Take a rain check

Amid wider allegations that some vested interests have instigated the current Terai unrest that began with the promulgation of the Interim Constitution (IC), the government on Monday night took into custody for interrogation more than a dozen people who had held important positions during the active royal rule. The arrestees included former ministers in the King-headed Cabinet, Kamal Thapa and Badri Prasad Mandal, out of a suspect list of 84 persons, thereby indicating the likelihood of more arrests. The list is said to be based on “analysis and intelligence inputs”. Home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula told the press that the government had already identified “those who were largely responsible for instigating violence, murder, vandalism and arson”. Sitaula said the situation would improve “in a day or two” as the government was inclined towards taking “stern measures” to control the violence.

Advisedly, the government should take a two-pronged approach — the conciliatory approach to address the genuine grievances and a tough one to deal with those who want to create anarchy for the mischievous purpose of disrupting the constituent assembly (CA) elections. By addressing the Madhesis’ genuine concerns, the government will be able to judge the character of the protests. Resolution of problems through talks is the best means. But in the Terai there are a number of outfits. The ultimate demands of such small outfits range from relatively realistic ones to the flatly unacceptable separatist overtones. Agreement with one may therefore not be acceptable to the other, a development which may prove helpful to those hell-bent on derailing the country’s march to the CA polls. Strangely, though, the role of those at whose call the protests have erupted in the Terai was hardly discernible in the historic April pro-democracy uprising.

That said, however, the detainees should be properly treated within the bounds of the law and human rights. Clearly, the burden of proof falls on the government. While it is the duty of the government to take all necessary legal measures to keep the peace, it must not be seen to be acting out of vendetta. As for the Madhesis’ issues, the government’s attempt at resolving them should be guided by the principles of equality, equity and democratic principles rather than by the compulsion to placate. In doing this, the broader national perspectives and long-term implications must never be overlooked. The IC, the compromise document of the eight parties pending the CA polls, is already geared to restructuring the centralised unitary political system. As it is, most of the eight parties are for federalism and proportional representation. In this context, the resignation of Hridayesh Tripathi, the NSP-Anandidevi minister, can only be viewed as a move aimed at preventing the likely erosion of his (and his party’s) constituency. In view of all these factors, the timing of the present unrest is unfortunate even though the battle for “identity” and “representation” is justifiable.