Tarai on a slow burn

August 21, 2006 at 2:21 pm 7 comments

Suman Pradhan

The Tarai is catching fire, and none of the mainstream parties are paying attention. Major portions of the Nepal Tarai, where 48 percent of the nation’s population lives, is slowly descending into chaos. Over the past year, Jaya Krishna Goit’s Tarai Janatantrik Mukti Morcha (TJMM), which has been battling Maoists since late 2004, has also been hounding the “Pahadiya” community, mainly in Saptari and Siraha districts but also in adjoining areas. Madheshi sources say that Pahadiya families are rushing to sell off their houses and land and migrate to the safer environs of the hills.

“This trend has picked up recently,” says former Nepali Congress minister Jayprakash Prasad Gupta ‘Anand’, who is now general secretary of the Madhesee Janaadhikar Forum, an organization active in 16 of the Tarai’s 20 districts. “Many of my own friends from Rajbiraj have resettled here in Kathmandu. They fear going back.”

A July 2006 UN report, place on the website of the Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs, states: “The situation was rather volatile in Tarai districts, especially in early June. The Janatantrik Terai Liberation Front , a Maoist break-away, issued threats against the hill ethnic groups settled in the Terai, asking them to go back to their villages.”

While the nation remains focussed on the difficulties surrounding delicate negotiations between the government and Maoist rebels, the Tarai districts are on the brink of an upheaval brought about, in part, by the vicious infighting between Goit and his erstwhile Maoist comrades. But the issues go deeper than mere infighting and encompass not only identity politics but a sense of discrimination felt by the Madheshis, fanning radicalism in Nepal’s resource-rich bread-basket.


A lifelong communist who began his career in Bishnu Bahadur Manandhar’s communist party, Goit joined the UML after 1990. He was later lured into the Maoist fold by Matrika Prasad Yadav. Appointed the first chairman of the Maoists’ Tarai Mukti Morcha, Goit split the Morcha in 2004 and formed the TJMM after Yadav replaced him as chairman.

The TJMM’s stated aim is to fight the Maoists for control of the Madheshi agenda. More worryingly though, it is also aiming to split the Madhesh from Nepal and establish a sovereign and independent state. It has an estimated 150-200 fighters but is active from Saptari to Rautahat districts through its ally the Tarai Tigers. The tactics it uses is radical and, many would argue, terrorist-like.

TJMM was recently in the news for abducting two Nepal telecom engineers for ransom. A few weeks ago, the same group abducted two employees of the small border customs in Saptari. All those kidnapped were of pahadiya origin. All were released unharmed, though it’s not clear whether ransom was paid. Moreover, Goit’s group has threatened pahadiyas to vacate the Tarai or face “action.” Several pahadiya-owned industries have been forcibly closed down and their owners forced to flee. Huge tracts of land owned by pahadiya jamindaars have also been forcibly confiscated.

None of the madheshi intellectuals and leaders in Kathmandu support the TJMM’s agenda. All in fact deplore their tactics. “There is no support in the Madheshi community for an independent Madhesh. We all want to be part of Nepal,” asserts Vijay Kant Karna, a lecturer of political science and chairperson of JAGHRIT Nepal, a Madheshi-upliftment group. “But I cannot say what will happen in the future if Madheshis do not get due recognition in the state restructuring that is being talked about.”

People who have known Goit for years say the TJMM leader took up his radical agenda after falling out with the Maoists over three major issues – 1) His replacement by Yadav in the Maoists’ Tarai Mukti Morcha 2) The apparent discrimination against Madheshis even within the Maoist hierarchy, and 3) The division of Madhesh by the Maoists into two regions – the Madhesh Autonomous Region and Tharuwan Autonomous Region.

“Goit was dissatisfied by the discrimination practiced by the Maoists within their own ranks. Very few Madheshis got leadership roles in the party’s organizational structure in the Madhesh. Almost all were sent from the hills,” says Karna.

“There was plenty of discrimination which resulted in dissatisfaction,” agrees Maoist leader Yadav. “I myself resigned from all major positions in the party to show my dissatisfaction.” But now, Yadav asserts, these issues have largely been addressed, particularly after the Maoists’ Chunwang plenum in late 2004.

By then though, it was too late to satisfy Goit. Having lost his leadership position, and disagreeing vehemently with the Maoists’ division of the Madhesh into two regions, he split and formed the TJMM in late 2004. Ironically, his statement justifying the group’s formation refers to Yadav’s resignation letter which cites discrimination within the Maoist party.

This brings the story to a potent issue currently roiling the Madheshi community – the division of Madhesh. The Maoists have not just split off Tharuwan from the Madhesh, but have also floated a concept of further divvying up the Madhesh into five different regions – Kochila Pradesh, Mithila Pradesh, Bhojpur Pradhesh, Awadh Pradesh and Tharuwan Pradesh. This is seen by many Madheshi intellectuals and leaders as an attempt to diffuse the Madhesh’s power.

“Nepal’s ruling elites have forever been suspicious of the Madhesh because they think these people are of Indian origin, and therefore pro-Indian,” says Gupta “That is not true. We Madheshis are as much Nepali and pro-Nepal as anyone else. But I am not surprised that Goit is seeing this as an attempt by the Pahadiyas to diffuse the madhesh’ power. I too think that is the case.”

Even Maoist leader Yadav struggles to accept this division. “I am in favour of a unified Madhesh,” he says haltingly. “But I also believe there can be separate regions within a unified Madhesh. The main issue is how to make the excluded communities participate in a future governing arrangement, and we are very serious about it.”

Another issue dear to Madheshi community is the citizenship issue, the main plank of the Nepal Sadbhavana Party (NSP). Many cite an old commission report which found that 4 million of Tarai-dwellers lack citizenship in Nepal. While conceding it to be an important issue, Gupta of MJM contends that this is not the topmost agenda in the Madheshi mind.

“The main issue is discrimination, and how that might be resolved through a federal state structure with real autonomy,” he says. “If citizenship were the main issue, the Nepal Sadbhavana Party would have received much more than the mere 3-4 percent votes it got in successive elections. The new rising Madheshi leaders therefore are more concerned about discrimination than anything else.”

He should know. He recently authored a book titled “Rebellion against Tamil Discrimination in Sri Lanka.” Asked about the book, Gupta said, “It is a book that looks into the Sri Lanka problem and shows how these sorts of problems arise if ethnic issues and discrimination are ignored by the state.” (A slightly different version of this article was published in the Nepali Times, issue # 310)



Entry filed under: Articles.

A unified Madhes – Matrika Yadav POLITICS-NEPAL: Now Ethnic Separatism

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. shailendra kumar yadav  |  October 14, 2006 at 10:04 am

    hi rajesh jee

    i m shailendra

    i m dailly visitor of ur web site but i think ur site is good but it’s need dailly update any thing bcoz when u upload any thing daiily then ur popularities wiil expand in google serch engine and other serch engine so cosider of it and link to VIP site of our country that will help u for further….
    thax rajesh jee
    shailendra kumar yadav

  • 2. antiboodyB  |  January 22, 2007 at 7:23 am

    Saluting Martyrs
    Kamal Giri
    Ramesh Kumar Mahato

    Slaughter more of your friends and sons of ignorant Madheshis’ in the name of independent Terai and later salute them unless you loss your own family member and remain in hell.

  • 3. DJ  |  January 24, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    Mr. Giri,
    wow, what a thought, u might have kept sleeping in ur room while we were protesting against Gyanendra to protect ur precious life. But remember ur thought is not good enough to be blogged dont insult it. Blog is freedom to speak, and so is not for one of ur type. better to Own hell than to be a servant in Paradise.

  • 4. DJ  |  January 24, 2007 at 11:08 pm

    Wah Giri Ji,

    khubai nidaune muka paunu bha ko hola ni ta. I mean it might have been better time for u to hide in ur bed or may be under it. while people from all over nepal was on the road without caring of their lives. and why shouldn’t u hide, u are or may be some one among u would be in the parliament, and again this country will get a brave honest and passionate Leader like u.

    see how wrong the Madhesi’s thought is they have got, well wishers as u from pahadi community, who is concerned of the madhesi’s death.

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  • 6. XiKjOkok  |  November 20, 2007 at 9:44 pm


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