Madesh Crisis: No End In Sight
Madesh Crisis: No End In Sight
–By Mr Jossee
Despite soothing claims by a plethora of high official spokesmen to the contrary, the long boiling Madesh crisis is likely to worsen, at least in the short term. To recall, in the recent past there have been claims by Home Minister Ram Chandra Poudel and Madeshi Minister Rajendra Mahato that things are now beginning to move ahead in a positive direction as far as resolving the issues agitating assorted groups in the Madesh is concerned.
Poudel recently indicated in Janakpur that informal talks with the Madeshi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF) were underway, and that “serious attempts were being made to hold talks with both factions of the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha” (JTMM). Mahatao for his part disclosed that the government is “seriously considering” the demands of Madeshi MPs who have been obstructing parliament for several days” and was hopeful that their demands would be addressed soon. Notably, those emollient assurances came in the wake of a series of particularly nasty terrorist acts in the Terai, perpetrated by the JTMMs, including the abduction and execution by the Goit-led faction of a non-Madeshis engineer Navaraj Bista belonging to the civil service. Lately, those terrorist outfits, which have even engaged in lethal shootouts with one another, had threatened to kill six local journalists, all of them of non-Madeshi extraction. They mercifully backed off later. Significantly, Sadbhavana (A)’s Hridesh Tripathi saw it opportune to make the mea culpa in Birgunj that it was he who had distributed a CD of the Nepalgunj incident last December which served as one of the triggers of the Madesh revolt a month later.
As he nonchalantly explained it, he did so to make the Madeshis conscious of their rights – taking not an iota of responsibility of the subsequent heavy loss of human lives and property, public as well as private. On that occasion, he vowed that the ‘parliamentary struggle’ would continue until the government addresses the demands raised by the Madeshi people.
Incidentally, Tripathi was one of two Madeshi MPs – the other being Vijaya Kumar Gacchadar of the NC (D) – whom Prime Minister Koirala consulted the very next day at his residence to discuss the demands raised by 26 Terai MPs.
TOUGH TERAI RESPONSE
If Madeshi MPs ‘struggle in parliament’ was one of the ostensible reasons why Speaker Subash Nemwang once again suspended parliament for several days – incidentally, he was then off on a junket to New York which in the circumstances was singularly inappropriate, but then, who really cares these intoxicating days of ‘loktantra’ – the MJF after having earlier seemingly agreed to sit for serious talks changed tack and adopted what appeared to be a wait-and-see negotiating strategy vis-à-vis the government.
Thus, if sometime back MJF chairman Upendra Yadav had indicated a readiness to sit down for substantive talks at an undisclosed venue outside Kathmandu Valley, he was soon to come forth with the rider that it would depend, ultimately, on the government’s ‘behaviour.’
Speaking to the media, he explained that the MJF was ‘flexible,’ adding not only that the government needed to be ‘more serious’ but also accusing Singha Durbar of resorting to ‘double standards.’
To recall, MJF’s shortlist of demands include declaring those killed in the Terai Uprising as martyrs; compensation for their families; forming a high-level commission to probe the killings; the resignation of Home Minister Sitaula; and a spanking-new body to draw up new electoral districts.
Days later, Yadav, speaking at a public function in Sunsari district, elaborated on his earlier stance and revealed that the MJF would change its tactics in the mode of conducting its agitation asserting that “we were prepared to sit for talks, but that failed as the government did not create a conducive environment.”
Yadav went on claim: “The government seems intent on weakening the agitation and delaying in meeting our demands, instead of seeking a solution.” He ruled out talks under present circumstances warning that failure to address the problems of the Madeshis, would only help make the overall situation ‘more ominous’.
As if to fulfill Yadav’s dark prophecy, a few days later JTMM-Jwala once again went on the rampage – this time spewing its ire against NC’s joint general secretary Ram Baran Yadav by occupying his house in Janakpur, exploding a powerful bomb and planting their party flag on his property. A handwritten pamphlet pasted on a wall even warned that the NC biggie could be physically assaulted, while a local JTMM-J honcho who led the attack explained that Yadav had passed remarks against the sentiments of the Madeshis.
For whatever it is worth, Sitaula, speaking to reporters a day earlier, had announced the mobilisation of the police and the armed police force, in an integrated way, (somewhat redolent of the ‘unified command’ between those two units and the Army during the King’s rule) to maintain law and order in the Terai. There he recalled various groups had indulged in abduction, extortion, killing and attack on police posts. He promised more effective new security strategies. In particular, he charged that the two JTMMs were indulging in ‘unruly’ and ‘anarchic’ activities especially in the districts of Siraha, Dhanusha, Sarlahi, Bara and Parsa districts despite, as he reminded his audience, the government’s invitation for them for talks to address political problems.
Coincidentally, or otherwise, the JTMM-Jwala’s assault on Yadav’s Janakpur residence also came hot on the heels after Prachanda’s dire warning from Pokhara against Jwala Singh and Jaykishan Goit, as also – surprise, surprise – New Delhi. As reported in some detail by the vernacular daily Kantipur in its 20 May issue, he disclosed, among other things, that he had requested the prime minister to grant him responsibility to resolve the Madeshi issue. He claimed that if the government were to accord him that wish, he could settle matters in the Terai within 15 days, one way or another!
It was not a difficult problem Prachanda said recalling among other things that: “We know Jwala Singh and Goit very well. They were with us for five-seven years. We know how to tackle them – which the Congress doesn’t. By understanding their psychology we could adopt a dialogue mode with them, or go for the confrontation route.”
Significantly, Prachanda went on to say that it was also necessary to deal effectively with Delhi in that regard. As he reportedly put it: “Leadership that has a tradition of talking with Delhi with trembling feet cannot safeguard either the nation’s or the peoples’ security. If things are not taken up with Delhi in a proper fashion, the problem of the Terai cannot be resolved; in a changing situation it may be necessary to present oneself in a harsh mode.”
Much more predictably the Maoist supremo reiterated his charge that the palace, feudal and extremist Hindu elements were responsible for the spate of violent and destructive activities in the Terai organised with a view to abort the CA elections – an allegation that the agitating Madeshis have roundly, and repeatedly, rejected. If all this only recalls what Prachanda had proclaimed a few weeks ago – that he was prepared for a final showdown in the Terai – so too did an incident in Biratnagar recently where JMF and Maoist-affiliated trade union cadres physically clashed, leading to three individuals being injured.
Even more telling – post-Prachanda/Situala’s assertions/disclosures – were accounts of the two JTMMs going on a land grab carnival in Dhanusha and Siraha, targeting non-Madeshis and NC bigwigs such as chief whip Ananda Prasad Dhungana. Seized property includes that belonging to the late Krishna Prasad Shrestha, former RPP MP who was cold-bloodedly gunned down by Goit’s band some eight months ago.
On the MJF front, too, things have been far from placid. Indeed, on 21 May a group of their cadres stopped UML’s Bharat Mohan Adhikari’s motor vehicle near Biratnagar, asked him and his aides to alight and then torched it. Adhikari, it may be recalled, is a Biratnagar resident and has, among other things, served as deputy prime minister If such a spurt of violent activities seemed to indicate the shape of things to come in the Terai, another related aspect of the Terai imbroglio is that while there are fairly constant and credible word-of-mouth reports of disturbances and communal threats and flare-ups in the Terai, this is either not being reported in the pampered Kathmandu-centric mainstream media or being grossly underplayed.
While such dubious reporting ethics hardly fits in with the ‘loktantra’ hype, hiding facts or resorting to ‘shooting the messenger’ tactics can hardy be expected to work in the 21st century – even in this backwater, as events in the past few years have established beyond a shadow of doubt. This perhaps explains why non-Madeshi journalists in the Terai have also been targeted.
NO EARLY END
Before concluding two further points need be made. The first is that New Delhi is not likely to oblige Kathmandu in quashing the Madesh revolt, especially not if that helps in propelling the Maoists to power, a prospect that must give sleepless nights to India’s fabled tribe of security-wallahs, the heirs of imperial Britain’s ‘forward policy’ doctrine.
The other is that since the security forces of the state, including the Army, are likely to be have their hands full tackling other onerous challenges, including that of the over-zealous Youth Communist League, they would be ill-equipped to additionally take on what might jolly well develop into an open Madeshi insurgency, notably in the Terai districts east of Pathlaiya. Such a grim prognosis would be even more likely if Prachanda is given the green light or carte blanche to ‘resolve’ the Terai crisis, as he desires.
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