Nepal reels under shutdown double whammy

June 8th, 2009 - 1:51 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 8 (IANS) The 13-day-old Communist government of Nepal reeled under a double whammy Monday with two of its former allies, the Maoists and the Madhesis, calling separate shutdowns that paralysed almost half of the nascent republic’s 75 districts.

The Terai plains in southern Nepal were shut down by the ethnic party Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), which after briefly supporting the coalition government of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal withdrew support last week amidst mounting infighting.

MJF chairman and former foreign minister Upendra Yadav said his party, which has 53 representatives in the 601-member constituent assembly, will now sit in the opposition benches and keep up its protests against the government from the floor of the assembly as well as the streets.

A total of 22 districts in the Terai were Monday paralysed by the shutdown that sharply affected transport, shops and markets, offices and educational institutions.

The East-West highway, Nepal’s lifeline that connects the republic with India, was blockaded by protesters who laid out boulders and burnt tyres, leaving thousands of travellers stranded.

The MJF, the fourth largest party in Nepal, is now demanding the dismissal of its lone member in the cabinet.

Yadav said his party had expelled Bijay Kumar Gachhadar, deputy prime minister with the physical planning and works portfolio, and six other members for anti-party activities.

The MJF is also seeking to recall Gachhadar from parliament along with two other dissident MPs, Sharad Singh Bhandari and Ram Janam Chaudhuri.

The MJF anger comes as a shot in the arm for the Maoists, who this month began a series of protests seeking the ouster of President Ram Baran Yadav, blaming him for the fall of their government.

A sister organisation of the Maoists, the Tamu Rastriya Mukti Morcha, Monday enforced a shutdown in eight districts in western Nepal, demanding an autonomous Tamuwan state for the community.

The Tamus, a hilly people known for their valour, are the backbone of the Gorkha regiments in the Indian and British armies.

The protest is also part of the disruption started by the Maoists since last week in order to pressure parliament into beginning a debate on whether the president had acted in accordance with the constitution by reinstating Army chief General Rookmangud Katawal, whom they had sacked.

Monday’s closures mark three days of continuous disruptive protests. On Sunday, another ethnic organisation affiliated to the Maoists, the Tamang Rastriya Mukti Morcha, called a shutdown in 10 districts, while on Saturday eastern Nepal was paralysed by the Limbus.

In less than a fortnight, the Nepal government has suffered four shutdowns. On June 1, the Newars, the powerful indigenous residents of Kathmandu valley, closed down 12 districts demanding an autonomous state.

Besides the street protests, the government is also plagued by the obstruction of parliament by the Maoists since last month. The former rebels have vowed not to allow the house to convene till it allows a debate on the president’s role.

The new Communist government’s tenure has met with turmoil that is unprecedented even in a state like Nepal where for nearly 200 years no government has been able to last a full term.

The prime minister floundered to put together his cabinet due to wrangling with allies for power and even now, only four ministers in the 11-member cabinet have been allocated their ministries.

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