The sun beats down mercilessly, baking the fields and dry river beds. There has been no rain for months here in the eastern Tarai, and the fallow fields wait for the monsoon that is at least a month away. It feels like this part of the plains went straight from winter to summer this year, skipping spring.
A group has gathered in front of the health-post in the village of Bishnupukarti of Siraha district after a long hot day in the fields. Under the shade of a tin-roofed porch, they sit murmuring to themselves. One gets up to bring a round of chiso, and the conversation veers towards farming, the heat, water scarcity, and their concern about the monsoon.
The Indian border is 30km away, and the nearest town is in the throes of election fever. The conversation inevitably turns to how a possible BJP win will affect Nepal. Most people aren’t sure, and someone asks: “When is the election?” Goma Shrestha is auxiliary nurse but is interested in politics. She tells the group: “We live next to the world’s largest democracy where they are voting and we don’t know when it is?”
The disinterest about Indian politics may be understandable
, since it doesn’t affect ordinary people in the Tarai directly. But this lack of interest is not just limited to Indian politics. They’re not really interested in talking about Nepali politics, either. “We are ordinary people, we don’t want to talk about politics,” says Ram Yadav, “in fact, we’re sick of it.”
The village neighbours the constituency where Maoist Supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal supposedly beat the UML candidate by a thin margin of 900 votes in November elections. It has been five months, and once more the politicians they elected have forgotten the voters. “The last election was just for show, to pacify poor people like us, real politics happens in Kathmandu behind closed doors and it is messy and selfish,” said Hile Lungdi.
Nearby is the highway town of Lahan, the epicenter of the Madhes uprising in the winter of 2007. The fatal shooting of 16-year-old Ramesh Mahato in a clash with the Maoists on the main road in Lahan sparked the Madhes Movement
Seven years later, the anger seems to have dissipated here. “The Madhes Movement was supposed to decentralise power away from Kathmandu,” says Pritam Sah, “instead the leaders got entangled with Kathmandu politicians and now the movement has become defunct and its achievements amount to nothing.”
The neglect and apathy is evident everywhere in the absence of the Nepali state. The only visible sign of change is that the roads are being widened. Hundreds of thousands of people of the Tarai, desperate for jobs, are voting with their feet and have left or are leaving for the Gulf or Malaysia.
But getting a citizenship certificate or passport is another ordeal. “We have to walk around for two days just to get a recommendation from the VDC for a citizenship certification because the ward office can’t do it,” says Jeevan Phunyal, “when we finally get to the VDC, the secretary is absent.”
There is frustration with local leaders
and simmering anger towards the centres of power in Kathmandu. The disinterest of the people of Siraha with politics and their leaders is because they don’t expect anything from them.
However, they believe local elections could improve their lives a bit. Elected local leaders would be more accountable, and pay more attention to their needs than faraway and self-absorbed leaders in Kathmandu. The people in the plains are worried that the despair will once more boil over because they have been without government for so long.
Says Pritam Sah: “Kathmandu stopped listening to us long ago, and unfortunately, we’ve learned to live with that. But if anyone is still listening to the people of the Madhes we have just one request — write the constitution and announce local elections. What you do in Kathmandu is your business. Give us back our local leaders.”
Mainly in the plains
Murkier and murkier
Not in our name
RAMESWOR BOHORA in NEPALGANJ, CHANDRA KISHOR and AJIT TIWARI in JANAKPUR