BIRGUNJ, June 13: As usual, Birgunj's conspicuous landmark Ghantaghar (clock tower) stood tall in the middle of the busy city in Parsa district. But on Tuesday morning, the tower was overshadowed by thick fumes of black smokes emitted from a tyre burnt by agitators to mark the first day of four-day long general strikes called by Madhes-based Rastriya Janamorcha Party Nepal (RJPN).
A few meters away, a group of security personnel watched two RJPN cadres attempting to reignite the almost extinguished fire of the burnt-out tyre. They stood there helplessly watching the protestors after the country's top leaders from the ruling coalition failed to convince the agitating RJPN to participate in the polls, leading to this dire political situation.
An angry voice from behind me cussed. “The government not bothered about the trouble that thousands of citizens have to face due to the protests," said a disgruntled Sanjay Singh, 32, a local of neighboring Simara who came to Birjgunj to visit a bank.
RJPN's influence in Birgunj metropolis, one of the key local units of Madhes, has been minimal. While long-distance transportation to and from Birgunj did not operate, short-distance transportations like motorbikes, e-rickshaw and even cars were moving on the streets from early morning. The low turnout of participants in its protest and the angry looks of the onlookers suggest that the party is losing its grip in its own political region.
"Many people here have realized the importance of having local representative to direct and oversee developmental works. RJPN is against the polls and its demands, whether they are met or not, will not benefit us in any way. These protests are nothing but only trouble for us," said Chandan Gupta, 28, who sells paan and tobacco in Maisthan of Birgunj.
Opposite to Gupta's shop, a row of shutters were closed when the afternoon sun perched high just above the sky. Although it seemed like an impact of the bandha, Gupta explained that some shutters open only in mornings and evenings, just when the temperature goes down and the movement of people starts to increase.
Gupta further said that he has already enlisted himself in the voters' list and is eagerly waiting to cast his vote in the upcoming elections slated for June 28. The second phase of elections has been postponed thrice so far and the locals in Birgunj are praying that it would not be postponed again this time. Just recently, the government has rejected RJPN's request to defer the election once again.
Another local, Aayush Koirala of Birgunj-6, claimed that RJPN is mulling to cancel polls in Birgunj because the party fears losing due to its unpopularity. "Unlike during the last Madhes movement, many locals have lost their faith in Madhesi political leaders who claim to back their cause. RJPN, which stuck to the same demands of the failed movement, has become unpopular due to its same stance and its stand against the polls," he said.
According to Koirala, the established parties like Nepali Congress, CPN (Maoist Center) and CPN-UML have more influence in the area. "RJPN opposed the elections after its defeat became clear," he added.
RJPN, which was formed through merger of six fringe Madhes-based political parties, has been demanding the government to pass the constitution amendment bill tabled in the parliament. They are adamant on their stance that they will participate in the upcoming local elections only after the bill is endorsed. The amendment bill proposes to revise the provincial boundaries of the current federal set-up and fix the number of electoral constituencies based on population.
However, the ruling coalition of Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center) has once again failed in their attempts to convince the agitating RJPN to participate in the local polls. Their hands are tied to pass the amendment bill without the support of the main opposition CPN-UML, which has termed the proposal 'unacceptable'.
Such failure to forge consensus time and again has been resulting in the political deadlock.