Agitation against Koshi name unabated as irate groups prepare for more aggressive protestsProtesters claim their struggle ousted Hikmat Karki from power and the new chief minister Thapa too will have to go if he doesn’t help them.
The struggle against the naming of Province 1 as Koshi by indigenous groups continues unabated as the newly appointed Chief Minister Uddav Thapa commented that a change in the province’s name is not possible anytime soon.
A day after the province got its new chief minister from the ruling coalition, protesters rallied on motorcycles in Okhaldhunga demanding an identity-based name for the province.
As soon as the provincial assembly passed the Koshi name, various ethnic organisations began protesting with demands that the province must be renamed reflecting the identity of the major communities of the region.
More than 300 youths participated in the motorbike rally, said Thagendra Raj Rai, the Okhaldhunga district chair of the Kirat Rai Yayokkha. “Now we will focus on our peaceful demonstrations against those who are against our demand for an identity-based name for the province.”
He said their struggle won’t stop until the name of the province is changed.
Following the demonstrations, the protestors declared a 151-member ‘Youths for Identity’ group, led by Tarahang Rai. Clad in T-shirts reading ‘Youths for Identity’, they conducted a march-past after the rally wearing black ‘No Koshi’ bands on their heads.
This is not the first time the youth volunteers were unveiled by the protestors. Earlier, they had unveiled a 501-member team from Taplejung, 301 at Tehrathum, more than a 100-member unit in the federal capital Kathmandu, a similar-size chapter in Sunsari and a 151-member central committee in Biratnagar.
“We are preparing to form similar district branches of youth volunteers in Jhapa, Panchthar, Ilam and Morang,” said Prem Yekten Limbu, one of the coordinators of the Joint Struggle Committee. “We will have such volunteer squads in all the 14 districts.”
The agitating groups’ move to form youth volunteers trained by former Indian army servicemen has alarmed many. Many fear the struggle for identity may turn violent as the forces who are in favour of Koshi have started saying that they might retaliate.
UML’s chief whip at the provincial assembly Rewati Raman Bhandari said the new chief minister has already told them that a change in the name of the province was not possible.
“If they continue to attack leaders and infrastructures by declaring themselves as combatants, it’s the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments to control them,” said Bhandari. “Our (UML-led) government had started talks with the protesters, but that could not yield anything. Let’s see what the new government will do.”
According to Bhandari, the federal government should also work to resolve the problem as the issue concerns not just the province. He said political parties including CPN (Maoist Centre) cannot remain a silent spectator by saying they committed a mistake voting in favour of the proposal to name the province Koshi.
The demonstration was addressed by leaders including former Maoist leader Gopal Kirati, former vice-chair of Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities Govinda Chhantyal and leader of Janata Samajbadi Party Aang Kaji Sherpa, among others.
“That the political parties concerned have remained indifferent even after such prolonged protests by a significant section of the people of the province is a severe blow to democracy,” said Govinda Chhantyal, an indigenous activist and researcher. “As leaders are focused only on grabbing power and are not serious towards addressing the issue, the protests are sure to flare up.”
The ongoing struggle of the ethnic communities is targeted more towards CPN-UML leaders who have clearly taken a stance against the identity-based nomenclature of the province.
The ruling CPN (Maoist Centre) has officially regretted the decision taken by its provincial committee to vote in favour of Koshi.
Meanwhile, the new chief minister Thapa’s remarks that the name of the province cannot be changed anytime soon has further riled up the protesters.
“We don’t usually target individuals or any party, but those making comments are further inciting the indigenous groups,” said Rai, the newly appointed Okhaldhunga chair of the joint struggle committee.
Their talks with the three-member panel led by Til Kumar Menyangbo Limbu, a minister in the previous Hikmat Karki-led government, failed to make any headway after the agitators claimed that talking to a caretaker government won’t yield any result.
Province 1 was named ‘Koshi’ on March 1. Since then, the protests have intensified with hundreds getting injured in clashes, with no sign of a let up on the horizon. One protester who was injured in a clash with police personnel during the protests in Biratnagar on March 19 died while undergoing treatment.
The activists advocating for an identity-based name have intensified their agitation. Kirat Yakthung Chumlung, Kirat Rai Yayokkha and the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities have been coordinating protests organised by the Province 1 Renaming Joint Struggle Committee.
The protesters have continued to throw away all the signboards having the name Koshi and have asked everyone to delete the word Koshi from everywhere– including hotels, schools, campuses, restaurants, transport entrepreneurs, including other non-government organisations.
The agitators and political analysts are irked by the approach of the political parties to their campaigns.
Protesters pelted stones at the vehicle of UML chair KP Sharma Oli during his visit to Jhapa a few months ago. 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.
Limbu, the coordinator of the agitation, claimed that their struggle led to the fall of the Hikmat Karki-led government in the province as the resignation of Janata Samajbadi Party’s assembly member Nirmala Limbu created pressure on Maoist Centre, which apologised for voting for Koshi, to quit the government.
“All the 14 district presidents of Congress have asked the party to correct its mistake of naming the province,” Limbu said. “Now we are hopeful that this government will do the needful to address our demands.”