Nepal unrest: No solution in sight, Terai death toll 59

Kathmandu, Jan 22 (IANS) With Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli and his party CPN-UML hardening their stance against the more than five-month-old Madhesi agitation in the Himalyan nation’s southern terai region for a more representative constitution, a resolution receded even farther as three protestors died in police firing on Thursday in the south-eastern Morang district.

Since early morning on Friday, incensed Madhesi protestors forced markets to shut down and indulged in arson besides clashing with the police in several parts of the Terai as the protests assumed a more violent form than earlier.

The Madhesi protestors are demanding, among other things, a redrawing of the boundaries of the provinces in Nepal as proposed in the new Constitution — promulgated on September 20 last year; and representation in Parliament on the basis of population. Significantly, the Nepal Terai has almost 51 percent of the country’s population and yet gets only one-third of seats in Parliament.

The Madhesis also seek proportional representation in government jobs and restoration of rights granted to them in the interim constitution of 2007 which the new charter has snatched away.

With Thursday’s three deaths in police firing, the toll in the agitation has risen to 59, including 11 police personnel, and the chances of an immediate political solution receded farther.

Several parts of the Terai saw protests and demonstrations by the protestors with reports coming in of clashes with the police at places. There were no immediate reports of casualty, if any.

The Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM) — or the Madhesi Morcha, as it is more commonly known — has been spearheading the Agitation in the country’s terai region. It comprises four Madhes-based parties — Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party led by Mahanta Thakur; Sadbhawana Party, headed by Rajendra Mahto; Sanghiya Samajwadi Forum-Nepal, led by Upendra Yadav; and the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party-Nepal headed by Mahendra Yadav.

The Madhesi Morcha, condemning the three deaths in Thursday’s police firing, has called for an immediate stop to “the state-sponsored terrorism” let loose in the Terai.

A concerned southern neighbour India has expressed concern over the repeated violent incidents in the Nepal Terai and urged the political parties in the Himalayan nation to seek a political solution to the ongoing unrest and the political standoff.

Vikas Swarup, spokesperson of India’s External Affairs Ministry said India was deeply concerned at the loss of three lives in police firing in Morang district in the Nepal Terai. “Political problems require political solutions,” he tweeted on Thursday.

The escalation in the agitation intensity follows an attempt by Prime Minister Oli’s CPN-UML to try to take head-on the Madhesi protestors.

Tension flared up in the southern Nepali town of Biratnagar, bordering India, after Morcha cadres attempted to disturb a programme organised by the Youth Association of Nepal (YAN), the militant youth wing of Oli’s CPN-UML [Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist)].

Oli, who is also CPN-UML chairman, was scheduled to address the programme but cancelled it later, sensing the mood of the protestors.

The government and the Madhesi Morcha leaders have so far held more than a score of meetings in Kathmandu aimed at finding a solution to the prolonged agitation — but without success

A government-sponsored amendment to the less-than-four-month-old statute is slated to come up for discussion and voting on Saturday — but observers see little chance of it finding approval among the aggrieved Madhesis.

Morcha leaders have affirmed that they were not ready to accept the amending bill unless their rightful concerns were addressed.

“This government cannot address the demands of indigenous Janajati and Madhesi people,” said Upendra Yadav, chairman of Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal. “The major parties need to show flexibility and seriousness.”

“The major three parties are just doing drama in the name of negotiations… the government is ignoring the demands raised by Madhesis despite our having presented the demands to the government in written and oral forms time and again,” said Mahanta Thakur, who leads the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party.

“I don’t know how many times we will have to say that the bottom-line demand of the Madhesi Morcha is demarcation of states… we need two federal states in the Terai region from Jhapa till Kanchapur, but this government acts like it knows nothing about it,” Thakur said.

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