All it took was the election of a new prime minister for a dramatic change of situation on the ground in Nepal. On October 11, as required by the Constitution, incumbent Sushil Koirala stepped down to make way for new prime minister Khagda Prasad Oli. With the support of Madheshis crucial to the election of any new prime minister, the Madheshi parties in Nepal bargained long and hard before deciding to go with Oli’s candidacy.
Oli, chief of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), could win only because he had the backing of the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum-Democratic and some other smaller groups, besides the support of Prachanda’s United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). The Maoist parties had entered into an eight-point agreement with Vijay Gacchedar, leader of the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik, a key Madheshi party. The agreement gives in to several of the Madheshis’s original demands which had roiled Nepal for four weeks.
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The eight-point agreement commits to ensure the “proportional inclusion of every community” as stated in the Interim Constitution. This was the biggest point of contention between the Madheshis and the hill parties since the new Constitution came into effect on September 16. The deal also aims to “resolve the issue of provincial boundaries” by treating the issues raised by the protesting Madhesis and Tharus and the people of the mountain and hill districts as political issues. Those negotiating on Oli’s behalf have also committed to delineating election constituencies on the basis of population while assuring every district has at least one constituency.
Besides, the deal talks of goodwill measures such as relief and medical facilities to the families of those who died and to those were injured
during the recent protests, release of political protesters in custody, compensation to houses and business damaged during the protests and
agreeing to call upon all agitating parties to solve all problems through dialogue and mutual understanding.
Soon after the Constitution was passed, Madheshis, upset that their demand for proportional representation for every community had not been taken into account, took to the streets. Protests and violence erupted soon after in the Terai region of the country, resulting in the deaths of 40 people. The protesters imposed a blockade on the Indo-Nepal border, which, the hill people alleged, had been aided clandestinely by India.
India’s foreign secretary S Jaishankar had visited Nepal on September 18 to suggest that Madheshis’ demands should be considered because of concerns that the trouble could spill over to the Indian side. But the reaction of the hill parties was to ask India to maintain its distance. A source in New Delhi said that during Jaishankar’s visit, one of the hill leaders had tersely told Jaishankar: “In your country, Hardik Patel is demanding many things. Do we say anything to you?” When he spoke about proportional inclusion of communities in Parliament, a pahadi leader had proudly said, “Nepal does not want quota system; it believes in merit.” One leader had even reminded India: “ Madheshis are settlers in Nepal. How can they be equal to Nepalis?”
The source in New Delhi claimed that by imposing the blockade, the Madheshis had proved their point that their issues can not settled by Nepal and India without making them party to the negotiations. A situation that seemed stuck changed dramatically when the new prime minister had to be elected, as mandated by the new Constitution. Nepal’s four biggest political parties, which have their support-base in the hills of the land-locked country, rushed to the plains to woo the Madheshis.
As the contest narrowed down to a fight between incumbent Sushil Koirala of the Nepali Congress and Oli, the former agreed to give in to some of the demands of Madheshis but it was Oli who gave them a better deal. In the end, the better deal won and so did Oli, securing 338 votes out of 598.
“Nepal’s politics has turned 360 degrees in a matter of four weeks. Oli is unlikely to take any extreme views once he sits down to tackle enormously serious issues before him. He is not an unknown personality for India,” said a source in New Delhi who is privy to the diplomatic efforts with Nepal.
The eight-point formula:
1) To make provision for amendment in new Constitution of Nepal regarding the assurance of proportional representation of every community in the political mechanism.
2) To resolve the delineation issue of provinces in Terai-Madhesh by treating it as political issues on the basis of consensus.
3) To fix the electoral constituency on the basis of population, assuring one seat in each district.
4) To provide medical and other treatment facilities to those who are injured during the recent Terai-Madhesh protests and also to provide relief to the family of the deceased.
5) To release protesters in custody and cancel the cases of all those who are dragged into ‘false cases’.
6) To give compensation to houses and business damaged during the protests.
7) To normalise peace and security to ensure the security of the people along with the formation of the government.
8) All the signatories have agreed to call upon agitating parties to solve all problems through dialogue and mutual understanding, including Madhesh-Terai political parties, Tharus and Janjatis and to strengthen the rights of people and protection and furthering of national interest, unity and social harmony.