Who is Sarita Giri?
Sarita Giri has been in political talks over the past couple of weeks. In an effort to retaliate India’s unilateral construction of trade link road via Lipulekh, the Oli government issued a new political map and decided to amend the constitution, and since then, Sarita Giri has been expressing controversial statements. Doing so has brought her under severe criticism from the public and leaders. As of late, she even went ahead to register her own constitution amendment proposal to negate the government’s proposal; the Samajwadi Party, which now stands at a precarious juncture hinted at possible action against Giri if she does not take back her proposal. This episode has multiple facets that require nuanced investigation and understanding before returning to her seemingly pro-India stance on the border dispute.
Sarita Giri has been under criticism at several instances in the past, be it for speaking up for the Madhesis, standing up against the constitution, or for simply addressing the parliament in Hindi. In the recent series of events, Giri has staunchly stood against the government’s unilateral actions to claim the disputed territories at its own. At a time when all political parties have come forward to support the amendment proposal, Giri’s criticism for it has angered nationalist leaders and the public to a point where her residence has been vandalized and she has been receiving death and rape threats on social media. Her use of Hindi in the parliament has not helped ease the tension either.
What are her claims?
First of all, is Sarita Giri wrong to claim that Nepal’s unilateral issuance of the map and a constitutional amendment to legitimize it will solve the border crisis? Most certainly not! Constitutional amendment may be a matter of domestic affairs, but when it involves a subject as sensitive as border dispute, a one-sided effort to validate a disputed claim further complicates the situation and exacerbates the possibility of a respectful dialogue in the future. Border disputes are almost always solved through bilateral (or multilateral) negotiations through understanding and compromise. A good example is the India-Bangladesh border dispute, which saw a solution when the two parties finally sat down on the negotiation table. The proposed amendment, therefore, is nothing but an impediment to such a possibility; simply publishing a new map and updating the constitution will not bring Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura back in Nepal. As countless experts and professionals have constantly been stating, negotiation is the only way forward.
Why is Oli government keen on amending the constitution?
Why is Oli government so keen on amending the constitution despite knowing that is not the solution? It is pretty obvious. The first half of the Oli government has proved to be a massive failure, full of flamboyant promises and little delivery. Almost all aspects of governance is sickened by corruption and irregularity. It has not just failed to effectively manage the COVID-19 crisis in the country but has also exploited the situation to gain personal benefits. Amidst a clearly low approval rating, prime minister Oli sought to amass power and legitimacy within the party and as the country’s leader through rather authoritative means—executive control and issuance of controversial bills and ordinances. In fact, these actions caused a major upheaval within the ruling Nepal Communist Party and gathered criticism from the opposition. During such a difficult time, PM Oli has turned to the Kalapani border dispute, for the strong and reliable parachute of nationalism offers him a safe landing. Expressing provocative statements, issuing the new political map, and seeking to amend the constitution are all a part of his nationalist game.
One may wonder why other parties and leaders have succumbed to Oli’ rhetoric and joined the bandwagon, the answer to which is pretty obvious as well. National sovereignty, territorial integrity, and nationalism are all so sensitive an issue—capable of uniting people to a frightening degree—that any statement or position against these jeopardizes the entire political career of a party or a leader. The imaginative notion of nationalism is a strong emotional thread that binds people together, by sidelining their ability to reason and take practical steps. PM Oli’s remarks have initiated that process, and people have now given in to his personal agenda without their knowledge. Opposition parties and leaders, therefore, are now facing a dilemma that is a double-edged sword; they cannot afford to reject PM Oli’s nationalist actions, no matter how silly or futile they seem, as they cannot risk upsetting people—their vote banks. Madhesi parties stand in a similar dilemma; only Sarita Giri seems to have ignored the possible outcomes of her publicly criticizing the amendment.
Sarita Giri may have unpopular opinions. She may even have a pro-India position on the border issue, which is again based on her understanding and argument. But the more important thing is that everyone gets to have an opinion, and that is a fundamental characteristic of a democracy. Simply having an opinion does not make a person right or wrong on an issue though, be it Sarita Giri or the Prime Minister Oli. In a democratic country, the diversity of opinions matter a great deal; what such diversity demands is an examination into the varying positions and a rational debate on what makes better sense. In this particular case, the government and all the political parties supporting the amendment should be able to prove, on the basis of factual evidence and arguments, that Sarita Giri is wrong. They should be able to convince her that she is wrong. That would be a victory of our democracy. How the lawmaker is being treated is definitely the opposite of what democracy advocates for.
Sarita Giri was bullied by a fellow lawmaker for speaking Hindi in the federal parliament. She was further insulted by using defamatory phrases such as Indian agent and Indian Cheli, which perhaps originated due to her unpopular opinions. In the most recent series of events, people vandalized her residence and have been issuing death and rape threats at her. First of all, Hindi is the contact language of Madhes, the region she represents in the parliament. It is also one of the many official languages of Nepal. If the mere use of the language incites such a deep hatred for Giri, her different opinion on the issue inviting physical threats should not be a surprise. However, it should be noted that Giri’s defamation based on her use of Hindi is an insult to thousands of Madhesis whose mother tongue is Hindi or are more comfortable speaking Hindi than Nepali. The use of Bharatiya Cheli is an insult to thousands of Madhesi women who have obtained Nepali citizenship by naturalization. Such a mindset creates second-class citizens—against the constitutional principle!
Action against Sarita Giri?
Samajwadi’s threat of ‘action’ against Giri—to strip off of her party membership and, therefore, her membership in the parliament—is unfounded and undemocratic. Dropping the party’s short-term and opportunist goal of popularity, therefore, the leaders and the government should see her as a useful contributor to solving Nepal’s border issues and bringing back the disputed lands. Thanking Giri, they should ask themselves the most important question—what after the constitutional amendment? Is the amendment going to bring back the territories that Nepal has already included in its map? If not, what should be the next step? Do we have enough evidence to present to India when the two parties finally sit down for talks? How will Nepal’s unilateral efforts hamper the negotiation? In case of a prolonged dispute, will Nepal revert back the constitutional amendments it is now so keen to make? Which party or leader will have to clean up Oli’s mess?
Author: Mahesh Kushwaha; @okaymahesh
Photo: Sarita Giri’s Twitter page