Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Crumbling state



BIRATNAGAR - Over an afternoon chat in his office last week, the Morang CDO mentioned how his district was calm and stable. Same night, the Youth Force chief was shot in Biratnagar.

The UML shut the bajar to protest the assassination attempt. A day earlier, a bus driver in Jhapa was lynched by a wedding party after he requested them not to climb onto the top of the bus. The transport unions of Morang, Sunsari and Jhapa halted public transport to protest the killing of their colleague.

This is relative stability, for the further west you move, the more turbulent things get. Lahan was abuzz with the killing of two guests at a wedding. The same week, a villager was kidnapped by an unknown group. Police negotiated ransom without disclosing their identity, but when they got to the designated spot, the kidnappers ran off. The next day, the abductee was killed.

Janakpur bajar has just about recovered from Arun Singhania's murder. But those active in public life say they are worried about safety, remain extra careful while walking on the streets or talking to strangers, and return home early. A school management committee employee has been shot in the interim. An activist noted that the situation in Mahottari is worse, and there has been a spurt in abductions from villages instead of urban centres. Groups are now targeting families where remittance money is coming in.

All this might lead one to conclude that there is total anarchy in the Tarai. That would not be entirely accurate. State institutions are still present and their penetration, though limited, extends into the interior. There has always been a higher degree of criminality in this belt. Many of the cases stem from histories of personal acrimony, commercial and property disputes, or political or caste rivalry.

But what they do point to is the increasing use of violence to resolve disputes, the easy availability of small arms, the blurred lines between politics and crime, and the emergence of a generation with high aspirations and no opportunities that has learnt how to make a quick buck through loot and extortion.

The state has not failed yet, but the institutional and political relationships that constitute the state are crumbling, and everyone blames the other.

Take what a Janakpur MP told us. "It is the fault of the prashasan, administration. The police get a share of the loot. In fact, they have created many of these criminal groups and use them when convenient." A more objective Siraha journalist concurred, "The Home Ministry in Kathmandu is run on smuggling, drugs and armed group activities in the Tarai. They are all in the loop."

The local administration employs precisely the opposite argument. A senior official in Dhanusha pointed fingers at the local parties. "There are so many outfits; two factions of UML, two Forums, TMDP, NC, Maoist, and Matrika. And all of them exert pressure on the police to release whoever is arrested, claiming he is their cadre." Local officials blame the central Home Ministry for not deploying more personnel or resources. Nepal Police lambasts government intelligence as utterly useless. And the CDO and the SP are sometimes operating at cross purposes.

The only way to prevent further institutional breakdown is to have a stable, strong and inclusive political authority that completes the political transition. Simultaneously, it has to initiate reform of NP, APF and NID; make it more inclusive so it has deeper penetration in society; re-engineer the politician-bureaucrat relationship; deal with longer term issues like political accommodation and putting in place federal structures; and push agrarian and land reform, industrialisation, education and employment generation. All of this will be messy, prolonged and difficult process, but the alternative is a lot worse.

Sadly, the country is saddled with a dysfunctional, corrupt and weak government whose sole purpose is to stay on in power. Madhav Nepal's biggest legacy may well be the further erosion of the state's credibility in the Tarai.

Maoist insecurity - FROM ISSUE #494 (19 MARCH 2010 - 25 MARCH 2010)

1. Arthur
Actually the senior official in Dhanusha is not saying the opposite of what the Janakpur MP and the Siraha journalist are saying.

All three are quoted as confirming that the politicians are protecting the criminals, which implies that they have a share in the loot. The only difference is that the "senior official" also includes the Maoists, as is obligatory for senior officials, instead of spelling out that the orders come via the Home Ministry and the police take their cut too.

The articles conclusions are reasonable. But it is also worth mentioning that while the state remains disfunctional, the YCL has announced it will mobilize against the criminal gangs.

2. K. K.

Prashanta has dipicted nicely one of the facet of Change, which he had advocated for. Change he had wanted, and now change he has got. And still he is advocating for yet more CHANGE. 

3. Harish

Prashant, every word you wrote is, by and large, correct. The most striking point you raised is about making our security agencies more inclusive so that they can penetrate deep into our society. I will be more than happy if you will write more about it in your forthcoming columns. How is the state of not-so-inclusive security institutions is contributing to the deterioration of our securiy? How can an inclusive police force, and of course Armed Police Force (APF) and Nepal Army (NA), can be more efficient in tackling criminal activities? I will be looking for answers to these questions in your upcoming articles.

4. S Dahal

Good article.

The gravest threat facing the people currently is the lack of law and order throughout the country, and the criminalization of politics.There is increasing infiltration into politics by criminal elements inciting racial and ethnic violence, and who are in turn being manipulated by their political-mentors to further their own political ends. It is pointless to blame the police since their own superiors are usually political appointees, and it would be suicidal for them to defy the local political leaders.

Without law and security, the local economies in most parts of the country have already been decimated. Without first securing the law and order environment for meaningful economic development, all talk of "democracy" and "empowering the people" is meaningless.

Some people including "intellectuals" assume that federalizing is the solution. In the absence of law and order all that federalizing will do is create many more dysfunctional states run by local mafias and their political mentors.

This is the most valuable lesson we can learn from Bihar's and other countries like Somalia and Afghanistan's experience.

5. Sumita
Prashant Babu  praised Madhesi power (or condoned it) when they removed  Nepal Sarkar Signs from offices.  Said very little or remained silent when Pahares were driven from their homes.  Motiram/Bhanubhakta statues were demolished and Prashan Babu said very little.   Now, why make a fuss?

6. hange
Interesting: one of the comments pointed out that the YCL has decided to take on the criminal gangs.  I wonder how they plan to do this when the YCL itself is a criminal gang.  Arrest themselves?

7. Arthur
hange, if the YCL was engaged in murder, kidnappings for ransom, arson and bombings for extortion etc then instead of the usual anti-Maoist claims that donation drives and bandhs etc are "extortion" and "looting" there would be endless details of such incidents, highlighting evidence pointing to the YCL.

In fact there are no such reports so you know perfectly well that the YCL is not operating like the criminal gangs in the Terai.

Nevertheless, the YCL certainly has the organizational capacity to use force in a disciplined manner, and to acquire information about the criminal gangs and their protectors. The police are afraid of them for good reason, so they could make a big difference.

BTW congratulations to you for not having joined in the gloating about the criminal gangs targeting the YCL for murders. Even though you like to denounce the YCL as violent "criminals" you are not so stupid as others doing so who make it obvious by their gloating who really sides with violent criminals in Nepal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)