as
building human rights capacity at a national level. Crisis Group
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 29
maintained contacts with key Madhesi actors and gently
argued for dialogue. UNMIN's mandate is limited:
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reiterated the need for
an inclusive peace process but UN officials insist they can
only become more involved at the government's express
request.288 Some observers are happy with this restraint
but others believe the UN could give technical aid and use
of its good offices more to push for dialogue.289
The political situation is complex, and a number of
scenarios are possible. Fault lines cut across each other:
Madhesis are fighting the state for their rights; political
actors are struggling for space and support; Madhesi-
pahadi tensions have risen; and caste factors may be
assuming a new prominence. Some of these struggles
may be short-lived; others could become lasting features
of a reshaped landscape. While a compromise on key
issues is theoretically possible, further instability is
likely, and serious deterioration is possible, especially if
communal tensions are fanned. Governance and service
delivery are already weak, law and order poor and the
state's presence severely limited - not good grounds for
positive steps by the government.
The risk of communal violence between pahadis and
Madhesis is real. The line between the struggle against the
state and against pahadis has blurred in Madhesi politics;
armed groups have selectively targeted pahadi bureaucrats
and businessmen; pahadis have become insecure, and
some are migrating;290 pahadi groups like the CBES,
combined with heightened anti-Madhesi prejudice, have
polarised the situation further;291 and some extremist
interviews, human rights activist and analysts, Kathmandu May-
June 2007.
288 India is not keen on greater UN involvement. A senior
diplomat warned: "Outside intervention will only exacerbate
the conflict. It is better for the UN and others to stay out and
not even offer technical assistance for talks". Crisis Group
interview, Kathmandu, 20 June 2007.
289 An international observer pointed out that fears of Indian
obstruction are probably exaggerated: "India can't afford not
to cooperate with JJNMIN if it's for the sake of the peace
process". Crisis Group interview, Kathmandu, 22 June 2007.
Many Madhesis say pahadis will naturally face consequences
for their history of exploitation Crisis Group interviews, Madhesi
activists, Rajbiraj, Janakpur, Birgunj, May-June 2007. Also see
"Madhes chhadne urdi", Samay, 10 May 2007. A senior Nepal
expert said "ethnic cleansing" has already taken place. David N.
Gellner, "Caste, Ethnicity and Inequality in Nepal", Economic
and Political Weekly, 19 May 2007, at
articles/10625.pdf. An experienced conflict expert said: "I am
struck by how similar the mood is in the Tarai to Sri Lanka as
the conflict was taking off - not that Nepal will inevitably follow
that pattern but it's a serious possibility in the future". Crisis
Group interview, Lalitpur, 18 June 2007.
291 Crisis Group interviews, pahadi businessmen, Birgunj, 1 June
2007. Some pahadis advocate outright suppression ofthe
Madhes movement. They say Madhesis should give up their
Indian loyalties before asking for rights in Nepal and fear any
concessions would lead to an Indian influx or the start of
a "Sikkimisation" process designed to undermine Nepal's
sovereignty. One commentator warned that "the formulation
ofthe citizenship provision has paved a way for the distribution
of millions of Nepali citizenship certificates to the foreigners,
who are residing or have come from adjoining states of Bihar,
UP, West Bengal. The decisions of the eight-party government
and the so-called parliament persistently lack the will to safeguard
Nepal's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity". Madan
Regmi, "Ganapathy forgets Prachanda", The Kathmandu Post,
29 May 2007.
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Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 30
groups on both sides may have an incentive to incite
communal clashes to radicalise politics and bolster their
support. At the same time, the situation is unlikely to
escalate to all-out ethnic conflict. An attack on pahadis in
a Tarai district could create a backlash against Madhesis
elsewhere; within the Madhesi movement, a strong school
of thought cautions against reducing the struggle for rights
to inter-community conflict; strong economic, professional
and social ties between the communities may play a
balancing role; and mainstream parties and India will use
their leverage to calm matters.
A negotiated settlement is possible but will require a
process that reaches out to multiple groups and allows
all sides to claim victory. Both sides have incentives to
talk: the government knows continued unrest in the
Tarai could destabilise the entire political process, while
Madhesi groups must negotiate at some stage if they are
to deliver results, win legitimacy and become part ofthe
political process. Attitudes are not irreconcilable but
building trust will be hard.
The government lacks a sense of urgency, while Madhesi
groups are disunited and each may need different face-
saving measures. In early July, in the wake of internal and
external pressure not to legitimise violence, coupled with its
own reluctance to make concessions, whether substantive
or symbolic, the government announced a decision to
deploy the Armed Police Force as well as civilian police
to deal with the violence in the Tarai.292 Though this has
not translated into action on the ground yet, a massive
security crackdown without addressing political grievances
would further exacerbate the conflict, lead to human rights
excesses, strengthen the Madhesi extremists, fuel anger
among common citizens and make dialogue difficult. MJF
leaders may see it as a moment to withdraw from talks and
feel that they could benefit from more time to improve their
organisation, prove their strength by renewed agitation or
just wait for the political flux to take shape and guide them
on new alliances. JTMM factions might suffer a temporary
set-back but the possibility of serious dialogue would
recede, and armed groups would play up the image of
fighting against an oppressive state.
If the government sincerely reaches out to armed groups
and satisfies some minimum pre-conditions laid out by
them, it is still possible to pull back from the law and order
approach to dealing with the problem. Public efforts and
behind-the-scenes diplomacy would make it difficult for
both JTMM factions to remain intransigent and force them
to engage. The format of talks may be messy - there might
have to be a combination of separate negotiations with
individual groups and some form of roundtable. Much
"APF, police to deploy against terai violence", The
Kathmandu Post, 3 July 2007.
will hinge on the broader political situation: ifthe country
is moving determinedly towards elections, Madhesi leaders
will not want to be seen as spoilers; if there is uncertainty
and in-fighting in Kathmandu, they will be tempted to
turn more confrontational. The armed groups face similar
calculations but start from a weaker popular base and will
have to concentrate first on legitimising themselves, possibly
by supporting other groups in the electoral process.
B.    The Agenda
The government and MJF sat down for preliminary
talks on 1 June 2007 in Janakpur.293 The MJF presented
26 demands.294 The government agreed to declare those
killed during the movement martyrs and compensate
their families; provide relief to the injured; include
all marginalised groups in state institutions; distribute
resources proportionately; restructure the state and address
Muslim and Dalit demands.295 But it did not agree to core
demands for proportional representation, regional autonomy
293 The government team was headed by Ram Chandra Poudel
and included ministers Gyanendra Karki and Ram Chandra
Yadav. The MJF team was headed by Upendra Yadav and
included Sitanandan Raya, Mohammed Nasir Siddiqui and
Kishore Biswas.
294 The major demands include: declaring all those killed during
the movement martyrs and providing compensation; withdrawal
of cases filed during the Madhesi movement and release of those
arrested; UN technical assistance during talks; dismissal of Home
Mnister Sitaula; establishing participatory democracy; a federal
system with the right to self-determination; a constitutional
arrangement for an autonomous Madhes; appointment of
Madhesis in government departments in Madhes; half of all
positions in state institutions and government-owned media
bodies for Madhesis; recognition that Madhesis have the right to
the natural resources in Madhes; affirmative action and quotas
for Dalits and stringent action against discrimination and
untouchability; protection of Muslim religious and linguistic
rights; establishment of a madrasa board; declaration of Muslim
festivals as public holidays; creation of a Muslim personal law;
a three-language policy in government and education which
would allow the use of local mother tongue, Nepali or Hindi,
and English; making it easier for Madhesis to get citizenship,
including by sending citizenship-distribution teams to villages;
investing at least 75 per cent of taxes raised from Madhes in the
region; return of property seized by the Maoists; declaration of
dates for constituent assembly elections immediately followed
by dissolution of the interim legislature and formation of a
representative caretaker government; an electoral system based
frilly on proportional representation; reconstitution ofthe election
commission; and removal of restrictions on regional and caste-
based parties. In the talks, MJF also expressed its commitment
to a democratic republic. MJF letter to government talks team, 1
June 2007.
295 Sanjaya Dhakal, "Hard Negotiations", Spotlight, 8 June
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Page 31
and the home minister's dismissal.296 It also stalled on the
MJF's demand for UN technical assistance. While both
sides called the talks positive, MJF leaders are privately
sceptical about the possibility of real progress. A central
committee member said: "We doubt whether they will
even implement what they have agreed to, and they don't
seem to be in the mood to address substantive issues".297
If talks progress further the central agenda items are clear:
Electoral model. Equitable electoral representation lies
at the heart of the Madhesi movement. Calls for "full
proportional representation", essentially referring to quotas
for different population groups, have gained ground but
there is still some attachment to having some local,
constituency-based representatives.298 The government
introduced an amendment to the electoral law in mid-June
2007 but did so without consulting protesting groups. It
provides reservations for excluded groups within the
proportional representation category, with parties also to
make a principled commitment to include candidates of all
groups in the first-past-the-post system.299 The NC, the
most powerful party in the ruling alliance, has made it clear
that a fully proportional system is unacceptable. The MJF
has publicly opposed the law but may agree to come on
board as it does not want to be seen as the only spoiler.300
Fixing 22 November as the constituent election date, the
cabinet promised to address all inclusivity issues and agree
on a mixed electoral system acceptable to protestors. That
the announcement was not blocked by Madhesis within
the major parties suggests a deal is possible. If so, the key
"MJF presents 26 point demands",, 1
June 2007.
297 Crisis Group interview, Kathmandu, 22 June 2007.
298 Crisis Group interviews, Madhesi activists, Kathmandu
and various districts, May-June 2007.
299 "House approves CA bill",, 14
June 2007. Out of 497 seats, 240 are allotted for proportional
representation Within that, 15.6 per cent of seats have been set
aside for Madhesi men and women each 6.5 per cent for Dalit
men and women, 18.9 percent for janjati men and women, 2 per
cent for men and women of backward regions and 15.1 per cent
each for the "others" category. The parties have also committed
themselves in principle to include candidates of excluded groups
in direct constituency elections for 240 seats. Seventeen delegates
are to be nominated.
300 Crisis Group interview, Kishore Biswas, MJF leader,
Kathmandu, 29 June 2007. The MJF says that the law is not
transparent; parties may not give tickets to Madhesi candidates
in the direct constituency contests since this is not legally
required; and it should have been consulted before the law was
framed. Some Madhesi politicians argue that Madhesis will lose
out under the system, because Madhesi groups will be forced to
give seats to all other groups in the same proportion and will not
be able to allocate all seats they win only to Madhesi candidates.
Crisis Group interview, NC dissident, Janakpur, July 2007.
issue will be redrawing constituencies fairly, something
the ECDC appointed in March 2007 has failed to do. Its
recommendations - to increase constituent assembly seats
to 497 and add 28 in the Tarai - were rejected by Madhesi
groups, who saw gerrymandering to benefit pahadi
candidates. The government has extended the ECDC
mandate by 21 days301 to draft a new plan, still a challenging
task as an acceptable compromise will require taking into
account concerns of all Madhesi MPs and implementing
commitments on Madhesi candidates. A Madhesi analyst
said, however: "People may not be completely satisfied
but will accept the system. We started from a sub-zero
position and have now got to 30 per cent. Any jump higher
right now and there is a risk of falling over".302
Federalism,   autonomy   and   self-determination.
Although the constituent assembly is meant to have the
final say, the government has already declared its intent
to introduce federalism. Many groups, including janajati
representatives, call for federalism but have different
understandings. The stronger Madhesi demand for "self-
determination" does not go down well with hill groups
or Tarai janajatis303 There has been little discussion of
fiscal implications such as division of local tax revenues
and sharing of development investment or ofthe degree
of devolution.
The Madhesi call for a single "Madhes government" is a
powerful rallying cry and is gaining increasing acceptance
as a political slogan but is highly unlikely to be acceptable
to the Kathmandu establishment. The demand may be
diluted but there is a consensus among Madhesis, across
party lines, that federal units should not be carved out north-
south, with built-in hill dominance (as in the Panchayat-
designed development regions). This demand will be hard
for the government to deny. The possibility of secession
features frequently in conversation among Madhesis (even
those in mainstream national parties and the NSP). Several
Madhesi groups, including MJF and JTMM(JS), reportedly
held a meeting in Patna in May 2007 and requested Ram
Raja Prasad Singh, a veteran republican leader from
Madhes, to assume leadership of a struggle for complete
independence. Singh says he rejected the offer.304 This
"CA poll on 22 November", The Kathmandu Post, 25 June
302 Crisis Group interview, Kathmandu, June 2007.
303 In the words of the Nepal Federation of Indigenous
Nationalities president, Pasang Sherpa, "our friends in the
Madhesi movement call for 'one Madhes, one province' but we
disagree. The Madhes's various janajatis have a different
identity... [Madhesi activists'] interpretation of self-determination
and our interpretation are also different". Sherpa also stressed
mat janajatis had stuck to peaceful protests, unlike many Madhesi
groups. Interview, Jana Aastha, 20 June 2007.
304 Tilak Pathak, "Patna baithakko antarkatha", Nepal, 1 July
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Page 32
reflects an effort by Madhesi groups to forge a common
front as well as a gradual radicalisation of the mood. Yet,
few perceive independence as more than an aspiration or
initial bargaining position. The Madhesi elite with serious
economic interests in Kathmandu would oppose it; the
demand is completely unacceptable to India; and it would
be a recipe for communal violence.
While the government and several analysts say that the
shape of the federal structure should be left to the
constituent assembly, Madhesi groups are demanding
some guarantees on the basic principles of that structure,
even if the specific contours and implementation are
postponed.305 Federalism is a complex issue, and it
might be best to leave it to the elected assembly. For
now, in order to show serious intent, the government
could consider setting up a purely technical commission
to develop data and information for future discussions;
parties, for their part, could set up internal committees to
begin homework on the issue.
Movement aftermath. Demands that relate to the
aftermath of the January-February 2007 movement are
both psychologically important and relatively painlessly
addressed. Recognising dead Madhesi protestors as martyrs,
offering compensation to families and the injured and
pushing forward the commission of enquiry all have little
political cost. The government has agreed to most in
principle and prompt implementation could build goodwill
before the next round of talks. The resignation of Home
Minister Sitaula, earlier an unshakeable MJF precondition,
has slipped down the agenda but not been forgotten. The
idea that at least one member of the government should
accept moral responsibility and consequences remains
powerful. Prime Minister Koirala is not keen to lose a
trusted lieutenant, and the Maoists have also backed
Sitaula, who has been a key member of peace talks. But a
critical verdict from the commission of enquiry might be
an opportunity to let him go.
The withdrawal of criminal cases against MJF and JTMM
leaders will be a thorny topic, particularly as killings and
abductions continue. Some in the government still view
them as criminals and will be extremely reluctant to drop
charges as a price for talks. But the need for carrots as
well as sticks could well lead to a quiet amnesty for those
who sign up to the political process.
Affirmative action. The government has commited
in principle to include Madhesis in state institutions but
an activist said: "We have heard these promises several
times. What is needed is action".306 The government can
bridge this trust deficit by immediately appointing one
third Madhesis to important bodies like the National Human
Rights Commission and National Planning Commission;
making special provisions for their recruitment in police
and bureaucracy; reserving a percentage of local posts in
the Tarai for them; organising training so they can compete
at the national level; and appointing deserving Madhesi
bureaucrats to important positions both nationally and in
Tarai towns. These steps should also be specifically
targeted to women and other marginalised communities
like Muslims and Dalits. Other decisions could include
iirfrastmcture development programs such as road extension
and irrigation. The government must be sensitive not to
appear to be buying off people with economic packages
without addressing political concerns but these steps taken
together would address demands of Madhesis, reduce the
visible dominance of pahadis in all spheres and create an
environment for talks with still protesting groups.
None ofthe Tarai tensions can be viewed in isolation. The
Madhes is not a discrete geographical unit unaffected
by its surroundings, nor are its politics regionally
compartmentalised. Dealing with Madhesi demands first
means changing attitudes and policies in Kathmandu; it
also requires addressing issues within a national framework
- many grievances in the plains stem from similar causes
to those that could destabilise the hills. Despite repeated
commitments to satisfy demands (including the prime
minister's explicit promise when the 22 November 2007
election date was announced)307 there is little sign of the
kind of shift in mentality that might persuade protestors
that this time leaders are serious.
Even if a basic compromise is agreed, sequencing is tricky.
Managing the choreography well would put spoilers
in a tough position. Much ofthe current atmosphere of
lawlessness is conditioned by political uncertainty.
An electoral timetable, forward momentum and solid
international support would turn the situation around,
making it much harder for small factions to disrupt the
process - and forcing them to come on board if they hope
for a share ofthe spoils. Ifthe MJF joins all other major
parties in standing for election, the JTMM factions may
prefer to bargain their support for strengthened policy
positions and personal guarantees on rehabilitation. The
onus for defusing tensions in this way lies on national
Crisis Group interview, Upendra Yadav, 28 June 2007. He
recalled that in India Jawaharlal Nehru presented an objectives
resolution laying out basic principles, which guided discussions
in its constituent assembly.
Crisis Group interview, Rajeev Jha, Janakpur, 29 May 2007.
307 "Dissenting groups' demands will be fulfilled before polls,
assures PM',, 25 June 2007.
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 33
A unified eight-party demonstration of intent to proceed
with elections would be one of the best ways to bring
protestors to the table. But preparations for polls must be
coupled with serious engagement with protesting groups.
A constituent assembly which faces opposition from the
outset might face a crisis of credibility, not command
bipartisan support and encourage different political forces
to question its decisions.
There is no guarantee a deal on elections would halt all
political violence: The presence of determined armed
groups, Maoist ambivalence on further street action and
retention of military capacity, the MJF's occasional violent
actions and the response from its rivals are all dangers.
Strained relationships, especially between Madhesi
activists and Maoists, suggest turbulence, even if the
emergence of new alliances gradually delivers a more
stable configuration. Sustained agitation along the lines of
the January-February movement would be difficult for any
group but localised incidents are easy enough to organise,
as are the established techniques to intimidate voters and
influence elections. Perfect polls in an entirely peaceful
environment are not in the cards but a sensible, balanced
and determined approach from a united Kathmandu can
still deliver a reasonable outcome.
Internationals have a role to play. Should it choose (and
the signs are it will), India can exert considerable leverage
on all parties for viable elections. Apart from putting
pressure on Kathmandu to deliver on promises, hard
security measures (such as cracking down on armed
groups seeking refuge across the border and bolstering the
Nepali government's policing capacity), the threat of
withdrawing moral support, freezing activists out of Delhi
and leaning on flinders can hit home. All external actors
can help by supporting efforts towards peace (including
full implementation ofthe Comprehensive Peace Accord),
respecting the principles ofthe process rather than engaging
in partisan politics and extending strong public support
for each step forward. There is a danger that warnings of
insecurity making polls impossible and predictions of ethnic
warfare could become self-fulfilling. Nepal's friends are
right to be concerned at the risks but should be cautious
about playing into the hands of those who seek to derail
the entire peace process.
There are no quick fixes or ideal solutions. Addressing
demands for representation and rethinking the nature of
the nation are tough tasks that will remain long after the
elections. Ethnic, caste and regional mobilisation is likely
to be a lasting feature ofthe political landscape. India's
example suggests that a flexible constitutional framework
and robust electoral competition are viable means of dealing
with identity-based demands reasonably peacefully. Nepal's
circumstances are not identical, and there is no reason
why its political institutions should ape those of its
neighbour, but to do better will mean embarking on a long
road towards a more inclusive state.
Even assuming the constituent assembly goes ahead,
factors such as the debate it generates and new political
alliances will affect progress towards a lasting resolution.
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007 Page 34
Many Madhesis suspect further agitation will be necessary
at some stage. They may well be right: Nepal's political
history, from the 1950 "revolution" to the 1990 people's
movement, suggests that fundamental change always
encounters institutional and political resistance and is
never achieved in one bound. This is frustrating for
impatient activists but a gradual release of pressure (albeit
with violent phases) is more likely than a dramatic collapse
into anarchy. Political leaders will have to dig deeper to
find the patience, compromise and broad-mindedness to
manage the process of change.
Kathmandu/Brussels, 9 July 2007
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 35
National capital
Regional seat
Zonal seat
District seat
—    International boundary
"7            Ik             J
—   Secondary road
20     40      60      80     100 km
0    20    30    40    50     60 mi
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of 84 degrees east longitude with standard parallels of 24
degrees and 32 degrees north latitude using the WGS84
HeSdaj'cENTRA'L/ /
V NARAYANI* "^Ramefcfhap,
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Map No. 4304    UNITED NATIONS
January 2007 (Colour)
Department of Peacekeeping Operations
Cartographic Section
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 36
BJP Bharatiya Janata Party
BSP Bahujan Samaj Party
CA Constituent Assembly
CBES Chure Bhawar Ekta Samaj
CDO Chief District Officer
CPA Comprehensive Peace Agreement
CPI Communist Party of India
CPI (Maoist) Communist Party of India (Maoist)
CPM Communist Party of India (Marxist)
CPN(M) Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
ECDC Electoral Constituency Delimitation Commission
HSS Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS's Nepal affiliate)
JTMM Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha (in two factions: Jwala Singh (JS) and Goit (G))
KMM Krantikari Madhesi Morcha (Janamorcha front)
LMS Loktantrik Madhesi Sangathan (UML front)
MJF Madhesi Janadhikar Forum
MLA Member of Legislative Assembly (in state legislatures in India)
MPRF Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (acronym formed from English translation: Madhesi People's Rights
MRMM Madhesi Rashtriya Mukti Morcha (Madhesi National Liberation Front), Maoist front
NC Nepali Congress
NC(D) Nepali Congress (Democratic)
NSP(A) Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandidevi)
NWPP Nepal Workers and Peasants' Party
OHCHR Office ofthe United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
PLA People's Liberation Army (Maoist)
RPP Rashtriya Prajatantra Party
RSS Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
SP Samaj wadi Party
SPA Seven-Party Alliance (includes NC, UML, NSP(A), NC(D), Janamorcha Nepal, NWPP and ULF)
ULF United Left Front
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 37
Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist)
United Nations Mission in Nepal
Uttar Pradesh
Vishwa Hindu Mahasangh
Vishwa Hindu Parishad
Young Communist League
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007 Page 38
1951: Nepal Tarai Congress formed under Vedanand Jha.
1952: First Citizenship Act introduced.
1957: Imposition of Nepali as sole language for education sparks protests in Tarai.
1959: NC sweeps first democratic elections; Nepal Tarai Congress wins no seats.
1964: New Citizenship Act based on 1962 Panchayat constitution makes it harder for Madhesis to acquire
1979: King Birendra holds referendum on Panchayat system; higher support for multi-party democracy in
Tarai districts.
1983: Nepal Sadbhavana Parishad formed under Gajendra Narayan Singh to raise Madhesi issues.
1990: People's movement brings Panchayat system to an end. New constitution promulgated. Nepal
Sadbhavana Parishad registers as party to contest elections but demands constituent assembly.
1994: Government sets up Dhanapati Commission on citizenship issue.
1996: Maoists launch insurgency.
1997: Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) established in Biratnagar as cross-party intellectual platform.
2000: Maoists set up Madhesi Rashtriya Mukti Morcha (MRMM) under Jai Krishna Goit in Siliguri.
2004: Matrika Yadav appointed as head of MRMM; Goit splits and forms the Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha
24 April: Following nineteen-day mass movement, king announces reinstatement of parliament.
18 May: Parliamentary proclamation curtails royal powers and declares Nepal a secular state; Hindu organisations,
especially in the Tarai, protest.
17 July: Matrika Yadav announces war against JTMM.
August-October: Jwala Singh expelled from JTMM and forms his own faction. Frequent JTMM strikes (both factions)
affect normal life in Tarai. Increasing Maoist-JTMM and JTMM factional clashes.
23 September:   JTMM(G) activists shoot dead RPP MP Krishna Charan Shrestha in Siraha.
22 October:       JTMM(G) expresses willingness to talk; government agrees in principle (26 October) but makes no
move for negotiations.
26 November:    Citizenship law amended enabling Madhesis to get citizenship certificates and associated rights.
16 December:   NSP(A) protests interim constitution provisions on electoral system and its silence on federalism.
JTMM(JS) imposes prohibition on non-Madhesis driving on Tarai roads for a fortnight.
26 December:    NSP(A) protest turns violent in Nepalgunj; communal aspects with pahadi-Madhesi clashes, while
police accused of anti-Madhesi bias. Government forms commission to investigate (27 December).
30 December:     Prime Mnister Koirala expresses his willingness to solve Tarai problem through talks. Ian Martin, special
representative ofthe UN Secretary-General, voices concern about violent activities in eastern Tarai.
6 January: JTMM(JS) expresses willingness to talk to government under UN auspices.
12 January:        Three-day Tarai strike called by JTMM(G).
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 39
16 January:        MJF announces strike in Tarai to protest interim constitution's promulgation. Its leaders are arrested
while burning copies ofthe statute in Kathmandu.
19 January:        Maoists clash with MJF activists in Lahan, killing student Ramesh Kumar Mahato.
20 January:        Maoist cadres seize and cremate Mahato's body; Lahan put under curfew.
21 January-7 February:    Movement picks up across eastern Tarai against the government and Maoists, with growing
public support, mass defiance of curfews, clashes between police and protestors, attacks on government
offices and almost 40 people killed. Maoists accuse feudal elements and royalists of inciting unrest and
reject talks.
29 January:        NSP(A) minister Hridayesh Tripathi resigns from government. Government arrests former royal
ministers on charges of instigating violence.
31 January:        Prime Minister Koirala makes national television address appealing for dialogue; protestors reject the
2 February:        Government forms committee led by Mahant Thakur to talk to all agitating groups.
7 February:        Koirala makes second address; government agrees to introduce federalism and allot half the seats in the
constituent assembly to Tarai.
8 February:        MJF cautiously welcomes Koirala's address, suspends agitation for ten days and sets preconditions for
talks: home minister's resignation, declaration of all those killed as martyrs and a Madhesi-led,
independent panel to investigate atrocities.
11 February:      Madhesi MPs demand immediate amendment of interim constitution.
13 February:      JTMM(JS) agrees to talk and halt violence. JTMM(G) rejects talks offer (14 February).
15 February:      Home Minister Sitaula apologises for mistakes during Tarai unrest but refuses to quit.
19 February:      MFJ renews its agitation, saying government failed to create environment for talks. JTMM(G) calls
three-day Tarai shutdown (21 February).
22 February:      Thakur committee asks government to withdraw all charges against JTMM factions to create
environment for talks.
I March: Madhesi Tigers abduct eleven people from Saptari.
4 March: JTMM(JS) resumes armed revolt, accusing government of not wanting negotiations.
6 March: NSP(A) threatens to leave SPA if interim constitution is not amended.
9 March: Legislature amends interim constitution creating Electoral Constituency Delimitation Commission
(ECDC) to revise constituencies and guaranteeing federalism.
21 March: MJF-Maoist clash in Gaur, killing 27 Maoists and leaving dozens injured. Curfew imposed.
Government forms panel to investigate and submit report in fifteen days (23 March). MJF protests
banned in Rautahat, Siraha, Jhapa and Morang (24 March).
II April: Peace and Reconstruction Minister Ram Chandra Poudel calls MJF and JTMM for talks.
18 April: Madhesi MPs reject ECDC recommendations, demand fresh census and block functioning of interim
legislature for over a month.
20 April: OHCHR investigation holds law enforcement agencies, MJF and Maoists jointly responsible for Gaur
26 April: MJF applies to the Election Commission to register as a political party.
10 May: Ram Chandra Poudel meets MJF president Upendra Yadav in Birgunj.
13 May: JTMM(G) kills JTMM(JS) district chairman of Rautahat. JTMM(JS) retaliates by killing two
JTMM(G) activists.
25 May: Cabinet forms commission to investigate killings during the Tarai unrest.
1 June: Govemment-MJF talks in Janakpur; MJF presents 26 demands.
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007 Page 40
8 June: NSP factions merge under banner of Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandidevi).
13 June: Two Maoists killed in clash with MJF in Rupandehi.
22 June: MRMM central committee dissolved after differences between Matrika Yadav and Prabhu Sah.
Ram Kumari Yadav appointed co-ordinator of new ad-hoc committee; Prachanda takes charge of
the party's eastern Tarai region.
24 June: Government announces 22 November date for constituent assembly elections; extends ECDC term by
21 days so it can review its earlier report.
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 41
The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an
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June 2007
Further information about Crisis Group can be obtained from our website:
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 42
The Failure of Reform in Uzbekistan: Ways Forward for the
International Community, Asia Report N°76, 11 March 2004
(also available in Russian)
Tajikistan's Politics: Confrontation or Consolidation?, Asia
Briefing N°33, 19 May 2004
Political Transition in Kyrgyzstan: Problems and Prospects,
Asia Report N°81, 11 August 2004 (also available in Russian)
Repression and Regression in Turkmenistan: A New Lntemational
Strategy, Asia Report N°85, 4 November 2004 (also available
in Russian)
The Curse of Cotton: Central Asia's Destructive Monoculture,
Asia Report N°93, 28 February 2005 (also available in Russian)
Kyrgyzstan: After the Revolution, Asia Report N°97, 4 May
2005 (also available in Russian)
Uzbekistan: The Andijon Uprising, Asia Briefing N°38, 25 May
2005 (also available in Russian)
Kyrgyzstan: A Faltering State, Asia Report N°109, 16 December
2005 (also available in Russian)
Uzbekistan: In for the Long Haul, Asia Briefing N°45, 16
February 2006
CentralAsia: What Role for the European Union?, Asia Report
N°l 13, 10 April 2006
Kyrgyzstan's Prison System Nightmare, Asia Report N°118,
16 August 2006 (also available in Russian)
Uzbekistan: Europe's Sanctions Matter, Asia Briefing N°54,
6 November 2006
Kyrgyzstan on the Edge, Asia Briefing N°55, 9 November 2006
Turkmenistan after Niyazov, Asia Briefing N°60, 12 February
Central Asia's Energy Risks, Asia Report N° 13 3, 24 May 2007
Taiwan Strait IV: How an Ultimate Political Settlement Might
Look, Asia Report N°75, 26 February 2004
North Korea: Where Next for the Nuclear Talks?, Asia Report
N°87, 15 November 2004 (also available in Korean and in Russian)
Korea Backgrounder: How the South Views its Brother from
Another Planet, Asia Report N°89, 14 December 2004 (also
available in Korean and in Russian)
North Korea: Can the Iron Fist Accept the Invisible Hand?,
Asia Report N°96, 25 April 2005 (also available in Korean and
in Russian)
Japan and North Korea: Bones of Contention, Asia Report
N°100, 27 June 2005 (also available in Korean)
China and Taiwan: Uneasy Detente, Asia Briefing N°42, 21
September 2005
North East Asia's Undercurrents of Conflict, Asia Report N°108,
15 December 2005 (also available in Korean and in Russian)
China and North Korea: Comrades Forever?, Asia Report
N°112, 1 February 2006 (also available in Korean)
After North Korea's Missile Launch: Are the Nuclear Talks
Dead?, Asia Briefing N°52, 9 August 2006 (also available in
Korean and in Russian)
Perilous Journeys: The Plight of North Koreans in China and
Beyond, Asia Report N°122, 26 October 2006 (also available in
Korean and Russian)
North Korea's Nuclear Test: The Fallout, Asia Briefing N°56, 13
November 2006 2005 (also available in Korean and in Russian)
After the North Korean Nuclear Breakthrough: Compliance
or Confrontation?, Asia Briefing N°62, 30 April 2007
Unfulfilled Promises: Pakistan's Failure to Tackle Extremism,
Asia Report N°73, 16 January 2004
Nepal- Dangerous Plans for Village Militias, Asia Briefing N°30,
17 February 2004 (also available in Nepali)
Devolution in Pakistan: Reform or Regression?, Asia Report
N°77, 22 March 2004
Elections and Security in Afghanistan, Asia Briefing N°31, 30
March 2004
India/Pakistan Relations and Kashmir: Steps toward Peace, Asia
Report N°79, 24 June 2004
Pakistan: Reforming the Education Sector, Asia Report N°84,
7 October 2004
Building Judicial Independence in Pakistan, Asia Report
N°86, 10 November 2004
Afghanistan: From Presidential to Parliamentary Elections,
Asia Report N°88, 23 November 2004
Nepal's Royal Coup: Making a Bad Situation Worse, Asia
Report N°91, 9 February 2005
Afghanistan: Getting Disarmament Back on Track, Asia Briefing
N°35,23 February 2005
Nepal: Responding to the Royal Coup, Asia Briefing N°35,
24 February 2005
Nepal: Dealing with a Human Rights Crisis, Asia Report N°94,
24 March 2005
The State of Sectarianism in Pakistan, Asia Report N°95, 18
April 2005
Political Parties in Afghanistan, Asia Briefing N°39,2 June 2005
Towards a Lasting Peace in Nepal: The Constitutional Lssues,
Asia Report N°99, 15 June 2005
Afghanistan Elections: Endgame or New Beginning?, Asia
Report N° 101, 21 July 2005
Nepal Beyond Royal Rule, Asia Briefing N°41,15 September 2005
Authoritarianism and Political Party Reform in Pakistan,
Asia Report N°102, 28 September 2005
Nepal's Maoists: Their Aims, Structure and Strategy, Asia
Report N°104, 27 October 2005
Pakistan's Local Polls: Shoring Up Military Rule, Asia Briefing
N°43, 22 November 2005
Nepal's New AUiance: The Mainstream Parties and the Maoists,
Asia Report 106, 28 November 2005
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 43
Rebuilding the Afghan State: The European Union's Role,
Asia Report N°107, 30 November 2005
Nepal: Electing Chaos, Asia Report N° 111, 31 January 2006
Pakistan: Political Impact of the Earthquake, Asia Briefing
N°46, 15 March 2006
Nepal's Crisis: Mobilising Intemational Influence, Asia Briefing
N°49,19 April 2006
Nepal: From People Power to Peace?, Asia Report N° 115, 10
May 2006
Afghanistan's New Legislature: Making Democracy Work, Asia
ReportN°l 16, 15 May 2006
India, Pakistan and Kashmir: Stabilising a Cold Peace, Asia
Briefing N°51, 15 June 2006
Pakistan: the Worsening Conflict in Balochistan, Asia Report
N°119, 14 September 2006
Bangladesh Today, Asia Report N°121, 23 October 2006
Countering Afghanistan's insurgency: No Quick Fixes, Asia
Report N°123, 2 November 2006
Sri Lanka: The Failure of the Peace Process, Asia Report
N°124, 28 November 2006
Pakistan's Tribal Areas: Appeasing the Militants, Asia Report
N°125, 11 December 2006
Nepal's Peace Agreement: Making it Work, Asia Report N°126,
15 December 2006
Afghanistan's Endangered Compact, Asia Briefing N°59, 29
January 2007 (also available in French)
Nepal's Constitutional Process, Asia Report N°128, 26 February
Pakistan: Karachi's Madrasas and Violent Extremism, Asia
Report N°130, 29 March 2007
Discord in Pakistan's Northern Areas, Asia Report N°131, 2
April 2007
Nepal's Maoists: Purists or Pragmatists?, Asia Report N°132,
19 May 2007
Sri Lanka's Muslims: Caught in the Crossfire, Asia Report
N°134, 29 May 2007
Sri Lanka's Human Rights Crisis, Asia Report N°135, 14
June 2007
Indonesia Backgrounder: Jihad in Central Sulawesi, Asia
Report N°74, 3 February 2004
Myanmar: Sanctions, Engagement or Another Way Forward?,
Asia Report N°78,26 April 2004
Indonesia: Violence Erupts Again in Ambon, Asia Briefing
N°32, 17 May 2004
Southern Philippines Backgrounder: Terrorism and the Peace
Process, Asia Report N°80, 13 July 2004 (also available in
Myanmar: Aid to the Border Areas, Asia Report N°82, 9
September 2004
Indonesia Backgrounder: Why Salafism and Terrorism Mostly
Don't Mix, Asia Report N°83, 13 September 2004
Burma/Myanmar: Update on HIV/AIDS policy, Asia Briefing
N°34, 16 December 2004
Indonesia: Rethinking Internal Security Strategy, Asia Report
N°90, 20 December 2004
Recycling Militants in Indonesia: Darul Islam and the Australian
Embassy Bombing, Asia Report N°92, 22 February 2005 (also
available in Indonesian)
Decentralisation and Conflict in Indonesia: The Mamasa
Case, Asia Briefing N°37, 3 May 2005
Southern Thailand: insurgency, Not Jihad, Asia Report N°98,
18 May 2005 (also available in Thai)
Aceh: A New Chance for Peace, Asia Briefing N°40,15 August 2005
Weakening Indonesia's Mujahidin Networks: Lessons from
Maluku andPoso, Asia Report N°103, 13 October 2005 (also
available in Indonesian)
Thailand's Emergency Decree: No Solution, Asia Report N°105,
18 November 2005 (also available in Thai)
Aceh: So far, So Good, Asia Update Briefing N°44, 13 December
2005 (also available in Indonesian)
Philippines Terrorism: The Role of Militant islamic Converts,
Asia Report N°l 10, 19 December 2005
Papua: The Dangers of Shutting Down Dialogue, Asia Briefing
N°47, 23 March 2006 (also available in Indonesian)
Aceh: Now for the Hard Part, Asia Briefing N°48,29 March 2006
Managing Tensions on the Timor-Leste/indonesia Border,
Asia Briefing N°50, 4 May 2006
Terrorism in Indonesia: Noordin's Networks, Asia Report N°l 14,
5 May 2006 (also available in Indonesian)
islamic Law and Criminal Justice in Aceh, Asia Report N°l 17,
31 July 2006 (also available in Indonesian)
Papua: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, Asia Briefing
N°53, 5 September 2006
Resolving Timor-Leste's Crisis, Asia Report N° 120, 10 October
2006 (also available in Indonesian)
Aceh's Local Elections: The Role ofthe Free Aceh Movement
(GAM), Asia Briefing N°57, 29 November 2006
Myanmar: New Threats to Humanitarian Aid, Asia Briefing
N°58, 8 December 2006
Jihadism in Indonesia: Poso on the Edge, Asia Report N°127,
24 January 2007
Southern Thailand: The Impact of the Coup, Asia Report
N°129, 15 March 2007 (also available in Thai)
Indonesia: How GAM Won inAceh , Asia Briefing N°61, 21
March 2007
Indonesia: Jemaah Islamiyah's Current Status, Asia Briefing
N°63, 3 May 2007
Indonesia: Decentralisation and Local Power Struggles in
Maluku, Asia Briefing N°64, 22 May 2007
Timor-Leste's Parliamentary Elections, Asia Briefing N°65,
12 June 2007
For Crisis Group reports and briefing papers on:
Latin America and Caribbean
Middle East and North Africa
Thematic Issues
please visit our website
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 44
Christopher Patten
Former European Commissioner for External Relations,
Governor of Hong Kong and UK Cabinet Minister; Chancellor of
Oxford University
Thomas Pickering
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El Salvador and Nigeria
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Cheryl Carolus
Former South African High Commissioner to the UK and
Secretary General ofthe ANC
Maria Livanos Cattaui*
Former Secretary-General, International Chamber of Commerce
Yoichi Funabashi
Editor in Chief, The Asahi Shimbun, Japan
Frank Giustra
Chairman, Endeavour Financial, Canada
Stephen Solarz
Former U.S. Congressman
George Soros
Chairman, Open Society Institute
Par Stenback
Former Foreign Minister of Finland
Adnan Abu-Odeh
Former Political Adviser to King Abdullah II and to King Hussein
and Jordan Permanent Representative to the UN
Kenneth Adelman
Former U.S. Ambassador and Director ofthe Arms Control and
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Ersin Arioglu
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Shlomo Ben-Ami
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Alternatives Fund; former Ambassador U.S. to Austria
Anwar Ibrahim
Former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia
Asma Jahangir
UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion or Belief;
Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Nancy Kassebaum Baker
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Wim Kok
Former Prime Minister of Netherlands
Ricardo Lagos
Former President of Chile
Joanne Leedom-Ackerman
Novelist and journalist, U.S.
Ayo Obe
Chair of Steering Committee of World Movement for Democracy,
Christine Ockrent
Journalist and author, France
 Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region
Crisis Group Asia Report N°136, 9 July 2007
Page 45
Victor Pinchuk
Founder oflnterpipe Scientific and Industrial Production Group
Samantha Power
Author and Professor, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard
Fidel V. Ramos
Former President of Philippines
Ghassan Salame
Former Minister, Lebanon; Professor of International Relations, Paris
Douglas Schoen
Founding Partner of Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, U.S.
Thorvald Stoltenberg
Former Foreign Minister of Norway
Ernesto Zedillo
Former President of Mexico; Director, Yale Center for the Study
of Globalization
Crisis Group's President's Circle is a distinguished group of major individual and corporate donors providing essential
support, time and expertise to Crisis Group in delivering its core mission.
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Crisis Group's International Advisory Council comprises significant individual and corporate donors who contribute their
advice and experience to Crisis Group on a regular basis.
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