By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
In an incident on April 7, at Maleth in Saptari district, the Police opened fire on a group of Madhesis who were protesting against the convening of a rally led by former Prime Minister K.P.Oli and the UML in their programme of “Mechi to Mahakali.” This rally was supposed to mobilise the public for the coming local elections on May 14 that was being strongly opposed by the Madhesi front.
Five persons were killed, and all due to bullet wounds in their chest or heads and twelve more were seriously injured. Many others have also sustained injuries. As it happened before in incidents in Terai the overzealous Police seems to be running berserk.
The United Nations in Nepal issued a strong statement- “We are saddened . . . We call on the Security Forces to comply with the existing national and international standards on the use of force.”
The US Embassy in Kathmandu was equally concerned. Their statement said that the US is deeply concerned at signs of rising volatility in some areas of Nepal including the recent clash at Saptari that resulted in deaths of several protestors.
The UK mission in Kathmandu also expressed its deep concern and called on the Security forces to show maximum restraint.
There was no immediate response from India though the visiting Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal, Bimalendu Nidhi was told by New Delhi that in going for local polls, Nepal should accommodate the aspirations of all sections of society. This actually translates into saying- take the Madhesi groups on board before conducting the local body elections! A strong response on the use of excessive force should have been issued as was done by some other countries.
The incident at Saptari was bound to happen and it is a pity that neither the government nor the two parties- the UML and Madhesi Front tried to prevent the unfortunate deaths.
For the UML and its leader K.P. Oli, the rally was more like a “victory rally” (suggested by one analyst). They had opposed consistently the constitutional amendments that were required to meet the just demands of the Madhesi groups who insisted that the local polls should be done only after the constitutional amendments were gone through. The UML campaign for the local polls from Mechi to Mahakali did not start in Jhapa but in the heart of the Madhesi groups- Saptari district- province no 2 of the proposed federal constitution. The cadres of UML who participated were not quiet either. Their slogans were “taunting and humiliating.”
The Madhesi groups who had declared that they will not allow the UML rally to take place should have realised the consequences. The Dahal led government should have banned both the groups from assembling in the area of the meeting. Instead what was done, was to deploy a large contingent of security forces to ensure that the rally led by Oli did take place on the appointed day at the appointed place. This provocation was uncalled for and the deaths were avoidable.
On an appeal made personally by PM Dahal, the UML is said to have abandoned the rally for three days, to be resumed from Hetauda a place farther east near the foot hills. It looks that the rally in the present form has been quietly abandoned. But the damage has been done.
As said before, the UML led by Oli is presently riding on a “nationalistic wave” and idea of a country wide rally from east to west was to consolidate the support of the hill people. In the process it appears to be their view that the more they taunt and embarrass the Madhesis, the better will be the chances for their success in the polls. But this is a dangerous move bound to alienate the Terain population who number nearly 40 percent in the country. People like Oli and Raut- the latter who is going in and out of jail for demanding secession are bound to disturb the unity and stability of Nepal.
Strangely, the party that has the largest representation in the parliament and which is supposed to take over the government after the local polls is silent. No regrets over deaths. No suggestions either to get the Madhesi groups on board for the elections.
The Madhesi groups should also make an introspection of their strategy. They have been responsible for over a hundred deaths so far in the agitation on the constitutional amendment. They have not realised that it is their disunity in the last elections that resulted in their diminished presence in the parliament. The best course for them would be to go for the local polls and try to get the amendments minus the proposed change of provincial boundaries passed immediately and leave it to the any acceptable neutral commission to decide on the boundaries. Leaders like Upendra Yadav and Rajendra Mahatao should relent and not let the Terai bleed.