29 Jan-4 Feb 2016 #793

Not their battle

Cadre, voters and supporters of the Big Three are turning against them in the Tarai
Navin Jha

Cartoon: Diwakar Chettri

When I travelled to the Tarai recently, I met many people who had been spearheading what has now become the longest political strike in Nepal’s history. One of them was Binod Sah. An influential political activist based in the eastern Tarai town of Lahan, he has been at the forefront of protests since the Madhes unrest began nearly six months ago.

While it is common to find a Madhesi party supporter protesting on the streets these days, what is surprising is that Sah belongs to the leading party of the ruling coalition. “My political affiliation aside, I am a Madhesi first and I cannot stand aside when people from my community are fighting for a cause,” he said, exuding confidence that victory for the Madhes movement was only a matter of time.

The Madhesi Front is believed to be at the helm of the Madhes movement. But in reality, the Front is just a brittle collation of four fringe parties that faced a humiliating defeat at the hands of the ruling UML and the main opposition NC in the 2013 elections. The Madhes movement that began in August last year has been sustained so far only because the cadre of the Big Three parties have also thrown their weight behind it.

As I travelled across the eight districts from Saptari to Parsa, the proposed area carved out for the Madhes province in the new Constitution, I met many local leaders and activists of the NC, the UML and the UCPN (M). Not only did they vote for the Big Three parties in the last election, but also expended all measures to ensure the rout of Madhesi parties. Three years later, the tide is turning, and those who previously sought the demise of Madhesi parties are now turning their backs on the Big Three.

Arbind Singh is a UML supporter, but he is now agitating against his own party. He blames the UML leader and PM KP Oli for fuelling the fire in the Tarai. “Every time he speaks about us, it seems he is just spewing venom,” he says.

The Big Three, particularly the ruling UML, seem to be living in their own make-believe world. They think the Madhesi parties have manipulated their people in the Tarai regarding the content of the constitution. This led the UML to carry out a campaign to raise awareness about the constitution in the Madhes, which manifested into confrontations with Madhesi cadre that only further fuelled tension. The deadly clash in which three Madhesi people, including an elderly woman, were shot dead in Rangeli of Morang last week took place during one of the UML’s ‘awareness’ campaigns.

Contrary to what the UML and other major parties claim, their own local leaders, cadres, and supporters are now hand-in-hand with their erstwhile political rivals. And they say that the Big Three will pay an even bigger price for their mishandling of the Tarai unrest in the next elections. No wonder the NC is pleading with Madhesi parties not to disrupt its district conventions in the Tarai.

In Janakpur, lecturer Badri Narayan Yadav told me the Big Three were never serious about addressing the sentiments of the Madhesi people and their hardline approach does not bode well for upholding the integrity of the country. He feared that the mishandling of the Tarai crisis would radicalise the youth and bolster a separatist movement.

This is turning out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy — negotiations have stalled, the Big Three have pushed through an amendment bill that the Front has rejected, and protests that had started to subside are now flaring up again. 

Read also

Border control, Editorial

Stop, think, then ink, Editorial

Politics of lies, Birendra KM

Near a deal, Navin Jha

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