- Despite strong differences, the UML and the Madhesi parties should urge caution
Mar 8, 2017- The killing of at least three people in Saptari by the police on Monday will likely have significant implications for the political process in the days ahead, not least the scheduled election. For the moment, there is widespread shock across the country, and anger in the Tarai. First, there are questions regarding the district administration and the police force. They knew in advance that members of political groups that are not just rivals but have deep-seated hostility towards each other were about to gather in close venues at the same time. This was a serious error and there was possibility of violence, as our editorial early this week flagged up.
There are also grave questions regarding the use of force by the police. After numerous deaths in police firing in the Tarai in 2015 and 2016, we expected the security forces to have adopted mechanisms to minimise casualties. Instead, the police shot dead at least three people (and wounded more) in the initial stage of the election campaign season, and it appears that most of them were shot in the head and the chest. At the very least, the situation demands a thorough investigation and punishment for those responsible. This is the only way such situations can be averted in the future.
There are also questions regarding the UML’s decision to hold a mass rally in Saptari. Of course, the party, like all individuals in this nation, has the right to association and
organisation, and is entitled to hold rallies wherever it wants in Nepali territory. But it is well known that UML Chairman KP Oli remains a polarising figure in the Tarai given his history of making belittling comments about the Madhesi population. The decision to organise a major campaign event built around Oli was politically insensitive. The party should have known that it would be viewed as needless provocation.
It is now the responsibility of the government and the parties to exercise caution and take all possible steps to prevent the escalation of violence. Instead, there’s now talk that it was not the prime minister but the home minister who ordered excessive use of force, that the incumbent police chief doesn’t command the respect of the police force, and that the control of the security administration is in disarray. This is loose and politically expedient theatrics. The prime minister, the home minister and the government should display clearly and consistently that they are indeed in charge—of both the security forces and the official narrative. The responsibility also lies with the leaders of the Madhesi parties who have to ensure that their cadres do not engage in acts of violence during the general strike that has been called. Even if the government, the UML and the Madhesi parties cannot reach an immediate agreement on the constitution, they have to come together and urge caution and calm.
Published: 08-03-2017 08:37