India courts radical Madhesis from Nepal

Ethnic Madhesis have been protesting for the past six months, demanding greater autonomy. Picture shows a protest in September in Birgunj, Nepal. —FILE PHOTO: AP  

Days before a planned visit by Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, India on Thursday courted a political delegation opposed to the latest round of constitutional amendments sponsored by his government. This comes at a time when another separatist Madhesi leader, C.K. Raut, is holding meetings in town and raises questions about India’s position on Nepal.

The delegation, led by veteran Nepali leader Daman Nath Dhungana, also includes former diplomat Vijay Kant Karma, and activists Narayan Shah, Dipendra Jha, Shankar Limbu and Krishna Chaudhury. Nepali sources told The Hindu that courtesies extended to the delegation showed that India is willing to engage with multiple Madhesi alliances.

However, the Ministry of External Affairs called the ongoing outreach a part of the normal exchange between India and Nepal. “We believe in maintaining contacts across the political spectrum of Nepal and our current interaction is part of that process. We have welcomed the amendments and we support internal dialogue to continue in Nepal. There are no conflicting strands in our policy on Nepal,” said official spokesperson Vikas Swarup on Thursday, arguing in favour of engaging all sections of political class of Nepal’s Madhes region.

The United Madhesi Democratic Front (UMDF), which has been at the forefront of the agitation for the last six months and has welcomed the amendments introduced on January 24, has been challenged by radicals who have accused it of compromise.

The visiting Madhesi group, however, dismisses all the amendments passed in the Nepal Parliament a “farce”. “We have a lot of experience dealing with Nepal’s elite who have no intention of sharing power. The latest amendments are part of diversionary tactics and are not substantive. Though Prime Minister Oli is promising a separate state for the Madhesis, his style of politics has not changed,” Mr. Karma told The Hindu .