Talks between the government and Tharu Welfare Society termed positiveThe dialogue takes place two days after the home minister met the agitating group whose demands include the release of jailed lawmaker Resham Chaudhary.
The first round of talks between the government and the Tharu Welfare Society over a 19-point demand of the latter held Tuesday were “positive”, according to the two sides.
Of the demands, the main one is that Tharu leaders, including Resham Chaudhary, a member of the lower house, jailed for their involvement in the August 2015 riots in which nine people were killed be released unconditionally because that was a political movement.
“The first phase of talks between the Nepal Government and the Tharu Welfare Society has concluded at Singhadurbar today,” Rajan Bhattarai tweeted after the talks held at the Home Ministry. “Talks remained cordial and are heading towards positive results. We have agreed to hold another talks soon.”
Coordinator of the talks team formed by Tharu Welfare Society Rukmini Chaudhary also said the talks ended on a positive note and the next round of dialogue will take place on Thursday.
“We presented our demands to the government today,” said Rukmini Chaudhary, who was a member of the Constituent Assembly. “We will sit again on Thursday.”
Other demands include ensuring separate reservation for Tharu people through the Public Service Commission and proper demarcation of Tharuwan/Tharuhat, among others. They have also asked that those killed during the Tharuhat movement be declared martyrs and proper compensation be given to those affected during the arson in the aftermath of the Tikapur incident.
From March 25, a number of Tharu organisations—Tharu Welfare Society, Tharuhat/Tharuwan Joint Struggle Committee (TJSC) and Central Movement Mobilization Committee—had started a sit-in protest at Maitighar Mandala.
Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa had reached the site of the sit-in protest of those organisations on Thursday and had expressed commitment to address their demands.
While Home Minister Thapa led the government talks team, which included Rajan Bhattarai, foreign affairs advisor to the prime minister, and Bhagawati Chaudhary, a former member of parliament, the Tharu Welfare Society talks team was led by Rukmini Chaudhary and included Premilal Chaudhary, Padma Narayan Chaudhary, Chandra Prasad Chaudhary and Prabhat Chaudhary.
Despite both sides saying that Tuesday’s talks were positive, independent Tharu activists have expressed doubt over the positive outcome.
“I don’t think the talks that started today can yield any positive results, though it is praiseworthy that at least this government became ready for talks,” said Chandra Narayan Chaudhary, a Tharu activist and a campaigner of Struggle Against Marginalisation in Nepal. “This could also be an attempt to weaken the demands of Janata Samajbadi Party and press them to join the government.”
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has been courting the Janata Samajbadi Party for its support to the government in case the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) withdraws the support it gave to the CPN-UML when the government was formed in February 2018.
But the Janata Samajbadi Party has been saying that its lawmaker Chaudhary must be released as part of its demands before it extends support to the Oli government.
Of the people indicted in the Tikapur riots, in the run-up to the promulgation of the constitution in August 2015, eleven are serving their jail terms and two were released after Dipayal High Court acquitted them while 31 others are absconding.
In Tikapur, however, the support for the movement is widespread and local leaders feel that Resham Chaudhary suffered injustice.
“The Tikapur incident took place in the course of the Tharuhat movement. Why should only Resham be jailed for it?” said Aananda Hamal, former chairman of Tikapur Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Many people have died in various political movements. No legal actions were taken against others but only Resham was punished.”
This sentiment is shared across the political spectrum.
“Tharuhat was a political movement so it should be taken accordingly and the Tikapur case should be settled as a political issue,” said Bhuwaneshwor Adhikari, Nepali Congress regional chairman of Kailali-1, the constituency that Chaudhary was elected from while he was underground during parliamentary elections in November-December 2017. “Both the supporters of undivided Far West and Tharuhat demanded the state to address their demands.”
That the Tharu community was fighting for its rights is a view that political analysts also share.
“They were fighting for their rights and therefore cannot be called criminals,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political analyst and columnist of Kantipur, the sister publication of the Post. “If they are regarded as criminals, Netra Bikram Chand can also be labelled as one. In fact most of the leaders come from a background of political violence.”
According to Tharu leader Madhab Tharu, the state had addressed the demand of undivided Far West supporters even though both the undivided Far West and Tharuhat/Tharuwan movement were protesting for their rights.
“It shows that the state is biased against the Tharu community,” he said.
Before he joined politics, Chaudhary was active in social activities. He set up Phoolbari FM radio station and organised a nationwide gathering of artists and elephant football and wrestling competition in the region.
Upon seeing his ability and popularity, Tharu leaders had asked Chaudhary to lead the Tharuhat movement in Tikapur and the infamous Tikapur incident occurred while demanding for a separate Tharuhat province.
With Resham Chaudhary in jail, the people in Tikapur feel that development work in the area has been affected.
Lok Bahadur Budha, the local leader of Bibeksheel Sajha Party, said that the state should create a suitable environment for the elected people’s representatives to work.
“The state should not have let him (Resham) contest the election if it was planning to arrest him,” Buddha said. “His poll victory means that the local people need Resham. His contributions in the past also justifies that he is needed for the people.”
But observers say that the talks between the government and the Tharu Welfare Society is a positive development.
“Governments formed after the Tikapur incident were refusing to even talk with Tharu leaders, let alone hold formal talks,” said Chandra Narayan Chaudhary of Struggle Against Marginalisation in Nepal.
But some have said Oli’s move to hold talks with the Tharu Welfare Society could garner sentiments of the Tharu community in upcoming polls.
“Holding talks with the Tharu community while our party is making all the efforts to release leaders indicted in the Tikapur incident is nothing but an attempt to gain the sentiment of the Tharu community,” said a leader of Janata Samajbadi Party asking not to be named. “Since our party could get the credit if leaders are released and cases are withdrawn, Oli wants to take the credit and utilise it in the next election.”