4-10 December 2015 #785

Tea and biscuits

Nepal’s political leadership should be a part of the solution, and not a part of the problem
Anurag Acharya

Two weeks ago Madhesi leaders came to Kathmandu from the Tarai already reeling from chronic shortages of essential goods due to the blockade hoping that they could find a way out. But emerging out of Singha Darbar Upendra Yadav was downbeat. “We ate biscuits and chatted a bit,” he said.

While the Madhesi leaders blame the Big Three for not taking their demands seriously, top leaders from NC, UML and UCPN-M were critical of the Madhesi Front for refusing to sit for talks. Both are right

But what is also true is that the Front had submitted an 11-point demand to the government a month ago, but instead of engaging in a serious homework with all parties to negotiate a settlement Prime Minister KP Oli  and his Maoist Home Minister decided to escalate confrontation with an unprovoked crackdown, first at Raxaul border on early morning of 3 November and last week in Saptari where thousands of protesters were occupying the highway.

Although protesters were within their constitutional rights to express dissent, on both occasions they overstepped the law by forcibly obstructing public movement. In Saptari police were attacked with petrol bombs. A four-year-old child sitting on a terrace was shot in a disproportionate use of force and live bullets. In any case, Raxaul and Saptari incidents derailed the talks for a month.

Tempers have gone down since and the MF is back at the table in Kathmandu. However, the Big Three have still not agreed on a response to Madhesi demands. On Monday (pic), more tea and biscuits were consumed and another opportunity was wasted. The Big Three were supposed to meet among themselves to discuss the demands, but the Maoists failed to attend. The Madhesi leaders went down to Dhanusha next day to address a mass meeting instead.

Birganj based journalist Chandrakishore Jha has had a ringside view to the Raxaul protests, and believes the government is making a dangerous mistake by playing a waiting game to tire out the protesters. “The longer this drags on, the greater the risks of criminal elements taking over and we have seen that recently,” Jha said. 

The Tarai protests have now dragged on for over 100 days and the border blockade has lasted more than two months. More than 50 people have died, and hundreds have been injured on both sides. There have been at least three rounds of fruitless negotiations.

We point fingers at New Delhi for pulling strings in Kathmandu, but what is stopping  K P Oli from taking decisive steps to end the deadlock within Nepal?  Instead of sending Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa to Delhi for the second time in matter of months, the Prime Minister should have sat down with his coalition partners, opposition NC and the Morcha top brass to mull over each of the 11 points.

Some demands including that of having more than one administrative languages in a province, giving each province representation in natural and financial resource distribution commission, ensuring roportional representation at all levels of the state including constitutional bodies and determining constituencies according to population while ensuring minimum representation to all remote areas, seem fair.

The sticking point is the demand for two provinces in the Tarai, but even this is not too far from the current demarcation which can be resolved in a spirit of compromise. In the last 60 years, Nepal’s administrative map has undergone several alterations in district and zonal boundaries, yet for the plains people nothing has changed. It is the leaders, fearing for vote banks in the constituencies, who seem to be part of the problem.

Nepal’s mainstream media is also playing a role in polarising the national discourse. Half baked opinion pieces about rumored Indian takeover of the Tarai and of the big rivers only serve to rabble rouse. After all, constitutional provisions guarantee central jurisdiction over large river projects. These opinions serve to only insult the Tarai people by questioning their loyalty to this nation.

Indeed, there are genuine grievances that need redressal, but unnecessarily trivialising them or whipping up nationalist sentiment will only result in political chaos, providing fertile grounds for the northern and southern neighbour to further assert themselves in our internal affairs.

It is time the political leadership on both sides became a part of the solution in negotiations, and not a part of the problem.


Read Also:

Calling a blockade a spade

Over the hump, Dambar K Shrestha

Whose constitution is it anyway?, Anurag Acharya

… who will bell the cat?, Anurag Acharya

Before it is too late, Puru Shah

Votebank Constitution, Kunda Dixit

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