Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Reaching out


: A rough road track with fields on one side and a river on the other; Bhojpuri-speaking villagers, many of them Muslims; a single decrepit police post; the winter fog; and a border where you can cross into another country without even realising it - to anyone who has travelled in the Nepali Tarai, this would sound like just another of the hamlets that mark our southern plains. But Susta stands out, for in the Nepali nationalist narrative, it is seen a 'wound', and an 'attack' on territorial integrity.

To get to Susta, you have to cross the Narayani River. It takes a ramshackle boat more than half an hour - after getting stuck in the middle - to travel across little more than 20 metres. Like in other cases of what's termed 'border encroachment', the river lies at the heart of the issue. Its shifting course has led to the fluidity of the boundary.

On the other side, three tractors are loaded up with Nepali Maoists and onlookers who have arrived to inspect 'Indian expansionism' first hand, and driven deep to the village. Some residents complain that they have land certificates, but the land itself has been 'taken away' by India. Others point out that they are surrounded by Bihar and UP on three sides, and have to go to market in India even for basic purchases - where they are harassed. They cite clashes that have occurred over the last four decades.

When asked about their demands, most residents present the following list. Give us citizenship, for more than 60
per cent of villagers are not legally Nepali. Construct a bridge so we can cross to the Nepali mainland more easily. Give us full VDC status so we don't have to travel to Triveni for every small thing. Build a health post. And demarcate the border with India.

Notice a pattern? All these demands have more to do with the utter failure of the Nepali state rather than grand Indian hegemonic designs. The lack of penetration of the state in its own territory; its diplomatic laziness and ineffectualness; its administrative failure to provide basic infrastructure; and the tendency of politicians to opportunistically whip up passions, these are at the root. India can only be blamed for its pettiness, and lack of diplomatic magnanimity. Instead of allowing such issues to fester, India would earn significant goodwill if it were willing to make certain concessions.

Residents in the deep south seem to understand this. It is an emotive issue, but the Madhes is not prosperous or strong enough to whip up nationalism geared against the Indian state. Perhaps that is why mass presence at a Maoist rally in Nawalparasi's Beltari - held right next to an India-constructed campus building - was not as strong
as expected.

But the entire campaign served a purpose. The Maoists were addressing not just border residents, but a larger national constituency, many of whom regard India with suspicion. They were also reinforcing their message about a 'remote-controlled' government in contrast to their own government, which took pro-people measures like waiving farmer loans, creating employment schemes, and increasing budgets for VDCs. Political communication is all about repeating themes innumerable times in different public settings to create mass awareness.

Crucially though, it was one more step in strengthening the organisation, energising the party cadre, and sending the message that the leadership remained committed and united.

Being embedded with the Maoists illuminated the working culture and commitment of the whole-timers that sustains the party. A large group of Maoist-affiliated students from TU came to Susta, cheerfully chanting slogans. YCL from adjacent districts were present in full force. Regional state committees were activated. Party members and sympathisers provided shelter and food. Mass meetings were organised, where martyrs were honoured, local leaders got a platform, and the Maoist position on the national political situation was explained. Other contingents replicated the pattern in different parts of the country.

Whether the Maoist 'national awareness' campaign is appropriate or will succeed is debatable. But there is little doubt that it has strengthened the party machinery further on the ground, and helped the Maoists reach
out directly to multiple constituencies.

1. Arthur
Congratulations on a perceptive analysis. Of course the problem is the utter failure of the Nepali state rather than grand hegemonic Indian designs. But it should also be mentioned that among the audiences for this campaign is also the Indian state which has been letting rather junior bureaucrats run a policy in Nepal of propping up an utterly failed government opposed to carrying out the peace agreement instead of their previous wiser policy of supporting the peace agreement when more senior political leaders were paying attention. The other audiences mentioned may be more important but that one is also worth mentioning as the more senior leaders may be forced to pay attention to the damage that propping up such a ridiculous government is doing to long term relations. Another aspect that should have been mentioned is the disruption of the other parties campaigns against federalism. They are still following their scripts to denounce federalism as a sinister Indian plot to fragment Nepal while the most genuine supporters of federalism are exposing them as unwilling to actually defend Nepalese interests at all. It will take them weeks to write new scripts, by which time the Maoists will have moved on to target another aspect of the completely absurd status quo in Nepal. This faster reaction time that enables them to also keep the initiative and leave their opponents reading old scripts is closely related to the working culture and commitment mentioned in the article. Parties committed merely to a status quo cannot keep up. Like the status quo itself they just sit there passively.

2. Nepal ko chhoro
Yes we can depend on this paper to present any sticking issues in a light favorable to India. All Nepalis are just idiots. Always angry for no reason. India is the beacon of hope, reason, and wisdom. Nepalis should lick a bit of Indian you-know-what to obtain the same level of enlightenment!

3. hange
While Jha's piece does shed light on a well-known truth, i.e. the incompetence of the Nepali state, it oversimplifies the situation. For that matter, both comments 1 & 2 are extreme positions as well. There is no doubt that the Indians have occupied Nepali land in Kalapani as well as in Susta. Having said that, the fault is ours for not projecting any form of governmental authority on our own territory as the article mentions. To absolve India of their own selfish plans is incorrect as well: the distribution of the Mahakali waters is plainly unfair as is the division of power from the Kosi. Again, we are to blame for not sticking up for our rights, the corollary being that the Indians should be praised for negotiating to their strength and doing what they should be doing: striving for the betterment of their people. But to say that they have our (Nepal's) best interest at heart is sadly misguided. Any complaint of our southern areas being submerged by dams south of the border are met with promises to "study the matter." We best get our act together lest India really take us for a ride- and, once again, we will only have ourselves to blame.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)