Terai: Ending the Deadlock
Terai: Ending the Deadlock
By Akhilesh Tripathi
After a brief pause in the over three-week-long violent protests and police suppression claiming more than two dozen lives and damage to public and private property worth billions, the country’s southern plains, the Terai is seemingly heading towards another round of turbulence and tumult. PM Koirala’s February 7 address to the nation to resolve the Terai unrest that came within a week of his first address could impress the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF), which has been leading the Terai protests, only to the extent of organizing a press conference the next day to announce the suspension of its chakka jam and bandha programmes for 10 days. The Forum’s 10-day ultimatum to the government “to create a congenial environment for dialogue” will end in a few days but talks are yet to start between the government and the Forum, and other protesting groups.
In his second address, the PM agreed for a federal state structure and proportional participation of Madhesis, Dalits, indigenous people, nationalities, women and backward communities in all organs of the state; promised to increase the number of electoral constituencies in Terai based on the region’s population percentage for the CA elections (which means 49% of total electoral seats to 20 Terai districts and 51% seats to the 55 hilly and mountainous districts); increase proportional representation accordingly; and amend the Interim Constitution so as to incorporate the above issues.
Clearly, the PM addressed the major demands of the Terai movement through his second address, which was essentially an eight-party document. This is why the Terai-based Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandidevi), CPN-UML, Maoists and other parties, which had criticized the PM’s first address calling it incomplete, welcomed his second address.
The PM’s second address was, however, silent on the demands for a democratic republic, autonomy and right to self-determination in the promised federal set-up, and proportional representation system. While the demand to include the provision for a democratic republic in the interim constitution seems to be technically wrong as the nation has already agreed to resolve this issue through constituent assembly elections, there is no need for further violent protests from any side to resolve the other issues. They can be resolved through talks.
The recent mass rebellion in eastern and central Terai has shaken the foundations of our historically fixed discriminatory system. And leaders of all parties have been forced to realize that the Madhesi people and other communities can go to any extent to claim the rights they have been denied throughout Nepal’s 238-year-old history. In fact, the prospects of resolving these issues through talks never looked as promising before as they do now.
It is, however, baffling to see that the whole debate has now shifted from the real Terai issues to Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula’s resignation, on the streets as well as in the newly formed Interim Legislature- Parliament. The MPRF has announced the name of former minister Sitanandan Ray as its negotiator with the government talks team led by minister Mahantha Thakur, but has said talks are not possible without the home minister’s resignation. The MPRF argues Sitaula must own up to and take the moral responsibility for the deaths during the Terai protests and step down to “create environment for talks.” Even MPs of Sitaula’s own party, the Nepali Congress, have demanded his resignation. Highlighting the relevance of Sitaula’s resignation, the supportive argument being put forward is: Sitaula is responsible for the deaths in Terai in the same way as the home minister of the erstwhile royal regime was for the killings and suppression during the April uprising.
True, as the home minister Sitaula cannot steer clear of the charges he faces. By conceding that mistakes were made and that there were indeed shortcomings in the handling of the situation in Terai, and apologizing, he has already made it clear that he does not intend to escape responsibility. But the crucial question here is, should he alone be held accountable?
The agendas of both the April Movement and the recent Terai uprising were genuine. But there’re also noticeable contrasts between the two. The protests during the Terai movement were clearly more violent than those during the April movement. Protestors didn’t attack police posts with swords, spears and arrows during the April movement. No police official was stabbed, tied up and thrown into a pond to die. No statue of martyrs and political leaders and freedom fighters who fought for democracy was attacked and vandalized. But we saw all this happen during the Terai protests. This shows a major failure also on the part of the organizers of the Terai protests. They, too, clearly failed to check infiltration from those who wanted to trigger violence and anarchy under the cover of protesting for genuine demands. And what about the Maoists? Who first killed an MPRF cadre in Lahan and later forcibly took away the dead body? Don’t they have any role in turning the general mood in Terai unexpectedly violent? And the Prime Minister himself, who could recognize the level of the Terai crisis only in his second address?
Whatever went wrong during the Terai unrest leading to so many deaths and reckless destruction seems to be a cross-section of shared responsibility. But the fact that everybody is homing in on the home minister, whose role was crucial in bringing the peace process this far, alone shows that everyone else is playing the blame game.
It’s not the time for a blame game. It is time for dialogue to work. Sitaula’s resignation will not solve the problems of Terai. But it will certainly put the future of the ongoing peace process in jeopardy. The need of the hour is to stop this blame game and move forward through talks. Terai, and the whole country, cannot be made to suffocate under another wave of violent protests.
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