Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Eyes on the ball


The turmoil of Tarai politics has got complex with two factions of the Forum getting formal status. Within each of them, though, resentment against the respective leadership persists for mismanaging party affairs and not delivering on 'Madhesi rights'. MPs feel that the Madhes has become weaker as a political force in the last few months.

The TMDP continues to be a reluctant party in government. The selection of ministers has caused heart-burn amongst some others, the party was clearly happier and more united while outside. Mahant Thakur continues to be one of the few leaders in the Madhesi political landscape who is not in the game for power. But he has not been able to translate that into organisational success.

The Madhesi fronts of the Maoists and Jana Morcha formally merged this week. With influence in pockets of Siraha, Dhanusha and a few other districts, this comes as a shot in the arm for the Maoists. The problem for Maoists in Madhes continues to be leadership. For now, Ram Rijhan Yadav appears to be their key organisational person on the ground.

The dark horse is Matrika Yadav, who is following a four-pronged strategy:
* expand his network by allying with disgruntled elements of Maoists and other ethnic movements like Limbuwan
* try to wean away disillusioned sections from the PLA, where he has found partial success
* go back to the land grab campaign in Tarai where the state has done little to address the landless question
* and, slowly collect arms
He may or may not start an armed movement again, but his outfit can be categorised as a semi-militant one.

The armed groups continue to be fragmented, with most of them adopting the criminal route. The announcement of the new security policy, coupled with a spate of 'fake encounters', has reduced the possibility of talks with any of these groups. The militants have become more cautious but are planning to escalate attacks as 'revenge'.

The Tharus are becoming stronger, with Laxman Tharu as their most powerful leader. Till Raj Kumar Lekhi and Tharu Kalyankari Sabha continue to be UML lackeys, they may be able to stir up protests but will face credibility questions in the Tarai.

Laxman is busy expanding his party, with militant cadre, in the west. He is also networking with both ethnic activists and Madhesi leaders in Kathmandu to keep doors open for a broader alliance. He plans to announce an agitation soon.

What is striking is that three of the above forces (armed groups of all hues, Matrika Yadav, and Laxman Tharu) are outside the framework of the CA process. If and when the constitution is written, be aware of their potential to question its legitimacy and challenge it.

In terms of the mood, especially in the Madhes heartland, there is simmering discontent against Kathmandu and frustration with the leadership. The Madhesi parties have not made the vice president's Hindi issue a street issue yet, maybe they were not allowed to by powers-that-be in order to save the government trouble. But the issue has revived memories of the regressive SC judgement of not allowing Maithili and Newari in local municipalities.

The hill elite has suddenly discovered the love of local Madhesi languages and pit it against Hindi. It is a pointless argument, for Madhesi parties see it as their language: it is widely spoken, and not allowing it only generates resentment.

This judicial judgement, the absence of Madhesis in political appointments by the executive yet again (and the shameful silence on the fake encounters by Kathmandu 'civil society' and the obscenely paid, self-obsessed, inefficient careerists at OHCHR who last produced a report eight months ago) has sent a message to Madhesi political actors: 'we haven't changed and we don't care'.

Kathmandu is lucky that Madhesi leaders are discredited. But by handing over one issue after another, they are only opening up the space for radical forces to capitalise on the 'Madhes sentiment'. If anyone thinks that disillusionment with the Madhesi forces will help the NC and UML benefit (especially in its continued unreformed and conservative shape) they are mistaken.

Understanding the Madhesi angst, the changing ground dynamics, and politically engaging with it, is a full-time job. The sooner the rulers understand it, the better. They should keep their eyes on the ball.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)