Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Anybody home?


The election to a constituent assembly may not have been an instant solution to the madhes, but it would have revived politics and forced local leaders to start campaigning.

Last week's decision to push polls will only deepen the political vacuum in the tarai and leave the administrative machinery with even lesser motivation to act. Due to the silence of influential local politicians and the inertia of mainstream party units, the radicalisation and emergence of new groups continues. Can't they see the ground slipping from beneath their feet? There may be several reasons why the parties are not acting.

There is no direction from party bosses, who are too busy fighting amongst themselves in Kathmandu. National leaders have neither passed on a coherent message on madhes down to the districts, nor energised local party units. They haven't even visited the tarai despite the seriousness of the crisis. Instead of sleeping in Baluwatar and air-dashing to Biratnagar, the prime minister needs to motivate and reassure his local activists.

The absence of party diktat actually works well for the local politicians. Pahadi or madhesi, they have enjoyed mixed support from both communities. They are at a loss now, and don't know what would be more beneficial politically: to act as a bridge between communities and stand up for moderate politics, or go populist and exploit identity-based exclusivist rhetoric.

Most leaders have decided to wait and watch instead of taking a public stand. In other cases, the line between mainstream leaders and rebels has blurred. A person may be an NC or MJF member formally, but is an active sympathiser of some armed group and even works for it secretly. We shouldn't overestimate the commitment of district politicians to resolve the crisis, or their influence and ability to do so. They are happy dispensing personal favours, engaging in politics of patronage and using their access to the government machinery to make money.

From the VDC to the DAO, NC, UML and now the Maoists have never had it so good. From contracts and licenses to jobs, their word is the law for administrators. Why get involved in taking bold stands and engaging with madhesi groups when one can keep a low profile and rake it in?

There is also a real risk for politicians who want to get dialogue going and take a more moderate line than the one espoused by armed groups. Many have received death threats. The state is doing little to provide security. While the administrative apparatus and chain of command has not yet collapsed, officials are clueless about what to do.

A senior official in a tarai district said this week: "The Home Ministry just doesn't have a plan. Tell us whether these groups are terrorists or petty criminals or politicians and how to deal with them instead of blaming us."

The police are reluctant to take any action because they do not know the political connections of the accused. This has resulted in impunity, with no fear of the law. Officials have neither effective intelligence nor capacity to keep track of the two dozen armed groups that have sprung up. The open border and a nexus between Indian criminals and local informants makes their job more difficult.

A senior SP who has served in Maoist-affected districts and is now posted in the tarai remarked that the situation reminds him of the early days of the insurgency. "There are differences with multiple groups and more crime here, but the similarities are striking. There is insecurity in villages, the administration is becoming weaker."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)