Clashes in parts of the Tarai over the past week — particularly between the activists of the CPN-Maoist and of certain outfits claiming to represent the Madhesis or the indigenous communities — are disturbing signs for the constituent assembly (CA). They are now trading accusations. But of major concern are the implications of these clashes for the scheduled CA polls, which call for war-level preparations. But the government’s lethargic pace and the turmoil in the name of the Madhesi cause are making the CA timetable increasingly doubtful. Though it will be a fruitless exercise apportioning blame for individual incidents to the Maoists, the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF), either faction of the arm-ed Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morch (JTMM), or the Ne-pal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), the general tendency and intent matter a lot.

At the root of peace lies mutual tolerance, however disparate the rival groups may be in their ideologies and objectives. For that to happen, their political activities must be conducted in a peaceful manner. Put to this test, the Maoists have shown highhandedness from time to time (though their concern for the CA polls is, arguably, genuine); the MJF, despite its claim of peaceful agitation, leaves much to be desired; the JTMM factions continue to launch their militant operations virtually without check; the indigenous rights group is resorting to actions, such as bandhs, and enforcing them with some show of muscle. In a democracy, and even during the transition period, everybody is free to put their ideas or agendas across to the people. The demands of the MJF, the JTMMs, the NEFIN, or other groups cannot be branded as being all wrong or all right. But the mode of pushing their demands, their timing, and the inflexibility demonstrated by some of the groups towards finding a negotiated settlement have strengthened the widely held view that they may indeed have hidden agendas. The separatist tones struck by some of them and the stoking of communal hatred by their actions and statements have made matters even worse.

The increasing, but largely justified, fears are that such disruptive or violent modes will delay the CA schedule by sending the electoral preparations awry. This is just what those chastened by Jana Andolan II seem to be working overtime to achieve. Hence, the intended or unintended meeting of these two roads gives cause for serious concern. Besides, creating disturbances ostensibly to push one’s demands instead of facilitating the universally accepted democratic exercise in constitution-making through the CA — which is the best forum for addressing the grievances of all groups — is likely to lead all right-thinking people to question the agitating groups’ commitment to democracy. If they have the majority support of the people they claim to represent, the MJF, the JTMMs, the NEFIN, and the like will do themselves a mountain of good to get their candidates elected to the CA for drawing up the constitution of their choice. Otherwise, it becomes the duty of a government entrusted with holding the CA polls to deal with the disturbances with a greater resolve.