Terror in Terai: Missing Seriousness
Terror in Terai: Missing Seriousness
- By Sanjaya Dhakal
While Nepal basks in the post conflict glow of relative peace and freedom, some districts in the southeastern plains of the country continue to reel under perpetual fear and terror as bands of “liberators” have intensified their violent activities.
People of Nepal are going through a mass déjà vu feeling as they watch with the growing sense of alarm the expanding activities of JTMM in Terai who have steadily intensified their violent actions in the region even as the central government and the political parties continue to turn a blind eye.
When the Maoists attacked the Holeri police post in early February of 1996, it even missed the front page of most of the newspapers. When it started, the Maoist insurgency was thought to be a low-key, confined/localised and unpopular terror-insurgency and most of the subsequent governments tried to deal with it as a law and order problem.
What happened in the years that followed is there for everyone to see. History, as they say, is a great teacher. It teaches people to learn from past experiences. Whether our leaders have learnt anything is being severely put to test as the southern plains of the country continues to burn.
More importantly, if these violent activities are not addressed immediately, the holding of Constituent Assembly (CA) elections in these regions could be affected.
What is JTMM?
Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (People’s Terai Liberation Front) was set up some two and a half years ago (July 27, 2004) by Jai Krishna Goit, who had split from the Maoists. His major plank includes separate state for the Madhesis (Terai).
Goit has switched his political loyalties a couple of times – first a leader of the Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), and then a leader of the splinter Marxist Leninist (ML) and then the coordinator of the Madhesi National Liberation Front (MNLF) of the Maoists, he finally floated a separate outfit charging the Maoist leadership of betraying the Madhesi people. People who have known him say Goit is an ambitious and conniving politician.
In fact, there are two splinters of JTMM currently. One Jwala Singh split from Goit-led faction and floated a separate JTMM – but with similar political demands – in July of 2006. Singh is also a former Maoist cadre and had joined Goit when the latter floated JTMM.
In recent months, the JTMM (Goit) and JTMM (Singh) have taken turns to unleash violence, particularly in Siraha, Saptari, Dhanusha, and Rautahat districts. Significantly, the activities of JTMM have intensified coinciding with the guns of Maoists falling silent. Even as Maoist cadres have started to gather in cantonments with the intention of joining the peaceful politics, the JTMM has increased the tempo of violence.
Just last week, no sooner had the Singh faction ended its two-weeks-long prohibition of non-Terai transporters in the Terai section of highways, the Goit faction announced three-day Terai bandh on January 12-14. The Goit faction has stated that it would not allow the CA polls in Terai region.
Both JTMMs have raised similar demands that include declaration of independent state of Terai; return of Nepali rulers from Terai; letting the indigenous people of Terai operate army, police and administration in Terai region. Likewise, both demand that revenue collected from Terai be utilised for Terai development and cessation of infiltration of Nepalis into the region.
In a strong statement he issued last week, Goit has said that Terai region does not belong to any King of Shah dynasty, and that Nepal has no right to rule the region.
Both the JTMM want the delimitation of electoral constituencies conducted on the basis of population; citizenship be distributed to Terai people by Terai administrators and so on. Goit has urged the people of Terai not to fall for the conspiracy of CA hatched by Nepalis and have called on political parties, organisations, intellectuals and individuals of Terai region to organise a roundtable conference to write new constitution for Terai.
The strength of JTMM has never been publicly known. Some argue they could have anywhere between few dozens to few hundred cadres. They have been targeting people of hill origin (pahadiya). Their activities include extortion, killing, abduction etc. They have set fire on vehicles said to be belonging to Pahade community.
Security forces have seldom come across with the JTMM cadres. Both these groups operate from the bordering area. They frequently make cross-border movements seemingly without any interference.
Though initially their actions were targeted at Maoists with whom they frequently clashed, of late they have started making ominous moves hitting at hills-plains divide. Though the two factions operate separately, a Terai-based reporter recently revealed that both Singh and Goit were spotted at the same hotel at Madhubani, Bihar a few weeks back. Even Madhesi leader of Maoists Matrika Yadav sometime back expressed his surprise to a weekly newspaper that JTMM were enjoying easier cross-border movement. Yadav had replaced Goit as the coordinator of the Madhesi National Liberation Front – a sister wing of the Maoists.
Saga of Violence
In their first high profile political assassination, the JTMM (Goit) cadres shot to death Krishna Charan Shrestha, an RPP MP on September 23. Shrestha was shot to death in Belha VDC of Siraha district. The responsibility of his murder was later owned up by Goit.
Since they split from the Maoists, the JTMM cadres have engaged in sporadic violence and frequent bloody clashes with the cadres of the Maoists.
But in recent months, their activities have visibly intensified. Between mid-December till December end, the Singh faction of JTMM imposed ‘prohibition’ against Pahade drivers from plying vehicles in the Terai region. Likewise, Goit’s cadres, a week ago, murdered Krishna Neupane, a district-based leader of UML in Hazariya of Sarlahi.
Furthermore, Singh’s cadres shot to death a bus passenger Arjun Phuyal, 18, in a section of Mahendra highway in Bhardaha of Saptari district. They also torched a bus and a truck. During the same time, Singh’s cadres attacked a vehicle belonging to Kantipur publications on December 31 in Saptari district.
The JTMM frequently abducts people (particularly of Pahade origin). They are sometimes found to demand ransom for releasing them like they did when they abducted two engineers of Nepal Telecom from Saptari in August 2006. Just last week, they abducted Gobinda Upreti, 65, from Piparabhitta of Sarlahi district. Upreti, father of film star Nikhil Upreti, was later released.
In recent weeks, the JTMM cadres have even started raiding houses of villagers in some VDCs of Rautahat district to confiscate their weapons.
Is Anyone Serious?
Recently in Biratnagar, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said he was concerned with the violent activities launched by the splinter faction of the Maoists. But he added that he does not think this problem is intractable.
Claiming that he was in touch with the Maoist splinters, he said the government will resolve the problem after the negotiations with Maoists are complete.
But the country may not have that much time. Agrees Hridayesh Tripathy, Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies and leader of Nepal Sadbhavana Party (NSP-Anandidevi) – which has a base in Terai region.
Tripathy said, “We are trying to hold talks with the Prime Minister over this issue. This is a very serious problem.”
He added that the JTMM were getting fodder since the interim constitution had “once again alienated the Madhesi population.” He warned, “If we do not take this problem seriously, this movement could spiral out of control and become a full-blown separatist movement.”
Another MP from Nawalparasi district Chandra Mani Kharal, too, believes that this problem has to be nipped in the bud. “We have started seeing armed Maoists deserting their party and joining JTMM with weapons. It must be taken with due seriousness. The government must hold dialogue to resolve this problem,” said the UML MP Kharal.
For now, dialogue seems to be the best option before the government to deal with the JTMM despite their narrow political base and small organisational strength. Rajendra Dahal, a senior journalist, who has watched the JTMM movement keenly believes that they are in search of political space. “But the means, which they have adopted, could push them to a dangerous position tomorrow. Anyway, it is imperative for the government to hold dialogue with them as soon as possible to settle their grievances,” Dahal said.
As one political observer noted, “They may be small and they may not be a threat to this nationhood by themselves. But the elements that may be pushing them look very dangerous.”
For the time being both factions of JTMM have shown willingness to sit in dialogue with the government. They have even called for UN mediation in the negotiation.
As the government prepares to hold CA polls by mid-June in a free, fair and fearless environment, it is necessary that the JTMM factions, too, are taken into confidence. Otherwise, there is no knowing where this movement will lead the country to. An example of late December riots in Nepalgunj is enough to frighten any sane Nepali. nepalnews.com Jan 10 07
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