Terai: Risks of Trivialization
Terai: Risks of Trivialization
By Anand Aditya
History, they say, repeats itself and, in Nepal’s context, it has been repeating itself in my own living memory more than once. To illustrate the point, February of this year brings to mind February of the year 1996 when just like now, the ruling regime of the day chose to keep its eyes and ears shut to the Maoist demands helping the rumblings in the Rolpa hills to morph itself into a mammoth mass movement. The bluster of the then Home Minister was a typical specimen of the tendency to trivialize issues. A trivialization syndrome may, in fact, be already underway today when the terai is burning—ignoring the issues of the day at stake, the regime’s incapacity to cope with the gravity of the moment, measures too little and too late, thereby inviting disaster as an inevitable build-up of the preceding factors.The propensity to trivialize is a familiar and chronic malady of all soft and survival regimes, and is certainly not unique to Nepal. Trivializing the sane advice of a professional (General Amar Singh Thapa) brought defeat to Nepal in 1816 and a similar blunder by Nehru (ignoring C-in-C General Thimayya’s warnings against a war with China) defeated India in 1962. Trivialization of a two-front-war felled Hitler in 1945 and trivializing the sensitivities of the significant minority of Muslims lay behind the partition of India. A very fresh example of trivialization is the approach taken by the royal regime and everyone knows the price it paid.
The impact of the protests in the terai, which is manifesting itself in several forms —arson and armed protest forcing the withdrawal of police posts, and presence of the government at the local level, destruction of property and physical attacks on statues, journalists, and ambulances, defiance of curfew orders, abductions and extortions, even bans on property sale, has been clearly heavy and the consequences far-reaching—closure of government offices and police posts, blockage of transport, ban on public movement in terai districts east of Chitwan. Scores have died and hundreds have been wounded in less than a month. The quantum of violence and the measures adopted by the ruling regime shows it has changed little over the years, suggesting the need of the hour is a radical change in the way power is used by the government. In both its nature and momentum, the region’s uprising is the first of its kind. The people of the terai are up today demanding a place for themselves, a place promised but denied for decades, to claim back rights that are due them, and to seize the recognition refused so far. The leadership mostly consists of ex-comrades-in-arms of the Maoist leadership, fully conversant with the principles and techniques, tools and technology of mass uprising and mobilization. In fact, this observer will not be surprised if the terai turbulence sets off a whole chain of similar movements in the near future in other regions as well—in western terai, in Karnali, in the eastern hills, even in and around the Kathmandu Valley. After all, are not most of their demands legitimate and reasonable— federalism, constituencies based on population, proportional representation, justice for communities, right to self-determination, and autonomy? And are not these demands the very ones made by the people of other regions, Dalits, Janajati, and women? Four things appear obvious by now. First, the ink on the Interim Constitution has yet to dry, but the document is bound to change. Second, the uprising is assuming the form of an ethno-regional movement with wide mass support that can spread like a prairie fire to other regions. Third is the somnolence of those in the government that reflects a deep divide between their conduct and their capability to respond properly to this uprising. The question here is: What is holding the legislature-parliament back from holding its sessions on such a grave issue and who is stopping the party leaders from visiting the scene? Fourth is the possible infiltration of agitators, fanatic groups, and other miscreants trying to fish in the troubled waters of the terai—be it to revive monarchy, or to prevent secularization and the Constituent Assembly polls. The argument appears plausible, but one must not forget that the very first step of the government was a wrong one—incarcerating the activists of the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum for burning copies of the Interim Constitution and standing silent over another similar protest of NEFEN. Such discrimination was bound to stoke further the flames of resentment in the region. Is it then the beginning of the end of this state, as one observer claimed on February 1? I don’t think it is and there is more than one reason to be more sanguine. Connecting the genuine demands of a whole region and the legitimate movement of a people long suppressed to the possible doom of the state is not only to underestimate the resilience of our state. Remember it survived the onslaught of the British Empire in 1816; it returned from the precipice last year with the success of the Jana Andolan II; it could bring the Maoists into the nation’s mainstream; and the people were also able to craft out the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) almost on their own. Such a doom-and-gloom approach may be tantamount to confusing the trees for the forest, the symptom for the cause, grossly misreading and exaggerating the writing on the wall. All the people in the terai are clamoring for is the birth of a New Nepal – a nation which is just and more inclusive, more cohesive and capable, more democratic and delivering and their agonized cry demands a cool-headed political solution, not the use of force in the form of an emergency or the army as has been suggested the other day. Whereas the readiness of the sons of the terai to face the hail of bullets and die blasts the myth that they are timid, it also shows that the people stand united, for the first time in this nation’s history perhaps, to claim back what is theirs by right and reason. History, no doubt, repeats itself, but it can repeat itself in more than one way. In that sense, it will keep repeating itself till we learn the lessons.
Entry filed under: Articles.