Nepali Times
State Of The State
Dismounting the tiger


Jaleswar had been the capital of Mahottari ever since this district was created about a century ago. It was from here that Bada Hakims, usually Rana cousins or their distant relatives, controlled the vast territory between Bagmati in the west, Kamala in the east, the Chure range to the north and India in the south.

Mahottari's revenue was so huge that the office in Jaleswar came to be called Bhari Maal, or 'hefty takings', in official documents. During the Panchayat , the central government recognised the political importance of the place by posting heavyweight hardliners as Damodar Shamsher, Lila Raj Bista and Shankar Raj Pathak as Anchaladhis of Janakpur. Attempts to shift the Janakpur Zone capital to Sindhuli was discarded once it was discovered that even the construction of the East-West highway had failed to move the weight of population northwards.

The sleepy pilgrim town of Janakpur thus emerged as an unintended beneficiary. It became de-facto centre of zonal administration and politics. Since 1990 the CDO has been operating from offices and residences built in Jaleswar during the Rana era for Bada Hakims.

Jaleshwar has been seized with another existential crisis after 18 years. Early this week, protestors padlocked all government offices to oppose the transfer of some administrative functions to Bardibas on the highway.

Locals fear it's an attempt to shift the district headquarters by stealth and the lockdown is an indication of the statelessness in most Tarai districts where anyone with a grievance can disrupt public services.

In Kathmandu, residents along the road to Sisdol landfill site always want some more privileges to let garbage trucks pass unhindered. Villages far away from the flow of Melamchi claim special concessions from a project meant for the capital. Almost every sector wants extraordinary exemption from load-shedding schedule with little or no concern for finding ways that can help reduce demand, improve supply or balance distribution.

There may have been many reasons behind Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal's threat to revolt and seize power if any attempts were made to topple his government. For a Maoist supporter, it's difficult to see the difference between previous regimes and the one that is supposed to be theirs. The prime minister is probably under pressure to show that this government is different from those of Marich Man Singh or Manmohan Adhiakri in the past. He has to reassure his cadres that this indeed isn't their government but the one in the future is going to be truly Maoist.

The need to sound more radical than others could be another impetus behind Dahal's shrill rhetoric. In most leftwing parties, the leader has to appear belligerent in public to prove his purity. Restraint and modesty are not the virtues of a revolutionary.

Dahal sowed the wind during the insurgency, and he suddenly finds himself having to reap the whirlwind. He says he wants 'disjointed continuity' ('krambhanga'--a stark contradiction in terms that could only be coined by Maoists). If Dahal can say things like that and get away with it, so can everyone else.

So a communal bureaucracy in Jaleswar concludes that it will be more comfortable in a town less dominated by Madhesis. If the decision hurts the interests of national unity, then that should be a matter of concern to the Maoist leadership rather than Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam. Similarly, Sisdol and Melamchi hold the capital to ransom.

Dahal's threatening growls are sounding more and more like whimpers of supplication. The antidote to his vulnerability lies in cultivating the leadership of his coalition partners and other political parties. He would be merely whetting the appetite of hardliners in his party by promising revolutions that this country can no longer afford.

Dahal has been riding a tiger. Till now, he was scared of getting off because it could eat him up. Now, despite the risks, he will have to dismount the tiger.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)