Nepali Times Asian Paints
Constitution Supplement
From the frying pan?


When the comprehensive peace agreement was signed, Pushpa Kamal Dahal analysed the achievements of the 10-year armed insurrections by saying: "Because of our party's policy supporting self-determination and autonomy, for the first time in Nepal's history there is solidarity between the downtrodden, the Janajatis, the Madhesis and other marginalised communities."

Now that Dahal is prime minister and his party is leading the government, those words have come back to haunt him. And the Maoists have come to the conclusion that the demands for self-determination and autonomy by myriad groups need to be kept under control.

In a white paper he presented to the national convention in Kharipati in December, Dahal said: "The Maoist party has been weakened by Madhesi groups midwifed by the Indians." In January, the Maoist central committee meeting concluded that the party was being torn by conflicting ethnic and territorial demands, and it needed to come up with a new strategy to keep things under the lid. A Maoist secretariat meeting in 30 January in fact was held to identify the roots of the Madhes crisis and ways to settle them.

Dahal has himself been active in trying to resolve ethnic and territorial turf wars within his party, mediate between his Tharu and Seti-Mahakali cadre between supporters pushing for Kochila and Limbuwan and other potential flashpoints.

"We tried raise the issue of ethnic and territorial autonomy from the standpoint of class struggle, but if you take class out of the equation it can become very dangerous and that is what is happening now," admits Maoist central committee member Ram Karki.

One glaring example of just how ethnically polarised the Maoist party itself has become is the dispute within the proposed Limbuwan, Khambuwan and Kochila provinces in the east. The Limbuwan want all nine districts east of the Arun a part of their province, while the Maoists have set aside only Dhankuta, Terathum, Ilam, Panchthar and Taplejung. The supporters of the Kochila want a chunk of what the proposed Limbuwan province in their area, including the historic hills in Bijaypur.

A Limbuwan meeting in Dharan in 2 January accused the mother party of trying to politicise the issue and threatened to set up a 'Radical Young League of Limbuwan' (RYL) to counter the already existing 'Limbuwan Volunteers'.

In the west, there is a dispute within the Maoists between supporters of ethnic self-determination by the Tharu community and those who want territorial autonomy in the Seti-Mahakali. The federal unit demanded by the Tharus includes Kailali, Kanchanpur, Banke, Bardiya and Dang, but Kailali and Kanchanpur is also claimed by Seti-Mahakali supporters. The dispute has already cost the life of journalist J P Joshi who wrote an article for the Maoist Janadisha newspaper arguing against an ethnic Tharuwan enclave. Joshi was disappeared in November and is believed to have been killed.

Seti-Mahakali supporters are led by central committee member and Maoist Labour Minister Lekh Raj Bhatt. He accuses Tharu rebel Laxman Chaudhary ('Roshan') of trying to incite ethnic hatred. Roshan has left the Maoists and now wants a 'Tharuhat' province that includes not just the western districts but all Tarai districts between Jhapa to Kanchanpur. For this, his 'Tharu Army' has started staging march pasts with youth dressed in combat fatigues.

The Tharuhat demand is in direct collision course with the Madhesi demand for One Madhes. In fact, the various Madhesi militant groups were all once Maoists and it was they who first raised the One Madhes demand. They represent the first ethno-regional based split of the Maoist party two years ago. But when the MJF and others championed that slogan, the Maoists at election time countered with a proposal for three linguistic-based sub-provinces in the eastern Tarai: Kochila, Mithila and Bhojpura. The Maoist leadership is now worried about former minister Matrika Yadav, who announced his own Madhesi party this week.

In fact, all 13 ethnic federal units proposed by the Maoists are already mired in dispute. There is a tussle between Maoists who want a Newar province in Kathmandu Valley and Tamang supporters over who should get Dolakha and Sindhupalchok. The Tamangs want Dhulikhel as their capital. Even though the Magarat and Tamuwan are relatively quite, there is a brewing controversy over where Tanahu should belong.

It now looks like the Maoists are having second thoughts about their strategy of promoting ethnic self-determination and autonomy. Admits Ram Karki, "Originally, we had used guarantees of self-determination and autonomy to bring the oppressed ethnicities into the revolution." The Maoists are now trying to forge inter-party caucuses of various ethnic groups to defuse the crisis.

Within the Maoists there is disagreement between those who warn that the class war is in danger of turning into a multi-ethnic conflict, while others seem determined to fan the flames.

With reporting by Somnath Bastola in Sunsari, Dirgharaj Upadhyay in Kailali, and Shrawan Deb in Saptari

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)