Tarai turmoil: Security must improve for polls

The most stunning news last week was resignation of a number of MPs belonging to different political parties in order to form a new regional political outfit that would address the aspirations of the people in the Tarai region. This development proves the failure of leadership of major political parties to seriously address the desire of Tarai people to create a new system under which they would enjoy rights and opportunities proportionate to their population. This also exposes the leadership of the Nepali Congress (NC) whose leader for peace negotiations thoroughly failed to discern genuine grievances of Tarai people by keeping the interests of the NC before the common cause of the masses.

NC general secretary, who also heads the Ministry for Peace and Reconstruction, had announced that an understanding had been reached with leader of one of the factions of the Tarai movement, Upendra Yadav-led MJF, on vital areas of interest. Yadav

has since repeatedly blamed the government for not sticking to its promises. Besides Yadav’s, no other faction had been taken into the fold and the minister conveniently ignored the voice of the civil society to conduct a political conference of all factions involved in Tarai movement. The shallow performance of the political parties along purely partisan lines further complicated the crisis and led to the present imbroglio.

Those who have been asking for the federal system need to be assured that new administrative units, irrespective of the names assigned, would be based on language and ethnicity and such units would have complete administrative and legislative powers. The federal structure will see less power vested in the central government and most of the state functions would be transferred to new units. Though the details have to be worked out by the Constituent Assembly, a broad framework has to be agreed upon by the SPA and the government.

The insistence on full or larger proportional representation is obvious. Only through such an arrangement can the people of different ethnicity or areas secure just and equitable representation in the Constituent Assembly. It would end the domination of traditional power elites and open opportunities for the marginalised sections of the population. However, NC’s reluctance to accept full or larger proportional representation raises doubts in the minds of oppressed people. Former NC minister Mahant Thakur might have quit the mother party for similar reasons.

To ignore this new development in Nepali politics would only add fuel to fire in Tarai. The statements of different leaders, including the PM, that India could play a vital role in resolving the problem in Tarai cannot be taken lightly. Instead of taking into confidence our own people and listening to their grievances, asking a friendly neighbour to resolve the crisis is indirectly blaming them for Tarai disturbances. This is merely a ploy to divert attention away from the government’s failure to address the issues raised by the people. The other serious matter concerns the use of Nepal Army to quell the Tarai movement.

Nobody knew it better than the SPA, particularly the Maoists, that no political problem can be solved through threats or brute force. During Nepal’s decade-long armed struggle, not only the combatants lost their lives but innocent civilians too — teachers, journalists, labourers and women. Ultimately, both the state and the rebels arrived at the conclusion that dialogue was the way to bring a change in the social and political system. Any attempt to quell the Tarai resistance by force would bring unimaginable disaster.

The Home Minister has come under heavy fire, even from sections of his own party and his resignation has been sought. First of all, one who does not belong to the political party he is affiliated with has no right to comment about his resignation but one has every right to question the deteriorating law and order situation which might be interpreted as inability of the Home Minister or the whole SPA apparatus (NC more so as it holds the Peace and Reconstruction portfolio) which is supposed to work for the benefit of the Tarai people, ethnic groups, dalits and other marginalised sections of the population. No home minister, however capable, can improve law and order until and unless political issues raised by various sections are addressed in right earnest.

People are eagerly awaiting the announcement of a new date for Constituent Assembly election. However, without an atmosphere for free and fair election, the polls would be a farce. Therefore, improvement in law and order situation is a sine qua non for free and fair election. A rational consensus has to emerge on issues related to republicanism, federalism, rights of marginalised people and regionalism. No election would be possible without such an understanding and any polling without general understanding among the people would be illegitimate and farcical.

Upadhyay is ex-foreign minister