JANAKPUR-With the wedding season in full swing in the Madhes, most vehicles were booked. Because there were no buses, the Jatahi custom post on the India-Nepal border was swarming with irate but talkative travellers.
Ram Yadav, the custom-in-charge, was happy to have company. "This is a useless posting with no authority to take decisions. No chance to make any money," he said bluntly, "hopefully Madhesis will get more profitable posts now after the movement."
A truck came by and offered a ride till Janakpur. At the border police post, the conductor slipped in two Rs100 notes. For all the rhetoric about tight vigil on the border, that was all it took for the cops to allow the vehicle to move in unchecked.
On board, guruji and four friends from Saphi village began discussing politics. Referring to the eight point agreement between the government and Madhesi groups, the driver explained: "Ekhan ta sab udhaari che, nagadi nai bhel che. It is all credit right now, we have nothing in cash yet." An older co-passenger nodded.
Saphi falls under constituency five, which will see a contest between Ram Baran Yadav, one of the few Madhesi who hasn't defected from the NC and Shri Krishna Yadav of TMLP. "Ram Baran will not even win a ward election in the district now. He is a Pahadi dalal," asserts the young conductor, Anil. The electoral prognosis is not shared by some in Janakpur, who think a divided opposition will see Ram Baran scrape through.
Up north on the highway, Ram Baran is a hero among Pahadis. Gopal Acharya, a young student in Bardibas, says, "If there is one person of Madhesi origin who can be the country's PM, it is Dr Yadav. He must win." Acharya is a member of the zonal taekwondo team, and has just returned from the Republican Sports Festival organised by the Maoists in Kathmandu.
Impressed with Maoist slogans, he adds: "The Maoists are the only ones who can fight Indian colonialism."
Waiting at the Janaki temple for a Kantipur TV public hearing with politicians to begin, Janardan Niroula says: "The NC had its chances. They are crooks and liars. I may go with Maoists." It is clear that a section of Pahadi vote in the Tarai will go to the Maoists, at least in the proportional representation part.
A group of young Madhesis joins in the conversation. "I don't like the NC, but if the Madhesi parties don't get together, I will end up voting for tree. We can't ever trust Prachanda."
Studying commerce and science at a town campus, the students have made up their minds: "Mahanta is in the pockets of the Indians, Upendra is an American agent, the armed groups are a bunch of criminals but the government still needs to talk to them, elections will happen this time, but it will not be the solution, we want a Madhes sarkar but one Madhes is a foolish idea."
Candidates have not started going to villages yet, but people are talking about elections. There is calm on the surface, the results are unpredictable, but the discontent against Kathmandu remains deep.
The voices across the plains have a common thread: the state must implement promises, talk to armed groups, reach out to an alienated population and bridge the Pahadi-Madhesi divide.
Prashant Jha in Dhanusa