The much-feared confrontation in the Tarai between rival political parties for and against elections ignited in Saptari on Monday, leaving four dead in police firing.
Four people were killed and 11 injured when protesters clashed with police in Saptari on Monday, and there is fear that the violence will spread as UML and Madhes-based parties are likely to battle more for dominance of the Tarai.
An East-West caravan of UML supporters has been making its way through Province 2 despite obstructions by Tarai-centric parties. After the Saptari incident, the UML decided to put the parade on hold for three days.
Two days after flagging off its Mechi-Mahakali campaign in the easternmost plains district of Jhapa, the UML on Monday entered Province 2, which Tarai-centric parties consider their heartland and where they have portrayed the UML as an anti-Madhes party.
As the 4 km-long convoy of nearly 600 trucks, jeeps and cars carrying about 4,000 UML supporters crossed the Kosi barrage, hundreds of supporters of Tarai-centric parties tried stop the caravan.
But police kept them off the East-West highway, clashing with baton-wielding protesters in some places. However, after the UML concluded its program in Saptari, violence erupted and two Madhesi protester were killed in police firing on the spot. Two others died on their way to hospital in Dharan.
Shortly before the violence, UML Chair KP Oli, clad in white kurta-suruwal and a polka-dotted shawl around his neck, had warned Madhesi parties: “the UML is here to stay and not going away from the Tarai.”
During the six-month Madhes agitation against the Constitution that was pushed through by UML and two other major parties – the NC and the Maoists, Oli was critical of Madhesi parties. His statements often antagonised Madhesi people, and Madhesi Front dubbed him an anti-Madhesi.
Ahead of local elections slated for 14 May, Oli wants to re-cultivate his image in the eyes of Madhesi people, and prove that UML is still more powerful in the plains than the combined strength of all Tarai-centric parties.
Madhesi parties won just 12 seats from the Tarai in 2013 – down from 43 seats in 2008. UML outshone Madhesi parties even in the Tarai bywinning 36 seats. But after the Madhes agitation, UML is believed to have lost some ground in the Tarai.
“The UML’s electoral prospect in the Tarai largely depends on the success or failure of its Mechi-Mahakali campaign,” says Indu Shekhar Mishra, a Birganj-based political observer. “This is why Madhesi parties are determined to disrupt the UML.”
On the eve of its make-or-break campaign in Madhes, the UML appointed 12 Madhesi leaders into its central committee (CC), and nine more as alternative CC members. “It shows UML is yearning for love in the Madhes,” Mishra says. “But it has done little to solve the political crisis.”
Two weeks after Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal announced local polls, Tarai-centric parties are yet to come on board. They want certain provisions of the constitution to be amended before polls so they can triumphantly go to their constituencies.
But the Dahal government, backed by the Nepali Congress and Madhesi parties, is unable to secure a two-thirds majority to pass theamendment bill. The UML is determined not to allow any amendments.
“Instead of showing their power on the streets of the Tarai, both UML and Madhesi parties must engage in constructive dialogues in Kathmandu,” says Mishra.
Om Astha Rai
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