The interim government (IG) sounds serious now. On Monday, the home ministry gave a week’s deadline for all individuals, groups and parties to surrender the arms and explosives they possess illegally to the nearest CDO office or the police station. The statement warns of legal action against anybody for unauthorised possession. As for the arms held by the Maoists outside the cantonments for the security of their leaders, the government is to sort out the issue by holding talks with the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which has been assigned the role of monitoring the arms and armies of both the Maoists and the Nepal Army. The general complaint against the 11-month-long SPA government had been that it had been helpless in dealing firmly with lawlessness.

As the country has already gone well ahead on the path of holding the constituent assembly (CA) polls, having recently completed the last rite of the interim arrangements by forming a Maoist-included IG, keeping the peace will be a crucial test for the government in regard to its promises of providing security to its citizens, but it will also be a vital factor in the conduct of the CA polls in a free, fair and credible manner. To bring lawlessness under control ahead of the CA polls, the IG has just a few weeks on its hands. So, the task is Herculean and does not allow for any vacillation witnessed in recent months. It seems the several armed groups now operating in the Tarai will not give up easily. It is a good thing that home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula reiterated the government’s appeal to various Madhesi and Janajati groups for talks. But the government cannot look on helplessly in the name of talks amid the continuation of violence, arson, vandalism, intimidation, extortion, and abduction.

In the case of the Tarai, however, it is more than an open secret that the infiltration of groups from across the southern border by criminals and other people with vested interests, often carrying arms, has contributed to a further deterioration in the law and order situation. As it has become increasingly clear over the weeks in course of the agitation in some parts of the Tarai, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala was right in raising this issue at his 40-minute-long meeting with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Monday. It was heartening that Singh assured Koirala that he would do everything possible in that regard and directed the authorities to do the needful. But, the full import of the assurance will be known only in the days to come. One wonders, however, what might have happened had the outrage of the kind been perpetrated from the Nepali side of the border. Koirala also raised some other issues like the unilateral construction of water structures by India on the border. While Singh’s response has been “positive”, the question still remains as to those already built. There is no doubt that Nepal should do its bit to keep its own house in order, but there is no denying that India’s goodwill and help are vital in so many areas, including, of course, the successful conduct of the upcoming CA polls.