Terai Turning Into A Soft Belly?
Ritu Raj Subedi, The erosion of Nepal’s sovereign power has now reached an alarming level. The country is now teetering on the precipice of territorial disruption with the deepening internal crisis fuelled by egregious geopolitical gambit. The state has dangerously lost its capacity to enforce law and order. Its monopoly on the use of legitimate violence has declined to an extent that the non-state actors and secessionist elements have become emboldened and are openly threatening to tear the territorial integrity apart. These are a wake-up call for the political parties and people to demonstrate a strong unity to foil the disintegrative forces that are active at beck and call of foreign power centres. It is a moment of truth and we must not fail.
The Terai belt adjoining India has become a flashpoint of domestic conflict and chaos. It is a place where the geopolitical game is being rehearsed to weaken the entire state. The bellicose ethnic agitation that burst into first and second Madhes movement forced the centre to announce federalism, which has now become a can of worms. A diabolic ethnic discourse that Madhesis and Pahades (hill-origin people) are biologically different and should exist differently has been set in motion to damage the social harmony and cause geographical disruption.
Pandering to the racial-ethnic sentiments of the people has been at the heart of this campaign that can be traced more than a half century ago. Nepal’s democracy icon BP Koirala had predicted that ethno-centric politics would be blown at the behest of foreign forces to destroy the fabric of the Nepali society. In a book entitled ‘King, Nationality and Politics’ edited by late senior advocate Ganesh Raj Sharma, BP had said that the same foreign agents would be active to exploit Madhesi and Janajati issues to meet their vested interests.
“The royal takeover did not only strangle democracy, it had also invited foreign meddling. We have to check it. Here attempts will be made to pit Pahades against Madhesis. One Hindustani, who came from Purniya (India) 10 years ago and obtained citizenship certificate, would become a spokesman here but I can’t. This type of propaganda has been in full swing nowadays,” BP told in the book based on his statements recorded in 2038 BS.
The book also contains revealing conversations between BP and Rhisikesh Shah, Nepal’s former permanent representative to the UN:
Rhisikesh: You see foreign interference in Nepal but I don’t.
BP: Shah ji, what politics are you doing now?
Rhisikesh: Now, I am engaged in weakening the king. For this, I will egg on ethnic and communal groups.
BP: Doesn’t Hindustan or any other external power do these two things to enfeeble Nepal?
Rhisikesh: Yes, it does.
BP: But, you are doing the same things that are favourable to the foreigners.
Rhisikesh: What should I do if it were so? The Terai people have been marginalized so I will encourage ethnic groups.
BP: How have they been marginalized? I am also from Terai.
Rhisikesh: You are a Parbate (hill-origin). I am talking about Madhesis.
This conversation makes it clear that sowing the seeds of ethnic division among the Nepalese began decades ago. And the external forces exploited this by mobilizing the local agents like Rhisikesh, who was active masquerading as a human rights activist. It is relevant to mention here that Dr Baburam Bhattarai was his protégé. In the public meetings, he used to say, “Here is a youth, who we can be proud of. He is Baburam. He will be my representative. He will one day lead Nepal’s politics.”
Subsequent political events have vindicated the prediction of BP Koirala. So are the spiteful wishes of Rhisikesh. Baburam truly carried and executed his legacy, and played a key role in triggering dangerous ethnic conflagration through the decade-long Maoist insurgency. Baburam does not find any Nepali in Nepal. He only sees the Khas-Arya, Madhesis, Magars, Gurungs, Sherpas, Tharus, Muslims and so on. He defines the Nepalese society with the ethnic/racial lens and appellations and the term ‘Nepali’ is missing in his ideological vocabulary and psyche as well.
These days, Baburam is active to push the nation into an intractable racial/ethnic division. He is the first politician who gave political recognition to Madhesi secessionist campaigner CK Raut by calling him to a vital Constituent Assembly committee that he chaired. He is the one who strongly denounced the arrest of Raut and demanded his release from the police custody. Afraid of sweeping and nationalist consciousness, Baburam is now making desperate attempts to enervate the state by forging alliance with the agitating Madhesi parties. He is hell-bent to instigate Magar community in the west Nepal and Madhesis in the southern plains to sabotage Nepal’s new constitution hailed as the most inclusive and democratic in the region.
Unsettling the Nepali society through a combined agitation of Madhesis and Janajatis has, however, been in a play book of Indian regime. In 2028 BS, the then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi called Khagendrajung Gurung to her chamber and suggested to him how India can interfere in Nepal. “If a situation impels us to interfere in Nepal, we will do so with the assistance of Janajati groups. You will be informed about this by our general Manik Shah (who later became field marshal). Go to meet him once,” Gurung quoted Gandhi as telling him in his ‘memoir’ published in Nepal weekly dated Ashad 2, 2067 BS. Perhaps BP had read the mind of Indira Gandhi and warned his party leaders against her diabolic design. Sadly, the Nepali Congress failed to take his advice seriously.
According to media reports, secessionists are preparing to launch armed activities in Terai in order to put pressure on main opposition CPN-UML to approve the constitution amendment proposal tabled in the parliament. Former Home Minister Bhim Rawal told a meeting of leaders with President Bidya Bhandari and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda that a joint assembly involving Indian leaders and envoys, and Madhesi Morcha was held in Patna on Poush 19 to activate armed activities in Terai. It was claimed that 19 second-rung leaders of Morcha, CK Raut, former Indian envoy KV Rajan and local Indian leaders Devendra Yadav and Raghubansa Yadav attended the secret gathering. But, the Madhesi Morcha refuted the news report and demanded strong action against Rawal for ‘spreading misleading information’ about it. In his riposte, Rawal had accused Morcha’s leaders of being involved in ‘treasonous’ activities at the instigation of Indian Embassy in Kathmandu. The government has kept mum about these accusations and counter-accusations.
However, the state’s helplessness was writ large when it could not arrest Raut as he openly called for secession of Terai from Nepal at a gathering in Lahan the other day. Dozens of his supporters displayed placards with slogans of ‘Free Madhes’. It is also reported that local security forces could not round up Raut despite the instruction from the Home Ministry. As the secessionists began to raise their ugly head, the incumbent Nepal Army leadership has taken precautions. Chief of Army Staff Rajendra Chhetri invited former NA chiefs to his residence on Magh 3 and solicited their views to deal with the impending territorial threat. Nonetheless, this is not only up to the NA but all Nepalese should stand united against any move that tends to undermine the nation’s sovereignty and integrity. The Terai must not be allowed to be a soft belly and a breeding ground for external forces to implement their divisive plot.