Signs of a thaw

  • Restraint from both police, protesters means more room for greater political engagement

Dec 31, 2015-

The crisis in the Tarai continues. There has been a renewed intensity in protests in recent days. Protesters have been particularly angry that leader of the Madhesi Morcha, Rajendra Mahato, was injured in a clash with the police over the weekend. This was taken as an affront and led to much anger among Madhesis; as a result, prompted many of them to resort to more aggressive protests. Especially intense protests occurred in Janakpur on Tuesday. According to reports, around 100 people were injured, including around 45 police personnel. It appears that relations between the state authorities and local communities have deteriorated even further. There are reports of brutalities on both sides. This is a worrisome phenomenon. Human rights groups and other civil society activists need to ensure that the relationship between the police and locals does not deteriorate further. There is also a need to take steps to reduce anger and aggression, both among protesters and the police.

While top Madhesi leaders continue to reject the constitution, there are some signs that talks are making progress, though very slowly. At least some of the Morcha’s leaders have indicated that they are willing to compromise somewhat. They now seem more amenable to re-delineate the provinces through a relatively drawn-out process over the next three months. This is a significant climb-down for the Morcha as they had long been demanding that the boundaries between provinces should be redefined immediately as part of a ‘package deal’. However, Madhesi leaders state that they are only willing to do this if the ruling parties make revisions to the Constitution Amendment Bill in line with Madhesi demands for delineating constituencies according to population and ensuring proportional representation. 

The major parties should recognise that Madhesi leaders are keen for a resolution and they should respond with the necessary flexibility and openness. There are some signs that some of the leaders of the major parties, especially in the Nepali Congress and the UCPN (Maoist), are keen to move ahead by addressing some of the core Madhesi demands. However, it is still necessary to be cautious. There are hard-line leaders among the major parties, especially the CPN-UML, who could still play spoilers. Furthermore, there is still a possibility that Madhesi leaders will be forced back onto the streets if the grievances of their supporters become more intense, for instance, through comments made by a major leader that humiliates them, or brutality at the hands of the state. 

Both the situations need to be avoided at all costs. Leaders from all sides, Madhes including, need to be careful to ensure that the gains they have made in recent days are not lost, so that a comprehensive settlement can be reached in the near future.

Published: 31-12-2015 09:27

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