Agitation against Koshi nomenclature escalates, government issues prohibitory orderCongress demands dialogue with groups agitating against the renaming of Province 1 as Koshi.
To prevent the ongoing protests against the renaming of Province 1 as Koshi from turning violent, the District Administration Office of Morang has issued a prohibitory order urging people not to get involved in protests and demonstrations at some crucial places.
Issuing the order as per the Section 6 (3A) of the Local Administration Act 1971, Chief District Officer of Morang Birendra Kumar Yadav has restricted the movements at places including the premises of the offices and residences of the chief minister, ministers, provincial chief and the district administration office.
The prohibitory order was issued to stop the movement of protesters, who have announced plans to disrupt the budget session set to start on Sunday.
As the struggle resumed with the call for the budget session without discussing renaming the province, the provincial committee of the Nepali Congress has demanded a talks team to address the protesters’ concerns.
“We would like to draw the attention of the provincial government to address the valid demands of the protesters by forming a talks team at the earliest,” said Udwab Thapa, provincial president of the Congress.
The party has also demanded that the government stop arresting protesters, imposing curfews, firing bullets, charging them with batons, and misbehaving with the activists and cadres of the groups that have been demonstrating against the provincial assembly’s decision to name the province Koshi. The protesters want a name that, they say, reflects the dominant ethnic identity in the province.
The party has also urged all sections of society to seek a peaceful solution to the problem instead of suppressing the protesters while at the same time asking the protesters to express their demands peacefully, without violating people’s rights.
Koshi is the only province where the main opposition in the federal parliament—CPN-UML—has been leading the government. In the province, federal coalition partners, the Congress and the Maoist Centre, have failed to topple the administration.
The UML is the largest party in the province with 40 seats; the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, which has six seats, has been supporting it. The Congress-Maoist coalition has 47 seats combined (adding one seat of the Speaker).
With the support of major parties including the Congress, the UML and the Maoist, the assembly on May 1 named the province Koshi.
However, as soon as the provincial assembly decided to name the province Koshi, indigenous groups including the Rai and Limbu communities took to the streets, protesting against the naming. They have demanded that the province be given a name that reflects the identity of the major indigenous ethnic communities residing in the region.
Their struggle turned violent as they targeted the leaders of major parties—especially Chief Minister Hikmat Karki and some others representing indigenous groups such as Indra Aangbo of the Maoist Centre.
With the provincial assembly’s budget session starting on Sunday, protesters from across the parties and indigenous organisations have announced they’d concentrate their agitation around the provincial assembly, based in Biratnagar.
According to Prem Yekten Limbu, one of the coordinators of the Joint Struggle Committee against the nomenclature, a 151-member central committee of Youths for Identity was formed to lead the struggle throughout the 14 districts of the province.
The Youth for Identity group, led by Bhim Rai as coordinator and Biraj Aangdembe as joint coordinator, demonstrated in Biratnagar on Friday.
“We have requested all the provincial members to obstruct the assembly, demanding a renaming process and they have given a positive response. As they obstruct from inside, we will continue our protests from outside,” said Yekten over the phone from Biratnagar. “We have decided to strengthen our struggle and make our peaceful movement more systematic with the help of the Youths for Identity.”
Asked what if the political parties including the UML who have been warning counter-attacks against the agitators, Yekten said that any such move would bolster their struggle.
“We are raising people’s voices and most of the leaders from all the parties including UML have said they were positive towards our demands,” said Yekten.
Protesters pelted stones at the vehicle of UML chair KP Sharma Oli during his visit to Jhapa last month. Oli later challenged the protesters to change the province’s name by garnering the required majority in the assembly. Article 295 (2) of the constitution states that the names of the provinces shall be decided by a two-thirds majority of the total number of members of the assembly concerned.
According to protesters, the budget session was called, defying their demand for a new session to take up the agenda of renaming the province.
Provincial Assembly members of the Congress have criticised the indigenous communities for demanding an identity-based province while helping the UML emerge as the largest party in the province.
“How can you expect an identity-based name by voting for a party lobbying for Koshi?” asked Bhupendra Rai, a Congress lawmaker. “Nothing is going to happen unless we garner a two-thirds majority in the assembly. We will continue to raise the issue nonetheless.”