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The troubled pre-election scenario in Terai: A challenge to Deuba government

Hari Bansh Jha | Updated on: 19 June 2017, 12:24 IST
(Prakash Mathema/AFP)

The first phase of local elections for the village councils/municipalities in Nepal was conducted mostly in the hill and the mountain regions of the country in Provinces 3, 4 and 6 by the previous Pushpa Kamal Dahal government on 14 May.

These elections are all a part of the process to implement the controversial Nepalese constitution that was promulgated on 20 September 2015.

With the change in political equation thereafter, the newly formed government under Sher Bahadur Deuba was expected to conduct the second phase of local elections mostly in the Terai region in Provinces 1, 2, 4 and 7 on 28 June.

However, immediately after assuming power the Deuba government deferred the date of the election for in Province No. 2 in Terai from 28 June to 18 September fearing violence in the region.

Therefore, now elections will only be held in Provinces 1, 5 and 7 on 28 June.

But the Rashtriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJPN), the main political party of the Terai, that had given a call for boycotting local elections was further agitated with the decision to re-schedule the poll date in Province 2 while keeping the dates for the other parts intact.

The RJPN has now taken a more aggressive posture and has concentrated its efforts to boycott elections in all the Terai districts where the election is due on 28 June.

Say no to votes

Senior RJPN leaders have stated that the government’s decision to defer election date in Province 2 was made unilaterally without considering any of their demands like –

– Re-demarcation of provincial boundaries

– Population-based election

– Proportional representation in state mechanism

Therefore, they were compelled to boycott elections until their demands were addressed through proper amendment of the constitution.

In 2015-16, the Madheshis, Tharus and other Janajati ethnic communities of the Terai region had opposed the constitution for its failure to address their grievances. In this process, they had also imposed economic blockade at the main custom points along Nepal-India border.

But none of the governments formed thereafter have tried to address their concerns, though there have been several rounds of dialogue between the Madhesh-centric political parties and the government.

In Terai, the RJPN’s decision to boycott the election has created a new zeal among the Madhesi population. Now the party has been able to establish itself as a forerunner in Madhesh politics. It has gained mileage over its rivals, including the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist Centre (CPN-MC).

Also, it has marginalised certain opportunist forces in Terai that recently deserted the Madhesh issues to serve their vested interests. Besides, it has proved that it was not the tool in the hands of any external force that wanted it to participate in the forthcoming elections against its interests.

Significantly, many of the leaders of the ruling Nepali Congress and the CPN-MC are not happy with the government's decision to defer election date in Province 2 as they fear that they would lose in the next phase of the election in the region.

The CPN-UML has charged that the Nepali Congress deferred the date of election fearing defeat in the region.

The RJPN has launched vigorous protest programmes against the elections through lathi rallies and general strikes all over the Terai districts.

Such developments have embarrassed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and have added to the anxiety of the Nepali Congress that it might lose its constituency in the Terai.

Call to arms

To meet the challenging situation, the government beefed up security in Terai eightfold to ensure that the elections are conducted in a peaceful manner. Apart from the police and the intelligence, the army is also to be deployed.

Despite some of those measures, five RJPN cadres succumbed to severe injuries when the police fired on them at Parasi, the district headquarters of Nawalparasi districts in Terai on 16 June, a day before candidate nominations were to be filed.

Incidentally, the tragedy took place when RJPN supremo Mahanta Thakur was addressing the people protesting  against the elections.

Sporadic incidents of vandalism of vehicles and government offices have been reported from all over the Terai. At least ten people were injured in a bomb blast at Banganga municipality in Kapilvastu district.

The entire Madhesh region has become tense. Many people believe that it is the beginning of the fourth phase of the Madhesi uprising, the first one was in 2007, the second one in 2008 and the third one in 2015-16.

The legitimacy of the constitution cannot be established so long as the Madheshis do not participate. Hence, instead of imposing elections in the Terai by force, it would be better to address their issues for which active cooperation of the ruling and the opposition parties is necessary.

It should not be forgotten that the Madhesh issue is not the issue of people of any particular region, but a national one.

As such, even such political parties that claims to be ‘nationalist’ need to prove their worth by addressing the Madheshi issues to ensure peace and stability in Terai in particular, and the country in general.

First published: 19 June 2017, 12:24 IST
Hari Bansh Jha

The writer is a Nepali national currently a Research Fellow at the Indian Council for World Affairs, New Delhi.