27 November - 3 December 2015 #784

Pressure tactic

FIRESIDE: Yubhan Tamang, 39, has been cooking over a firewood stove to feed 300 patients everyday at Bir Hospital for the past one and half months.

After last week’s failed talks the government and the Madhesi parties are back to old games: wait for the other side to blink first. Three protesters were killed in Saptari this week. The security forces and the protesters are engaged in a tug of war to control movement along the East-West Highway.

Chances of resumption of talks in Kathmandu remain slim. But informal consultations continued this week between chief negotiator Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Prime Minister KP Oli, and between Oli and the Indian ambassador.

The main issue is the fate of three districts in eastern and two in the western Tarai. NC and UML hardliners want them to be part of the hill provinces, while the Madhesi parties demand they be included entirely in the two Tarai provinces. PM Oli is equally adamant, saying this week: “I don’t know how many more days I will survive, but I will work for the Nepali people till I die.”

New Delhi, the third and probably the most important player in this brinkmanship, is also waiting for Kathmandu to concede to the Madhesi demand on demarcation of Tarai provinces. Realising that he cannot mend his relations with New Delhi, Oli is trying his best to be remembered as a true nationalist before his tenure as probably Nepal’s shortest-term prime minister ends.

Meanwhile, Nepal’s 28 million people are in the throes of a severe nationwide humanitarian crisis. Hospitals are running out of medicines, patients are dying in ambulances stuck at barricades, and nearly half the country’s schoolchildren in the Tarai have not been able to attend classes since August.

The most brutal impact of the blockade has been on the estimated 2 million people still living in makeshift shelters seven months after the earthquake. The government’s inaction on relief delivery, its failure to set up a Reconstruction Authority and now the fuel shortage caused by the Indian blockade have prevented survivors from rebuilding permanent homes before the worst of the winter months arrive in the mountains.