The unrepentant state
The unrepentant state
Trying to establish an ‘armed peace’ in the madhes will prove disastrous
— CK Lal
Earlier this week, the council of ministers directed the Home Ministry to take “all possible measures” to check the ongoing violence in the tarai. The Maoist spokesperson of eight-party government, Information Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, says the decision is meant to improve the country’s overall security situation.
The Maoists have reason to be worried. The YCL’s extortion of a hapless poplace by violent methods was being met with retaliation in kind throughout the tarai. Alarmed, the YCL’s Maoist mentors convinced their cabinet colleagues the threat to peace came not from young communists but madhesi renegades. Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula, seen as a Maoist fellow-traveller, agreed.
In the coming days, the Maoist militia and the police force could be working together to enforce law and establish order in the tarai. This has implications for the explosive communal relations between hill and plains-dwelling Nepalis. Mahara and Sitaula are treating a political problem as a law and order issue.
Kathmandu still hasn’t realised that the tarai is a qualitatively different crisis from the Maoist insurgency. In the ten-year war, educated, indoctrinated, motivated intellectuals from a bourgeois background designed and executed the so-called ‘People’s War’ with military precision. Funding procedures were established early.
Safe houses were maintained in Nepal and India, communication and logistics functioned efficiently. The chain of command was strictly enforced. Within a decade, Prachandpath had become a cult with fanatical followers. This is why Pushpa Kamal Dahal could bring his flock into the mainstream with relative ease.
The tarai uprising has grown from the ground up. It has no clear ideology, no universal leader, and no apparatus of command and control. Jai Krishna Goit subscribes to separatism, but his influence is limited to three of 20 tarai districts. A septuagenarian, he perhaps feels unable to enforce discipline in his ranks, and is said to be contemplating retirement. Armed splinter groups from JTMM-Goit lack credibility. The moment their leaders compromise, defect, or die, these smaller factions with their fanciful progenitors—Jwala, Vishphot, Nagaraj—will probably disappear without a trace.
Despite the profile the MJF has built up in a short period, it remains a loose coalition of political has-beens from left and right. Nobody doubts the commitment of the mercurial Upendra Yadav, currently in the US, to the madhesi cause. The problem is that other than a vehement dislike for his former comrades in the Maoist ranks, Yadav isn’t too clear about the cause he aims to advance.
The apparent lawlessness in the tarai is a result of the imperfect politicisation of madhesi grievances. Competing ideologies of class, equality, and identity have lost meaning in a region where every major party—except Sadbhabana—appears as communal as the state in composition and outlook. When police powers (to enforce law, protect person and property, help revenue collection) are used selectively to suppress a section of the population, the state loses acceptability and legitimacy. Girija Prasad Koirala might find it hard to take, but his government has no relevance, it inspires neither faith nor fear in the tarai anymore. What will the Nepal Police and the Armed Police do with such an angry and alienated population?
“All possible measures” to ensure security in the tarai should focus on listening to longstanding grievances. A determination to correct institutionalised discrimination needs to be displayed. National leaders should ask for forgiveness for past injustices. Only then can the repetition of history as a tragic farce be averted.
The cost of enforcing an ‘armed peace’ in the tarai is too high to be even contemplated seriously, and the price of establishing ‘just peace’ too low to be ignored.
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