|GIRL AND GUN: A wall with fading Maoist graffiti in Nawalparasi. The Maoists may be packing their guns into UN containers, but its former tarai factions are exploiting madhesi resentment to prolong the conflict.|
The tarai turmoil is spinning out of control, but the 7+1 parties are still treating it as just a law-and-order problem.
After five people were killed in unrest in Lahan, the violence and looting spread to Janakpur on Wednesday, Birganj and Biratnagar on Thursday.
The root of the crisis is deep, long-standing bitterness among the madhesi population. Discriminated against by governments in the past, they saw that they would be denied political representation in proportion to their numbers by the interim constitution too.
Exploiting this could be religious and royalist groups with powerful allies in a rabidly anti-Maoist Bihar government across the border. Many of the arsonists who went on a systematic rampage in central Janakpur on Thursday were not known to anyone.
Politics, ethnicity, and religion make an explosive combination. But the lesson is lost on the parties in Kathmandu. The Maoists find they cannot control the genie they let out of the bottle with their ethnic-based politics. They are making things worse by calling madhesi activists "criminals". The NC and UML are using the tarai as an arena for vote competition in future elections.
The unrest in the tarai is now the biggest threat to the peace process just weathering its first storm on arms management.
It's still not too late for a multiparty declaration by parliament to amend the interim constitution and meet genuine madhesi demands for proportional representation. It may not stop the violence-there is evidence it is being instigated-but it will help reduce the anger. There is no other way to tackle this.
Nepal is falling from the frying pan into the fire.