Time for decision

Government leaders have been saying that talks with the various armed groups operating in the Tarai will start after Tihar. There are over two-dozen armed groups in the Tarai. A number of them have laid down conditions for the talks. But Bamdev Gautam, the home minister, has made it clear that the government will not hold conditional talks with any of them. The government has expressed its readiness to discuss political demands, at the same time adding that those who continue to engage in violence instead of coming to the negotiating table will face the full impact of State force. But by reaching a working unity, many of these groups have put forward four conditions - the government should immediately send letters of invitation, declare a truce, release unconditionally the activists of all the 14 groups, and guarantee security for them during the period of talks. The conditions except the

third are largely reasonable, but on their part, the armed groups should also eschew intimidation and physical attack during the same period. Unconditional release of their detained members is out of the question, because there is no guarantee that the talks would succeed.

The main sources of sustenance of most of these armed groups are no secret. Most of them, as the home minister says, have shown criminal intent and character. So it is difficult to say whether they will come for the talks in the first place. The only point of agreement in such cases might be the announcement by these groups that they would stop their violent ways, and then the government could consider going soft on them. The Maoist-led government seems to have given the armed groups an opportunity to disarm before it acts tough. And tough it must act against all those who try to go against the tide by rejecting a democratic system, in which the people have become fully sovereign after the successful Jana Andolan II and the changes that were introduced later on, including the implementation of the declaration that Nepal is a republic. Everybody is, free to propagate their ideas and win the trust of the people, and carry out their ideas with people’s mandate.

What is, however, of crucial importance is that the government must demonstrate resolve to match its words with actions, unlike in the previous phase of the political transition, in either making a peace deal or in going all out against violent elements. It should not allow itself to be indecisive from vague fears, as in the past, that if it calls a spade a spade and show

resolution, it might tread in the toes of the powerful. But nothing is more precious than the peace and stability in the country, unity of the Nepalis, and preservation of Nepal’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. However, toughness should not be interpreted as a refusal to consider reasonable demands of any group. There is no doubt that the spread of violence in the Tarai owes considerably to the open border across which criminals and other undesirable elements can move or operate with ease. An effective check on those elements might well call for a regulated border. The activities of such undesirable elements have harmed both Nepal and India, but as Nepal is much smaller and weak, it is much more vulnerable.