Nepal's Madheshi Morcha bows to public opinion, calls off anti-Constitution protest

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Kathmandu, Feb 8: Bowing to strong public opinion, the Madhesi Morcha in Nepal on Monday called off its almost six-month-old anti-Constitution protest in the southern Terai region that led to a blockading of a major portion of the 1,868-km open border the landlocked Himalayan nation has with its southern neighbour India.

At a meeting in Kathmandu, the Morcha -- spearheading the agitation that had led to the cutting off of essential supplies to Kathmandu from India -- announced it was postponing its protest programme in view of what it called "citizen's suggestion".

Madheshi Morcha calls off protest

"Considering the current crisis facing the nation and the public necessity and aspirations, the ongoing protest programmes of general strike, border blockade, and shutdown of government offices have been called off for now. But the other agitation programmes will continue," said a statement issued following the meeting.

The decision by the Madhesi Morcha also paved the way for Prime Minister K.P. Oli's visit to India later this month.

Oli was insistent upon visiting India only after the border-blockade was lifted.

The Madhesi protestors had been demanding, among others, a redrawing of the boundaries of the provinces in Nepal as proposed in the new Constitution -- promulgated on September 20 last year; and representation in Parliament on the basis of population.

Significantly, the Nepal Terai has almost 51 percent of the country's population and yet gets only one-third of seats in Parliament.

The Madhesis also seek proportional representation in government jobs and restoration of rights granted to them in the interim constitution of 2007 which the new charter has snatched away.

The key Nepal-India border point at Raxaul-Birgunj had already been opened on Friday after protests by locals from both Nepal and India residing on both sides.

The Madhesi Morcha, in the statement, said it would mobilise its cadres in the Terai/Madhes, Tharuhat and Kathmandu, among other places, by rectifying the weaknesses identified during the agitation period.

The four-party regional alliance said it would also seek alliance with other political parties.

The Madhesi Morcha -- or the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM), to give it its formal name -- has been spearheading the agitation in the country's Terai region. It comprises four Madhes-based parties -- Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party led by Mahanta Thakur; Sadbhawana Party, headed by Rajendra Mahto; Sanghiya Samajwadi Forum-Nepal, led by Upendra Yadav; and the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party-Nepal headed by Mahendra Yadav.

The Morcha, at its meeting, also noted that certain comments by Sadbhawana Party chairman Rajendra Mahato, a key leader of the agitating alliance, had dealt a blow to their agitation.

"As the latest activities and comments of Sadbhawana Party chairman Mahato have damaged the Madhesi agitation, the Madhesi Morcha directs him to not be involved in such activities in the coming days," read a statement.

Mahato unilaterally announced lifting of the blockade at the Raxaul-Birgunj border point on Friday thus facilitating resumption of trade through that key point after almost six months of blockade.

The Morcha said it was extremely unhappy with Mahato's unilateral decision.

IANS

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