Perched under a colourful tent next to the bustling park in the heart of Kathmandu, a pale Ms. Sarita Giri, president of Sadbhawana Party (Anandidevi), entered the 20th day of her hunger strike with demands to increase constituencies allocated to Madhes region and to reopen voter registration to accommodate disenfranchised voters.
Her demands, if met, will jeopardise the timetable to hold elections on November 19, according to Nepal’s Election Commission.
The government, on August 27, sent a letter inviting Ms. Giri for talks. But there has been no progress since with the Prime Minister’s Office insisting that she break her hunger strike first.
Notwithstanding the “unfortunate timing” of her protest that lacks “political clout”, in the words of a political commentator, Ms. Giri, who is calling for five more constituencies in the Madhes, claims that the Interim Constitution is on her side.
It mandates that electoral constituencies be based on the latest census, and the results of 2011 census, which shows that the population of Madhes has increased to more than 50 per cent of total population, implies a corresponding rise in the constituencies in the region.
A commission was formed in June to address the issue. But the hapless commission submitted a report keeping the old constituencies intact, citing another constitutional clause that prevents re-arranging 205 of the 240 constituencies — thereby accommodating population increases in all areas impossible.
Ms. Giri is also not the first one to go on a hunger strike over the issue. In May, Mr. Rajendra Mahato, leader of a rival party in Madhes (also called Sadbhawana) also stationed himself in the same venue by the park, demanding re-delineation of constituencies among other things.
His fast was broken when the government pledged to form a commission to look into the matter.
Another stalwart of Madhesi politics, Mr. Upendra Yadav of Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Nepal, abandoned the issue after the four major parties signed an agreement to induct him into a powerful political committee, and to meet his demand to increase ratio of proportionally elected representatives in the next Constituent Assembly.
“Madhesi politicians have compromised a lot,” Ms. Giri complains, dizzy and nauseous. Twenty days of hunger has taken a visible toll on her health, which, given the lackadaisical government response, is likely get worse in the days ahead.