Matrika’s magic

September 27, 2008 at 5:21 pm Leave a comment

Matrika’s magic

By Daulat Jha

As the great festival of Bijaya Dashami comes closer, there is little to celebrate in the Tarai. Government employees continue to be murdered, armed groups continue to extort and abduct with impunity, crime and smuggling are yet to wane, strikes still bring highways to a standstill, and the flood-stricken areas are yet to return to normalcy. The Home Ministry meanwhile has decided that the priority is much closer home, in Kathmandu, deciding to go after dance restaurants and cyber cafes, the latter a bit puzzling. And thus, when the Newars of Kathmandu—once a UML stronghold—decide to take to the streets, the ire is directed not at the UML-controlled Home Ministry under whose commands the police fired tear gas shells and charged at the protestors, but rather at the Finance Ministry (for slashing Rs. 16,000) and Culture Ministry, both portfolios tellingly held by the CPN-Maoist.The Finance Minister, for his part, litters his speech with reference to three epochal movements—the people’s war, the Janaandolan II, and the Madhesh Aandolan. He panders to the Madheshi constituency by promising the expansion of the Janakpur-Jayanagar Railways, a fast track route from Kathmandu to the Tarai, the construction of the Hulaki Highway, and scientific land reform establishing control of the tiller on the land.

The last is perhaps the most telling. Contrary to expectations, the Maoists were not routed in the Tarai in the CA elections. Their extraordinarily good performance in the western, mid-western, and far-western Tarai, while not expected, complemented the results around the nation. In the eastern and central Tarai though, where the population is predominantly Madheshi, the Maoists were believed to be fatally weakened. There were even rumors that Girija Prasad Koirala had engineered the formation of Tarai Madhesh Democratic Party (TMDP) and the South Block had encouraged the formation of Madheshi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF) to cull the influence of the Maoists. In the emotional lead up to the polls, everyone—political parties and analysts included—believed that the Maoists would be humiliated in the polls in the region.

Unexpectedly though, they performed relatively well. They won some seats in the northern constituencies, around and above the East-West Highway, but they also performed better than expected in the more southern parts. The key to those successes, which bore fruit particularly in the proportional system, was the poor and the downtrodden, the landless and the Dalits.

No wonder then that Matrika Yadav, erstwhile Land Reform and Management Minister, would rather choose to resign from his post than bow to the dictates of Kathmandu-based political leaders from his party. He must regret not contesting in the first-past-the-post system in the CA elections, since the constituency where his village lies—Dhanusa 6—was easily won by the Maoists. It would have given him the moral high stand and other perks that go with directly contesting elections.

However, the party must have decided to play it safe when it came to their Madheshi man, preferring to have him on the PR list.

When Matrika Yadav threw a tantrum and refused to take his ministerial oath in Nepali, insisting on Maithili, the media may have been amused. The constitutional experts may have pointed out of there being no such provision and the linguists may have objected to the accuracy of the translation. And the nationalists may have berated the loss of “one language, one nation”. But among the Maithili speaking population, he was cheered, just as President Ram Baran Yadav was cheered just for representing Madhesh despite his vocal opposition to the Madhesh movement.

As the Minister of Forest, Matrika had made his mark by seizures of smuggled red sandalwood, timber smuggling being one of the root causes of crime in the Tarai. His latest stunt, the land grab in Siraha, only accentuates his image as a populist Madheshi leader who will not play politics by the tried and tested rules.

Furthermore, he has probably won more support among the landless, the Dalits, and other underprivileged communities. Thus, with the Siraha controversy still prominent in the papers, we get to read of another land formerly owned by a royal family member being seized by the Maoists in Bara district.

It is difficult to guess what changes are in the offing in the Madheshi structure of the CPN-Maoist. Being the most recognizable Madheshi face of the party, there is little the party can do to punish Matrika Yadav, particularly if they want to maintain and expand upon their support base in Madhesh. This could also signal the rise of Rautahat’s Prabhu Sah, seen as an upcoming Madheshi Maoist leader. The much talked about division within the CPN-Maoist between the Mohan Baidhya “Kiran” and Dr Baburam Bhattarai factions may also manifest itself in this for-now minor crisis. What one can say with certainty is Matrika’s magic continues to charm the poor and marginalized in the Tarai.



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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