China trying to increase foothold among Madhesis in Nepal

New Delhi, Dec 21 (IANS) Inspite of proactive engagement with the Nepali political establishment and healthy relations with the Nepali Communist Parties, China has not made much headway on the political front in Nepal and has realised that the landscape of Nepali politics is indeed a complex one, which yet remains challenging for the Chinese to understand.
The very fact that within two years of formation of the Nepali Communist Party with the backing and blessings of the Chinese, the party split, giving away political space to the Nepali Congress, made the Chinese realise the gaps in their understanding of Nepali politics and the underlying dynamics.
China has, thus, been trying to engage various political constituencies and representative bodies/organisations representing the non-Hill population, especially the Madhesis living in the Terai region adjacent to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
In this connection, the representative of the Xinhua news agency in Nepal, Zhou Shengping, organised two separate interaction programmes with the youth from the Madhesi community on November 26 and 29 with the aim of leveraging the political potential of this community.
The Madhesis have traditionally been identified with India, which is their place of origin. However, the Chinese, having suffered in their political calibrations in Nepal, have come to realise that synergy with the Madhesis is necessary to sustain their political momentum.
Representing 30 per cent of the Nepali population and with a faster growing population than the Hill people, the Madhesis form an important constituency in Nepal.
In the past, attempts by the Chinese to target Madhesi political parties did not produce as much dividends and such engagements have mostly been on a selective basis. Attempts have been made by the Chinese to invite Madhesi leaders to China on visits, but not much could be derived from these visits. China has thus decided to target the Madhesi youth in the madhes for ensuring long term advantages.
At a meeting on November 29 in Nepalganj, Zhou Shengping met with 15 persons from the Madhesi community, representing various political parties such as CPN(MC), JSPN and UML. Discussions were held on the apparently unhealthy competition among political parties in Nepal and the aspirations/demands of Madhesi people being ignored.
The struggle of Madhesi people to establish their identity and India’s interference in Madhesi affairs was also discussed with Zhou Shengping expressing concern over a range of issues associated with the Madhesis, such as air pollution, deforestation, poverty, income disparity, etc. Issues such as border management, human trafficking and smuggling across the Indo-Nepal border also formed part of the discussions.
The Xinhua representative encouraged participants to speak out their mind on the traditional problems faced by Madhes and Madhesi people and sought to know from them how China could contribute in dealing with some of these problems and develop strategy for the Madhesi people.
He reiterated that since China wanted to play a positive role in the overall development of Madhes, “no other country” should have any reservation and interference on these issues.
Zhou Shengping also suggested that China considered the whole of Nepal as one nation without discrimination between the people of Madhes and the Hill region. Besides, China is prepared to provide sustainable development projects for the Madhes region and revive industries in some of the prominent cities such as Hetauda, Birgunj, Biratnagar, etc.
Zhou suggested that he would recommend increase in scholarships for Madhesi youth to study in China and expressed eagerness to establish small-scale industries in Madhes region for generating employment for Madhesi youth.
Significantly, Zhou mentioned that China considers Madhes as the land of gods like Buddha in Lumbini and Sita in Janakpur. He also mentioned that China is confident that Madhes could be developed as an attractive place for Chinese tourists.
Earlier, at a meeting on November 26 in Kathmandu, Zhou met with another group of Madhesi youth representing various political parties.
During the discussions, Zhou suggested that a committee be formed of intellectuals from the eight districts of Madhes, who will coordinate with Nepali institutions to assess the socio-political problems associated with the Terai region.
He said that a report prepared by the Nepali side will enable China to increase investment in cultural and language institutions in Terai and undertake special promotional campaign for large number of Chinese companies to invest in the small-scale sector to generate employment opportunities. During one-to-one interaction, Zhou mentioned that the objective of his meeting Madhesi youth was to enable greater interaction between the Madhesis and China.
After dabbling in politics in Nepal, the Chinese have been keen on building healthy relations with the people in the Terai region and are prepared to invest significantly in this regard. With education opportunities being limited in the Madhes, there is possibility of the Chinese offering soft scholarships to students in the Madhes who would only be keen to undertake professional courses in China.
As part of such projects, the Chinese side usually trains and prepares work force in a manner that they can be employed in Chinese companies operating in Nepal. Moreover, setting up of industries and business establishments close to the border with India in the Terai region has also been a major problem for the Chinese. However, this problem can be overcome with the local Madhesi population playing a proactive and participatory role in such ventures.

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