Nepali Times

From Tikapur to Maleth

Sunday, March 12th, 2017
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Pic: Shrawan Kumar Deo

From the Nepali Press

Rameshwar Bohara in Himal Khabarpatrika, 12-18 March

In August 2015, after four people were killed in violent clashes, police constables were allowed to carry only batons and tear gas. Guns were given to junior officers, but with a clear instruction not to use them unless as a last resort.

Five days later, eight policemen including SSP Laxman Neupane were lynched in Tikapur of Kailali in the far-western plains. One child was shot dead by protesters.

After the Tikapur tragedy, policemen were so terrified that they began opening fire whenever they felt threatened, often shooting people in the chest and head. Over 50 people were killed in the ensuing violence of the Madhes movement that lasted five months.

The deaths last week of five people in police firing in Melath of Saptari showed that police are still scared of being lynched and panic when there is a mob throwing stones. Lack of training in crowd control and resources also means they keep repeating the same mistakes as in 2015.

Human Rights Commissioner Prakash Wasti, who has observed and analysed recent killings in the Tarai, says policemen lack the confidence and morale to control riots, and feel threatened by protesters. “This is why police open fire even when the use of gun is not needed,” he says.

After the Tikapur lynchings of its personnel, the Nepal Police sought non-lethal weapons worth Rs 3 billion: 22 water cannon, 22 riot control vehicles, 1,000 electric shock guns, 1,000 multi gas guns, 5,000 pepper sprays and Rs 20,000 bamboo batons.

“But the government did not give us anything,” a senior police officer says. “If we had enough non-lethal equipment, we could have controlled the crowd without killing anyone in Saptari.”

The officer adds: “People blame us for not using non-lethal weapons to control riots. But the only non-lethal weapons we have enough of are tear gas and batons. Policemen on the ground either have to kill or be killed.”

Armed Police Force (APF) personnel are also deployed to control protests, sometimes as a back-up and sometimes on the frontline. Set up to fight the Maoists during the insurgency, the APF is used to fighting wars. It does not use rubber bullets, but they are first trained to fire in the air and only then shoot below the knee.

Former AIG Nawaraj Dhakal says: “If policemen are not trained enough, they cannot control riots even if they have all necessary equipment.”

In Melath of Saptari, nearly 1,000 policemen were deployed to keep protesters off the venue of the UML program. And 300 of them were fresh recruits who were yet to complete basic training.

The Saptari killings also exposed the lack of a strong police command in the field. Protesters in Maleth were trying to attack UML leaders from all sides by breaching the police cordon.

Police and APF personnel were also in various groups under various commands, and there was a lack of coordination between them. When protesters snatched away communication sets and tried to seize weapons, police and APF opened fire. It is not known which unit first opened fire.

Human rights commissioner Wasti says policemen deployed on the field are often exhausted, have not eaten or rested well, and often retaliate when they see their colleagues hurt by protesters.

“There is also a lack of discipline, which sometime results in defiance of the police command,” he says. “This has to stop.”


RPP to join coalition

Thursday, March 9th, 2017
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Kamal Thapa casts his vote during his party’s election last month. File photo: Gopen Rai

The Hindu royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) Chair Kamal Thapa is all set to become Deputy Prime Minister in the Maoist-NC government after accepting an offer to join the coalition in the aftermath of violence in the Tarai this week.

RPP spokesperson Mohan Shrestha confirmed that his party has been assured two ministerial berths. Thapa will be Deputy Prime Minister and Local Development Minister and Dilnath Giri will head Tourism Ministry.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal offered two ministerial berths to the RPP months ago in return for the party’s support to pass the second constitution amendment bill.

Kamal Thapa had been reluctant to accept the offer because he knew that Dahal’s days were numbered after local elections slated for 14 May. However, sources say he agreed to join after being assured the post of Deputy Prime Minister.

After Madhesi Front threatened to withdraw its support following three people were killed in Saptari on Monday, Dahal gave in. Thapa is likely to be sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister this evening.

RPP’s induction into the government has boosted Dahal’s confidence in passing the amendment, after which local elections can go ahead.

But he still needs more MPs on his side, and is trying to woo Bijaya Gachhadar’s MJF (D).  Gachhadar is also bargaining for Deputy Prime Ministership, sources say. There are already two Deputy Prime Ministers in the Cabinet.

 

 

 


The day after

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017
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A vehicle of National Human Rights Commission that was attacked by protesters in Saptari on Tuesday. Photo: Shrawan Kumar Deo

A day after three protesters were killed in police firing in Saptari, tension ran high across the Tarai and the political blame-game began once again in Kathmandu.

The protesters were killed when Armed Police force personnel opened fire on cadres of Tarai-centric parties as they tried to disrupt a convoy of UML leaders who had reached Saptari on the third day of their East-West campaign.

The Madhesi Front claimed in a press statement that four protesters were killed by police, but only three deaths have been confirmed by officials so far.

A day later, it seems that the Saptari killing was not simply a case of police trying to avoid a clash between two rival political forces. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s accusation that Home Minister Bimalendra Nidhi ordered police to open fire has raised suspicion that the Saptari killing could have been a conspiracy to scuttle local polls
scheduled for 14 May.

Nepali Times has prepared a timeline of the fast-paced events on Tuesday in the wake of the Saptari killings:

“Conspiracy to massacre UML leaders”

After the Saptari violence, UML Chair KP Oli was escorted to Jhapa. Top UML leaders Madhav Nepal and Jhalnath Khanal went to Biratnagar. The UML has put off its campaign for three days, and has put the responsibility for the violence squarely on the shoulders of the Madhesi Front. In a press statement on Tuesday, the UML also claimed
that ‘an attempt was made to massacre UML leaders when they were on their way back to Rajbiraj after a peaceful program’.

Call off local polls: Madhesi Front

The United Madhesi Democratic Front, an alliance of Tarai-centric parties, has asked the government to call off local elections because of the Saptari violence.

It has also demanded that the government form a committee to probe the killing, suspend Saptari’s CDO and police chiefs, declare all the three dead protesters martyrs, provide relief to their families, government jobs to at least one from each family, and free medical treatment to those who were injured.

Baburam blames UML

Nepali Congress MPs have sought a fair investigation and asked all parties to exercise restraint. Naya Shakti party Chief Baburam Bhattarai has accused the UML of “showing arrogance” and inciting violence in the Tarai.

More clashes

Cadres of Madhesi parties vandalised government offices, and clashed with police in various parts of Saptari on Tuesday. They also vandalised a vehicle of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). In Siraha, Madhesi protesters vandalised a UML office. They took furniture and documents out of the house and torched them on the streets. In Birganj, they set a truck on fire. The Madhesi Front has called a two-day strike in the Tarai, and its cadres are out on the streets burning tyres and shouting slogans against UML in major towns of the Tarai.

Saptari CDO transferred

The Home Ministry has recalled Saptari CDO Uddhab Prasad Timilsina, SP Dibesh Lohani, APF’s SP Jaya Bahadur Khadka and DSP Dan Bahadur Khadka to Kathmandu. Home Minister Nidhi has instructed the chiefs of all security agencies to not use excessive force to quell protests, according Home Ministry sources.

UN, US concerned

The United Nations and the US Embassy raised serious concern over the escalation of tensions in the lead-up to the local elections announced for May.

‘We call on security forces to comply with existing national and international standards on the use of force. At the same time, we urge the political parties to peacefully express their views in actions and statements,’ read a UN statement.

The US embassy in Kathmandu urged security forces to exercise maximum restraint. “The right to peacefully express one’s political views is a fundamental component of an inclusive democracy, but violence should not be part of the political discourse,” read the statement.

India, which was quick to respond to every major political development in Nepal, has not reacted so far.

 


Nepalis eligible for SAU PhDs

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017
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South Asia University

Nepalis wishing to pursue post-graduate or doctorates are eligible to apply for the country’s SAARC quota in the South Asian University in New Delhi, which has made its online application process simpler as it prepares to move to new premises.

Established in 2010, the university provides seats for each SAARC country and offers Masters and PhD programs in Applied Mathematics, Biotechnology, Computer Science, Economics, Legal Studies, International Relations and Sociology.  The construction of the permanent campus of SAU has started in Maidan Garhi in South Delhi.

Almost the entire student population is made up of the eight member nations of the SAARC, with about half of them from India.

“With SAU gaining more popularity with each passing year, we are expecting more applicants vying for the limited seats in each Masters and research programs,” says Kavita Sharma, President of SAU, “last year we received some applications from Europe and the Americas and this year we hope to get more applicants applying from other regions of the world.”

The last date for application for SAU is 25 March and the SAARC-wide entrance test for both Masters and PhD programs is scheduled for 9 April. Eligibility criteria and other information is at the university website. SAU has also opened an admission blog dedicated to the aspirants.


Violence erupts in Saptari

Monday, March 6th, 2017
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UML Chair KP Oli during his party’s Mechi-Mahakali campaign.

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.

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Madhesi protesters in Saptari. Pic: Shrawan Kumar Deo

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

Read also

Plain speaking

 


With or without

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017
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In a televised address to the nation on Tuesday, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal urged the Madhesi people to express their grievances through the ballot box. Umesh Sah Kanu  was watching the speech live in his Birganj sweet shop, and said it was “just sweet talk”.

Kanu says he is not sure if he will vote in local elections on 14 May if Madhesi parties boycott it. However, he does not support another agitation. The last one last year ruined his business.
Back in Kathmandu, talks between the government and the Madhesi Front were deadlocked again on Wednesday. Tarai-centric parties renewed threats to disrupt elections in the plains if the constitution is not amended first.

Birganj professor Lalan Dubedi says: “The common people here are not that concerned about the amendment. But they will not vote if there is fear of violence.”

In Janakpur, Prof Surendra Labh says it was never about the amendment or constitution. “Madhesis feel they are discriminated by the state, and the government made it worse by not including enough Madhesis in recent appointments of judges and ambassadors.”

Labh feels Madhesi parties need a face-saver to agree to elections: “If the statute is amended, they can go triumphantly to their constituencies, but whether that will address problems plaguing the plains is another issue.”

So far, the Madhesi parties are staying firm even though there is no way the proposed amendment will get a two-thirds vote in Parliament because the UML, RPP and MJF (D) are all against it for different reasons.

RPP Chair Kamal Thapa told PM Dahal his party will not support the amendment. Dahal then asked Madhesi leaders to put the amendment bill on hold and vote on it after local elections in May. Madhesi leaders refused.

“The amendment is just an excuse to avoid elections,” says UML Chief Whip Bhanubhakta Dhakal. “Madhesi parties will find another excuse if the Constitution is amended. There should be elections with or without them.”

Former PM Baburam Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti party is also opposed to elections, and wants an all-party government. He is now competing for the same constituency with the Sajha Party launched by journalist Rabindra Mishra this week.

Surendra Labh in Janakpur sums it up: “Elections can take place without the Madhesi parties. That may end the constitutional transition, but it will prolong the political transition.”

Om Astha Rai and Jiyalal Sah in Birganj

Read also:

Federalism is the talk of the town, Kristina Shperlik

The Madhes message, Chandra Kishor

 


Interviewing Rabindra Mishra

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017
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From the Nepali Press

After stepping down as the head of BBC Nepali, Rabindra Mishra is forming a new political party www.setopati.com, 28 February

Setopati: Can you tell us about the perks of your job at BBC Nepali Service?

Rabindra Mishra: I drew a monthly salary of Rs 700,000. The office gave me a car, health insurance for me and four members of my family and paid my telephone bill. A journalist cannot expect more than this in Nepal. But from tomorrow, I will not be earning a paisa.

Then how will you survive?  

I have savings. And I will be collecting rent from my two houses. I also have to pay back some loans. I will be devoting least 15-16 hours a day to politics, and will work honestly.

Do you have what it takes to transform politics?

It is a huge challenge to put our politics back on track. But many countries which were in a worse situation than ours are now developed and stable. I am confident that we can turn around things in Nepal too. My biggest asset is the support of honest and like-minded Nepalis. Our primary team is diverse in terms of ethnicity, age and profession. We hope more people will join us as we move forward.

When did you first think about joining politics?

I returned from the UK to spend part of my time in philanthropy. But this was like trying to fill the Rani Pokhari with a bucket of water. We built 40 libraries, but over 32,000 schools in Nepal do not have libraries. So I thought the only way is to join politics.

Why a new party?

I was afraid politicians in existing parties would turn me into one of them. Just look at the appointments of the new police chief and ambassadors.

What is your party’s take on the democracy movements of 1990 and 2006?

We always blame our constitution and political system for our problems. We are always fighting to change them. Our constitution was written in a democratic way, and we can develop Nepal within its framework.

There are doubts about whether elections will be held in May.

We can solve it in Parliament. We must address genuine grievances of the Madhesi people, but some of their demands are not genuine, and will benefit only a few Madhesi leaders. The political leadership can decide whether to go for federalism, but the form of federalism has to be decided by experts.

The Madhesi parties were left out of the constitution making process, isn’t that a problem? 

A constitution is a work in progress, it has to be improved constantly. Some problems are due to a lack of trust. Whether we separate Madhes from hills or keep them together while creating provinces does not make a difference.

Shouldn’t you have tried to clean up journalism before trying to clean up politics?

The problems that plague journalism are an offshoot of our corrupt politics. If you clean up politics, you can clean up everything, including journalism.

Will your party contest local elections?

The time to register political parties at the Election Commission has already passed, so we cannot  contest local elections. We will see if we can field some independent candidates. But our target is national elections.

 


 

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