19-25 January 2018 #893


Niri Shrestha
LOCKING HORNS: Two bulls face off in Taruka village of Nuwakot, some 60 km east of Kathmandu. Local farmers make their bulls fight for a prize money as part of the annual Manghe Sankrati festival, which was celebrated on 15 January this year.

A day after the outgoing Sher Bahadur Deuba government chose temporary headquarters of all seven provinces, protests have erupted across the country.

In Dhankuta, protesters torched several government offices, forcing the local administration to declare a curfew Thursday. Demonstrators wanted their hill town to be the Province 1 capital, and took to the streets when the government chose Biratnagar. In Birganj, protesters have enforced a strike demanding their border city be the Province 2 capital instead of Janakpur, which is the government’s choice. People in Bara, too, are up in arms.

In Dang, cross-party leaders and cadres have joined hands to oppose the government’s decision to set up Province 5 headquarters in Rupandehi. In Dipayal, NC cadres burnt effigies of their own party president, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, for declaring Dhangadhi the Province 7 capital.

There is also dissatisfaction against Hetauda, instead of Kathmandu or Kavre, as the Province 3 capital. Only Pokhara and Surkhet, the temporary headquarters of Provinces 4 and 6 respectively, have been unopposed so far.

Upon his arrival Thursday from a medical trip to Bangkok, UML Chair KP Oli, widely seen as the PM in waiting, slammed the government for naming state chiefs and provincial capitals to ‘fulfil its own needs’. But he urged protesters to roll back their strikes, saying state assemblies will later decide on provincial capitals.

Oli’s appeal is unlikely to calm protesters. They know the government has chosen temporary headquarters only, and that the real power to declare provincial capitals lies in state assemblies. But they also know that if they relent now they will have less power later.

NC leader Surendra Chaudhary, who is in the forefront of protests in Birganj, says: “The more we intensify our protests now, the stronger our bargaining power will be later. If we fail to make our voice heard now, the state assembly will endorse what the government has decided.”

Chaudhary’s statement sums up the mind-set of cross-party leaders and cadres spearheading protests. They know what they are up to now is just a rehearsal for a bigger fight. And, if state assemblies nullify the government’s decision, protests will erupt in the cities that have been made temporary headquarters. It seems the real test to implementing federalism has just begun.