MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
The last four weeks have been a repeat. The government decided to set up the service centres as a supplement, not replacement, of the district administrative office for people living far away from district capitals.
In the Tarai, the decision had another motivation. The Maoists followed a 'highway strategy' during the polls and got votes from Pahadis in the northern belt. They wanted to deliver a tangible benefit to this constituency, which is increasingly fearful of going to the southern border towns to get paperwork done.
The TMDP started the agitation. The NC was looking for an excuse to discredit the government. And Madhesi civil society, which has bitter memories of how the state has systematically favoured hill migrants, got suspicious.
After three weeks of protests, the state had to put the decision on hold. This in turn triggered a mirror agitation, largely but not exclusively by Pahadis, up in the north, demanding the implementation of the decision. The government was in a Catch 22.
What is significant here is the unstated admission by the state that it is difficult for Pahadis of the northern belt to go down to the district headquarters. This was an almost formal recognition of the communal divide. Instead of working towards bridging that gap, the state announced separate service centres which would only reinforce and legitimise that gap.
This was not just an ethnic issue. There are hill-origin people in district headquarters and there are Madhesis in bajars like Bardibas and Nijgad. In fact, even a TMDP member was leading the struggle committee near the highway asking for its implementation. Bardibas activist Nagdev Yadav says: "I am a Madhesi from the highway and I want this centre. The problem was the state did not explain the decision. And Madhesi leaders were opportunistic."
But few have time for these nuances, and the message that has gone out is that this is a Pahadi-Madhesi issue, where the Maoists and UML are on one side and Madhesi parties on the other.
Despite efforts by ministers and officials to clarify that this decision was not a precursor to shifting the headquarters, Madhesis did not believe them. They went by the inflated propaganda of the protesting parties and supported street protests in Jaleshwar and Kalaiya against the decision. This should tell Kathmandu as well as district administrations how low their credibility is, and how easy it is to incite anti-government unrest.
Instead of worrying about secessionist conspiracies where there are none, this is what the establishment should worry about: the state is so discredited that it can't follow through a decision. Having Madhesis as president and vice president and 200 Madhesis in the constituent assembly has done little to bridge that trust deficit.
That does not mean Madhesi parties are seen as angels. MJF is boxing itself in by getting too cosy with the Maoists while doing little for the Madhes. The impression is that power has gone to Upendra Yadav's head and he has become intolerably arrogant. While TMDP is appreciated for staying out of government, it is seen as a Brahmin club. And Rajendra Mahato doesn't have the stature or credibility, even though for the first time in years, Sadbhabana is building its organisation. And there is only contempt for the armed groups.
Matrika Yadav wants to fill this gap. He has the blessings of the Kiran faction of the Maoists, with the Chinese giving a nod. Matrika's radicalism will make life difficult for Madhesi parties. He will dent the core Maoist base in Dhanusha and Siraha. But he doesn't have the ability to build an organisation?most of the present Maoist splinters in the Madhes are proof of Matrika's failure to hold it together.
That leaves us with a political vacuum yet again in the Tarai. To fill this all parties will compete with each other to be more radical. Their calculation is by the end of April, national politics will be clearer when the CA committees have their drafts ready. They need to plan for a movement around that time.