Gaur Massacre: Issues, Contradictions & Conundrums
Gaur Massacre: Issues, Contradictions And Conundrums Galore
By M.R. Josse
Understandably, the horrendous slaughter last Wednesday of 29 persons in Gaur by lathis, strangulation, and gunshot wounds, among other means, has been universally and very rightly condemned both at home and abroad. While the official version of that terrible afternoon's tryst with mass murder will hopefully be brought before all at the earliest, it has in the interregnum raised a welter of knotty issues besides birthed a bunch of political conundrums and contradictions.
SPATE OF THEORIES
Already, of course, it has triggered a spate of conspiracy theories and eye-witness versions with the very credible likelihood that the grim casualty toll from the madness of that inauspicious spring day, epitomized by clashes between the activists of the Madeshi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF) and the Maoist-affiliated Madeshi Mukti Morcha (MMM), could be much higher than 29.
At the time of writing there is still some ambiguity about whether the government announced 4-member judicial probe commission headed by Patan Appellate Court justice Hari Prasad Ghimere has now been scrubbed or not, in the face of Maoist objection that it was not consulted prior to its constitution, to be replaced by a 'political' one endorsed by the Maoists.
Be that as it may, there can be no gainsaying that any enquiry commission that is not independent, and perceived by all to be so, will hardly contribute either to public enlightenment, probity or to the cause of justice.
In fact, if that cardinal consideration is thrown to the winds it could very well provoke even greater calamities in the Terai and elsewhere in the future.
Given the enormous stakes for all in successfully concluding free and fair Constituent Assembly (CA) polls in a climate totally sans fear, a resurgence of unrest in the Terai, especially if it assumes the violent form that it sadly did in Gaur, would be most unfortunate for the nation, as a whole.
Inevitably, a blame game has begun with the Maoists and their allies charging all manner of grave misdemeanors by domestic "regressive" forces – read the Palace – buttressed by Indian Hindu extremists, not to mention the by-now familiar "reactionary" international forces inimical to the Maoists.
While repetitive, reflexive condemnation of such a purported assortment has, by now, created a whopping credibility gap in the non-partisan mind, that does not by any stretch of imagination explain why or how the MMM decided to organize their own political meeting which the MJF had days earlier publicized their intention to do so, on the same day, at the same time, at the same venue!
Not forgetting ferocious attacks by Maoist activists on MJF meetings in the recent past across the Terai – and those against other political rallies elsewhere – it is hardly surprising that, this time around, the MJF came fully prepared to face any form of confrontation from Maoist cadres. It is, of course, entirely on the cards that such preparation involved using the services or talents of professional goons, both of the local as well as imported variety from across the border.
SOWING AND REAPING
An even more basic question that has been raised by the gory Gaur Slaughter is this: why should the MJF alone be expected to play by the rules of the parliamentary game governing democratic protest when other groupings – including those that have openly used weapons and militias for more than a decade for the fulfillment of their political objectives – have, as one commentator put it, "given a stamp of legitimacy for maintaining armed gangs to carry out law and order needs bypassing the legal security system"?
Besides, it might be entirely salutary to remind ourselves that importing political assets, of one kind or another, from India has for long been a favorite sport of Nepalese political parties, both of the legitimate or underground sorts. Why, then, should one be unduly surprised if it appears that the MJF seem to have taken recourse to such a familiar political remedy for redressing perceived grievances?
As it is, none should forget the generous contribution made towards the absolutely untenable state of law and order in the land today – a condition that can only be described as a state of political mayhem – by the devil-may-care pursuit of the politics of ethnic divisions, autonomy, self-determination, communalism and the like.
In other words, why should one, in those particular circumstances, have been taken aback by Gaur? After all, as the wise old adage goes, "as you sow, ye are like to reap." Also, don't the worldy-wise know from sheer experience that they that have sown the wind are likely to reap the whirlwind?
BANNING AND ALL THAT
Yet another issue that has come to the fore in the heated climate of confrontation, verbal and physical, between the Maoists and various Madeshi groups including the MJF, is the Maoist leadership's propensity to dismiss or demean the latter by charging them as being not merely non-political, but, in fact, led by criminals and smugglers.
While it is conventional wisdom that, apart from all else, such allegations have only added fuel to the fire of Madeshi discontent, many will question whether the Maoists have the proper moral or legal credentials to level such criticism. For many, it would seem akin to the pot calling the kettle black.
Similarly, the Maoist proposal that the MJF be banned – now mercifully pushed under the carpet – is not only likely to further aggravate the situation but indeed contradicts all the heady rhetoric about a "new Nepal" and an "inclusive" polity. Truth be told, it is far closer to the ethos of the authoritarian, party-less Panchayat order of yesteryear than to a liberal, multi-party democracy befitting the 21st century!
Incidentally, reports on the Kathmandu grapevine have it that insistence on such a non-democratic measure was dropped only when the wizards or gurus of Lainchaur discreetly ruled against it on grounds that it would permanently transform the Terai protest movement into an outright communal one.
No less contradictory is the gaping chasm between Maoist claims to be a new moral force in Nepali politics and their recent behaviour in the interim parliament. Thus, their rowdy, unruly disruption of the business of the House the other day, in the aftermath or shadow of Gaur, is in stark variance with their commitment to pursuing political goals through non-violent parliamentary means.
Some time earlier, as most will recall, a Maoist MP created a furore by claiming to be armed and then proceeding to spew forth threats to all and sundry.
(Disturbing the business of parliament is also redolent of the behaviour of the UML which boycotted the House of Representatives for 56 days at a stretch when the NC was ruling the roost with a parliamentary majority several years ago. As we know, it did nothing to boost the image of the UML as a regular democratic party prepared to sit out its term in the opposition.)
It would be remiss not to mention that, in moves very close to banning the MJF, the administration has recently taken a series of measures to prohibit political activities, ostensibly in the interest of maintaining law and order. Thus, apart from enforcing a four-day ban in Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Siraha and Saptari districts, defied by the MJF at various locales, the administration imposed a fresh three-day restriction in Saptari.
In Rajbiraj, the district headquarters, that resulted in 12 cadres being injured when police intervened on 26 March at a rally and corner meeting by the MJF resulting in 15 arrests. According to reports, police fired seven rounds of teargas when protesters attempted to resume corner meetings.
It hardly requires a fevered imagination to assume that such prohibitory orders, which by themselves are routine law and order maintenance instruments in most societies, may have been interpreted by the MJF as being, in essence, directed against them.
If so it would have done nothing to cool heated tempers in the Terai. More long-term, it would not have really helped to create conditions propitious for a negotiated settlement of perceived grievances, real or imagined.
At this juncture, it should be in order to remind ourselves of what led the MJF to launch their protest movement, or revolt. As Dr. Mathura Prasad Shrestha a noted human rights advocate who visited Gaur in the aftermath of the massacre put it:
"First, the SPA gave up its stance on federalism in the interim constitution. Second, it gave up its stance on proportional representation. Third, it raised the issue of public opinion and later it gave it up. All this disappointed the Madeshis and the other ethnic groups in the hill and mountain" (areas). (Kathmandu Post interview, 26 March.)
As mentioned at the outset, the post-Gaur situation is suffused with some puzzles or conundrums. One that immediately strikes the mind is the eerie silence that the Indian government and its minnows have maintained thus far.
To be noted is that there has not only not been any high level policy statement emanating from the gnomes of South Block on the implications of Gaur, one way or another, but also that, oddly enough, it does not seem to have aroused the interest of the perennially interfering Indian media. This is a riddle of the first order, not least against the backdrop of credible, widespread reports of the import of Indian goons specializing in the politics of violence and thuggery.
Indeed, although months ago, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee publicly expressed the hope that the problems of the Madeshis would be judiciously attended to, there is nothing now except unnerving stillness. That, incidentally, includes a stony silence on how it views the call from many quarters, including that by Maoists, for controlling the porous Nepal-India border (a suggestion that was made, time and time again in the past, including that during the Maoist insurgency itself.)
Only slightly less enigmatic is the government's prompt determination that Indian "criminal elements" had participated in the Gaur carnage when report after report, including those in our own media, have charged that other "military-trained" elements from across the border, or even beyond, might have been involved.
Will the promised 'political' enquiry throw light on those unknowns, among other things? Likewise, will the ordinary citizen ever learn whether, as widely thought, INGOs did indeed plow huge amounts of cold, hard cash to fuel the MJF and other sectarian protest movements?
Finally, we have the prompt reaction from the American Embassy in the form of a statement dated 23 March. Though brief, it speaks volumes. Thus, apart from the anodyne condemnation of violence and a call to the government to punish all perpetrators concerned and this not selectively, it lashes out at the en-mass walkout by Maoists' PLA from cantonments which it says has demonstrated the Maoists' disdain for the commitments made to the peace process.
Apart from there being no condemnation of the MJF, the Embassy statement makes this eloquent point: "If unity and inclusiveness are not promoted, further bloodshed may result and Nepal's peace process could be imperiled." It also calls on the government to initiate transparent and effective dialogue with indigenous and ethnic groups to address their grievances.