OverkillExcessive security personnel in Tarai during Province 2 polls could do more harm than good
The government has decided to deploy 68,000 security personnel to Province 2 to provide security in the third phase of local elections. Overall, the decision appears well intentioned. The eastern Tarai has long been one of the most restive parts of the country. Since the 1990s, there have been many cases of electoral fraud in Tarai districts, including “booth capture”. In the past, many parties have hired vehicles and people from India to aid in their electoral campaign, and this has occasionally led to violence.
Over the past decade, political causes have led to additional complications. Active armed groups plagued the first Constituent Assembly election in 2008. Now, the government is probably wary of the palpable discontent in the Tarai as a result of long-standing debates over the constitution and its amendments.
Still, 68,000 security personnel is a very high number—perhaps too high given the current situation in the Tarai. The situation in Province 2 does not seem to be as bad as the government thinks. All major political parties, including Madhesi ones, are on board the electoral process and there are no armed groups currently active. While there are some like CK Raut who will boycott the election, so far, their movement has largely been peaceful.
Of course, the security forces should be vigilant. The deployment of a high number of security personnel will work as a strong deterrent against possible miscreants.
That said, they should exercise serious caution in the use of force. There is a danger that the presence of a high number of security personnel in Province 2 could cause some consternation and may even prove intimidating to the local population. This could be particularly troublesome in some places in the Tarai with a recent history of clashes and confrontation between the police and protesters.
Concerns about excessive security were present during the second phase of elections as well. At that time, many leaders of Madhesi parties complained that their cadres in the western Tarai districts had been detained right before the election. While the security forces did this to prevent disruption in the election, it appears that proper judicial procedure was not followed, and this led to further grievances towards the security forces.
Such a situation should be avoided in the third phase of local elections. Local commanders of police forces should instruct their cadres to keep a reasonable distance between themselves and civilians so as to avoid unnecessarily intimidating or provoking them. Security personnel should also be trained not to be provoked by protesters or to use excessive force. The memory of what happened in Maleth, Saptari, in March, when six people were killed when the police opened fire, is still fresh on the minds of the people in the Tarai. The last thing the nation needs is another incident of a similar nature.