Compact between people and state is breaking down in Tarai

Compact between people and state is breaking down in Tarai

Apr 13, 2015-

The Madhes is restive. Last week, protests erupted in Gaur, the headquarters of Rautahat district, after the government unveiled a plan to open branch offices of the District Land Revenue Office and Survey Department in Chandranigahapur. Those protesting claimed that the extension of services to the north would lead to a decline in economic activity in Gaur and pointed to vested political and communal interests. Earlier, similar protests had taken place in Simara, the headquarters of Bara district, against the government’s plan to open branch offices in nearby Kalaiya. Darshan Karki spoke to Vijay Kant Karna, political analyst and associate professor of political science at Tribhuvan University, about the rationale behind these protests, the political undercurrents in the Madhes, the relationship between the state and Madhesis, and what this could mean for the country.

Were the protests in Gaur simply due to the extension of services to Chandranigahapur? What is the deeper issue here?

After the Madhes Andolan, the state did a few things. First, it sought to provide facilities to Pahadis so that they need not travel to areas where more Madhesis live, whether it be the land revenue office or the Chief District Office. This was a divisive and racist decision that I am vehemently opposed to. The expansion of services to Chandranigahapur is not linked to any development goal or to provide services to the people. Everything is already available in Chandranigahapur, but there are other areas in Rautahat district that remain unconnected. The state should first develop a policy and a rationale to expand service centres to such places. Furthermore, the ruling parties have converted those living near the East-West Highway, in places like Chandranigahapur, into their votebanks.

As Nepal is to be restructured, we do not know if we will have a district in the future. The proposed method of federalism does not have the concept of district. We talk of the centre, provinces, municipalities, and the VDC. If we are seeking to provide services to the people at the VDC and municipality level, why waste money on it now and divide people? Why doesn’t the state discuss such issues with Madhesi politicians at the local level?

Could this be seen as a manifestation of Madhesi dissatisfaction?

Two things are currently happening in the Madhes. First, the Madhesi people feel that the Nepali state does not wish to address the demands of the Madhes movement. The state wishes to forget all the agreements it has signed. The meaning of two different sides reaching an agreement after a movement means that both will now agree to change their behaviour and compromise. The state, in particular, the ruling parties, has completely gone back on its previous agreements. So there is growing mistrust in the Madhes. Second, people in the Madhes are searching for an alternative power in the region. During the Madhes Movement, there was the Nepali Congress (NC), the CPN-UML, and the Maoists. No one knew about the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum. But it was that very search for an alternative that led to the Forum’s rise, along with the fact that other parties could not perform as per the aspirations of the common people.

What could the alternatives be now?

First, the Madhes is searching for a new a liberal political force. Second, for a radical political party. This radicalism is increasing the chances of separatism. Madhesi youths, particularly between the ages of 25 to 35 years, are disillusioned with the Nepali state and are asking: if the state does not listen to us, should we continue our relations with Kathmandu? I was in Birjung, Chitwan, Bara, and Chandranigahapur about two weeks ago. The young people I spoke to told me that they do not see a future in this nation. I had to convince them to keep fighting and not give up. They are tired of fighting. This is an alarming situation.  

What is feeding this disillusionment?

The 12-point agreement and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement were signed with the Maoists. The Maoist party agreed to give up violence and enter peaceful competitive politics. They also changed the structure of the party by disbanding the PLA and adopting a civilian structure. Likewise, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum emerged as a radical force during the Madhes Aandolan. But it also gave up violence and sought the support of people by going to elections. But the Permanent Establishment of Nepal, or Peon as CK lal calls it, understood this as a temporary phenomenon and sought to weaken these forces over time. The agreements signed were not implemented honestly. The NC-UML did not make an effort to become inclusive and recognise people’s identity. This created problems. In the north, Netra Bikram Chand is organising people. Had the state addressed the concerns of the people, they would not be rallying behind him. It is the same with CK Raut. Why is he gaining popularity in the Tarai? He has not even taken up arms but the state beats him up wherever he goes. When the state defies the social contract, the people have equal rights to defy the state.

Can you elaborate on the emergence of elements like CK Raut?

CK Raut is going to new places and expanding his organisation. Young people are taking after him but I see a sort of madness here. When Raut began demanding a separate Madhes, the state saw this as a law and order problem. It sent the CDO and the Armed Police Force to deal with Raut. The state should have handled the matter politically. It should have sought to mobilise and integrate Madhesis through the proportional system and held discussions. Until the state realises this, it cannot fight CK Raut. So there are the political parties, the security agencies, and CK Raut. The state sends security agencies to deal with Raut and the NC-UML rally behind the security forces. The NC-UML also fears the Madhesi parties, as they are increasingly occupying the coalition’s civil space.

Don’t the Madhesi parties too have a role to play in the people’s increasing frustration in the Tarai?

Yes, they are equally to blame. They also failed to keep their promises to the people in the first CA. But these parties were new. There was an Andolan, an election, and they won many seats, which felt like a huge achievement. They came to Kathmandu and got lost in the perks that power brings, or rather, they were made to lose themselves. After all, most of them originally came from the NC and UML so they were trained that way. They should have worked to institutionalise and implement the agendas of the movement that established them. But they became part of the making and unmaking process of the government. But the Madhesi parties have had a self-realisation after the 2013 elections. Still, while I agree that the Madhesi parties have been unable to address the agendas of the Madhes, they were not responsible for the exploitation of its people. The state and the ruling parties are more responsible for this mess as they are still not ready to change.

What does the relationship of the Madhesi parties and the NC-UML coalition look like?

The Madhesi parties are currently split into two. Some of them want to compromise with the ruling parties and make do with whatever agreement is reached. Bijaya Gachhadar seems to tow this line, along with a few other small parties. But Upendra Yadav and Rajendra Mahato’s parties do not agree. Upendra Yadav is arguing that the 22 and eight point agreements themselves were a compromise on the Forum’s part. That is his bottom line.

What about relations between the Madhesi parties and the UCPN (Maoist)?

This relationship is agenda-based, ie, similar views on federalism, restructuring of the state, giving rights to the people. If the Maoists backtrack on these agendas, the 30-party alliance will break. I see the possibility of a few Madhesi and Janajati parties breaking away and forming a new alliance. But we cannot predict anything just yet.

Some see the recent protests in various parts of the Tarai as a watershed that could pave the way for a huge movement again. Others think that things can be sorted out peacefully. What is your reading?

I don’t see the Nepali state working towards building peace. Every three to six months, it incites protests. This has aggravated the Madhesi people. The state forces killed a person in Simraungadh for demanding roads. These were Plus Two students sitting on the road in their uniforms demanding that a proper road be built as it takes almost two hours to reach Kalaiya from Simraungadh. The state has yet to make the report of the Simraungadh incident public. An FIR against the person who fired the shot has yet to be filed. In another incident, the government announced compensation only after the dead body of seven-year-old Puja Sah was placed in front of the CDO office for a week.

These problems have arisen because the government has assigned security forces—which are non-political, authoritarian, dictatorial—to deal with issues in the Tarai. In a democracy, we must hold talks with political parties , not civilians or the Armed Police Force. In the Gaur incident, a local representative from Radio Nepal signed the agreement from the side of the government! All of these incidents show that protests could erupt again. Kathmandu is treating the Tarai like a colony. The relationship between the people and the state is gradually

breaking down in the Tarai.

Published: 13-04-2015 08:27

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