Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
While Butwal burned


<TABLE cellSpacing=5 cellPadding=0 width=100 align=right border=0>
<P align=right><FONT color=#999999 size=1><IMG height=188 hspace=5
src="" width=250
border=1><BR>MUKESH POKHREL</FONT></P></TD></TR>
<TD><STRONG><FONT size=2>NO SAFETY: Following the violence in Kapilbastu,
triggered by the murder of Abdul Moid Khan, families fled to Belahiya, Sunauli
via India looking for safe refuge.</FONT></STRONG> </TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>
<P>Kapilbastu shows the fragile nature of tarai politics. All it takes is a
minor trigger to unleash violence, communal tension and instability. </P>
<P>The only thing surprising about last week's events was that it happened in
central and not eastern tarai. Or maybe it is surprising because some of us
mistakenly thought of Birganj as the dividing point and barely looked west from
there. </P>
<P>Abdul Moid Khan was an influential leader in Kapilbastu and bordering
<P>Viscerally anti-Maoist, he headed a vigilante group and had links with
politicians and criminals in the tarai and Uttar Pradesh. </P>
<P>His killing may have stemmed from political rivalry or a personal feud, or
perhaps groups who knew there would be a backlash and wanted to create
instability carried it out. His supporters, Muslims but also some madhesi
Hindus, suspected the Maoists, vandalised pahadi houses, attacked both security
forces and Maoist camps and torched vehicles. Some people came from across the
border to add to the unrest. There was retaliation in Butwal where madhesis were
attacked and a mosque vandalised. </P>
<P>In the polarised atmosphere of the tarai, it was inevitable that the
situation would take a communal turn. But what is striking is that there were
several layers to this confrontation. There was a tussle between Khan's
supporters and Maoists because of past antagonism and for political space,
between pahadis and madhesis, and there was potential that this would turn into
a Hindu-Muslim riot.</P>
<P>Other extremist groups on both sides also jumped into the fray. The
Kapilbastu turmoil should not surprise us because, while there were underlying
local dynamics involved, it is a reflection of the major systemic problems that
exist in the tarai: the absence of the state, the political vacuum, the rise of
violence, and a political context where ethnicity and identity have come to be
the defining feature and inter-community relations have deteriorated. </P>
<P>The state has abdicated its responsibility and there is not even a
rudimentary level of governance. Instead of being pro-active, warning the
political leadership about brewing tensions and maintaining basic
administration, most Home Ministry bureaucrats are busy seeking postings out of
the tarai or acting as intelligence agents. Others are reluctant to take any
action because it might invite the wrath of seniors. </P>
<P>Local district-level party units, which can serve as a potential moderating
force, are dormant. In a way, the NC is both at the root of the problem and a
possible solution. Its national leadership retains the same prejudices about
madhesis and doesn't want to share power. The party's madhesi politicians are
struggling within the party, looking up to Girija Koirala for direction, or
exploring other prospects. </P>
<P>This means a strong network with deep pahadi-madhesi political and civic
linkages has become inert ,leaving the political space open for extremists,
criminals, and fringe groups. Unless mainstream parties like the NC reform
themselves, promote madhesi faces, become active and engage, this vacuum will be
filled by others. </P>
<P>Kapilbastu is symptomatic. The entire tarai will have armed groups fighting
each other with the state as a silent onlooker, doing nothing to either tackle
the core causes or maintain basic law and order. </P>
<P>Ethnicity is becoming the sole determinant of political choice. The social
distance between communities has grown and linkages have weakened. Many pahadis
do not know how to cope with power slipping out of their hands. Others have
become insecure, resulting in migration or belligerence, as manifested by the
Chure Bhawar. While most madhesis don't want inter-community strife, there are
some who are pleased with the discourse of hate and relish the thought of
'teaching pahadis a lesson'. All the ingredients for communal riots, though not
a full-scale ethnic conflict, are present. </P>
<P>There will more Kapilbastus, both in the east and west of the
plains. </P>
href="" target=_blank>Sound
and fury</A><BR>. <A href=""
target=_blank>Wake up, prime minister</A><BR>. <A
href="" target=_blank>Building
bridges in the madhes</A></P>

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)