Kathmandu: A resolution to the ongoing agitation in Nepal's Terai region receded even farther with three protestors killed in police firing on Thursday in the south-eastern Morang district as Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli and his CPN-UML hardened their stance on the more than five-month-old Madhesi agitation.
Since early morning on Friday, incensed Madhesi activists forced markets to shut down and indulged in arson besides clashing with the police in several parts of the Terai as the protest assumed a form more violent than earlier.
The killings in police firing came even as Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa -- who is also Minister for Federal Affairs and Local Development besides holding charge of the Foreign Affairs portfolio -- on Thursday inaugurated an ambitious NRs.5 billion Border Area Development Programme (BADP) in Mahottari district, barely 200 km away.
The five-year development programme shall initially target the development of proposed province number 2 -- the heartland of the ongoing Madhesi agitation -- and will seek to create physical and social infrastructures in the region that borders southern neighbour India.
BADP is targeted at one sub-metropolis, six municipalities and 109 Village Development Committees in Mahottari, Saptari, Siraha, Dhanusha, Sarlahi, Rautahat, Bara and Parsa districts which have been lagging behind in life expectancy, literacy and per capita income values as compared to other regions of the country.
The region chosen for the programme has villages and towns bordering India. It has been lagging behind in life expectancy, literacy and per capita income values as compared to other regions of the country.
Mentioning the objectives behind the programme, Thapa said: "Though the Terai is a plains area and accessible, it is backward in human development indices."
Thapa's statement was a frank admission of the discrimination that the region has traditionally suffered at the hands of the Kathmandu-centric ruling elite.
The Madhesis have been protesting against the perpetuation of this very discrimination in the new Constitution, adopted on September 20 last year.
Pressing for a more representative constitution, 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.
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.
India's External Affairs Ministry's spokesperson Vikas Swarup 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 the Madhesi protestors head-on.
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.
A government-sponsored amendment to the less-than-four-month-old statute is, meanwhile, slated to come up for discussion and voting on Saturday -- but observers see little chance of it finding approval among the aggrieved Madhesis.
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.
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.
Nepal's Terai region stretches from the Mechi river in the east to the Mahakali river in the west and comprises Madhes in its eastern part and the tribal-dominated Tharuhat in the western region. It has traditionally suffered immense discrimination from the Kathmandu-centric ruling elite that predominantly comprises the Brahmins (Bahuns) and Chhetris of the Nepal hills.
One of the major agitation demands is for the formation of two provinces in the Nepali Terai -- the Madhes extending from the Mechi river in the east to the Narayani river in mid-western Nepal and Tharuhat pradesh from the Narayani to the Mahakali river in the west.