Anti-Madhes parties shut down Nepal’s Terai plains

July 4th, 2008 - 7:53 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 4 (IANS) Nepal’s Terai plains, which emerged as the main stumbling block to the formation of a new government after the April elections, were paralysed Friday as three minor parties called a shutdown to oppose the demand for a single Madhes state. The Tharus, an indigenous community who were the first residents of the fertile plains in south Nepal till the influx of migrants from the hills of north Nepal and India drove them away from their own land and reduced them to bonded slaves, have called the closure together with the Chure Bhawar community, people living in the hill range of that name in the Terai, and a fringe party.

The groups are opposing the demand by three powerful parties from the plains - Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party and Sadbhavana Party - for the creation of a Madhes state in the plains that would enjoy full autonomy and the right to self-determination.

To pressure the government into conceding the demand, the three Terai parties, who together form the fourth largest bloc in the newly elected constituent assembly with over 80 seats, have held up assembly proceedings since June 26.

Due to their protests, the Maoists, who emerged as the largest party after the election, have been unable to stake their claim to the new government.

The assembly has not been able to elect the first president of republic Nepal, who would replace deposed king Gyanendra as head of state and the Himalayan nation remains without a constitutional head.

The protests have also blocked the assembly from nominating additional 26 members to give it full shape and delayed the budget by three months.

The three top parties - the Maoists, prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist - are also wary about the demand for a Madhes state, fearing it could lead to eventual secession.

The cauldron has now been set simmering afresh by the three anti-Madhes groups, who have vowed to oppose the demand, saying their communities would be marginalised if the state came into being.

The closure Friday hit the eastern and western districts along the Indo-Nepal border hard.

Protesters also began blocking the highway connecting Nepal with India.

Nearly a dozen districts, like Sarlahi, Bara, Parsa, Rautahat, Morang, Udaypur, Rupandehi and Kapilavastu - were badly hit with transport vanishing from roads and shops and markets remaining closed.

On the other hand, the mighty Terai parties have also warned they would start an agitation if their demand is not met.

The Maoists too have said they would start a protest programme if the Madhes dispute was not resolved within this week.

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