|Waiting game: Valley motorists, such as these amassed around Bhadrakali on Tuesday afternoon, have had up to 10-hour waits for small rations of fuel.|
The response from madhesi activists to the Wednesday address is cautiously positive. The prime minister, flanked by Madhab Nepal and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, agreed to redraw tarai constituencies to reflect population and geography, and committed to a federal system. The pressure came as much from the virtual blockade of Kathmandu and the long queues for fuel, as from the rising death toll in the plains.
Many madhesi community leaders say this is the first time a historically subjugated region will have a balanced say in governance. "Kathmandu had to give in to madhesi demands," senior Janakpur journalist Ram Bharos Kapadi told us.
If Wednesday's proposals for tarai representation and federalism push through it will be a dramatic shift in Nepal's state structure. The tarai will no longer be seen just as a strategic strip of plains bordering India, but a vital political, economic, and social component of the state.
But it might be too early to rejoice. None of the other militant tarai groups such as the ex-Maoist factions of the JTMM have made a statement. Curfews remain in place in Biratnagar, and Birganj and Janakpur saw none of the traditional victory rallies.
The MJF, which on Thursday evening welcomed the speech, is said to have withheld comment until it had considered the implication of the proposal for the tarai's dalits and indigenous groups. Of the 31 people killed in the protests over the last three weeks, most were from indigenous and dalit groups. The tarai has 1 million plains dalits and 500,000 hill dalits. Saptari has the highest proportion of dalits of any district.
Emboldened perhaps by the successful tarai uprising, a whole new pandora's box of new autonomy demands have erupted. The Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, the Indigenous Nationalities' Joint Struggle Committee, the Nepal Backward Community Association, and the Janajati Student Union encircled Singha Darbar on Thursday, calling Koirala's speech "insufficient". An indefinite blockade is on in the tarai called by the Tharuwan, who differentiate themselves from the madhesis. In the east, a broad-based federalism activist group has declared a shutdown of the eastern region on Sunday.
Tensions in the tarai will de-escalate, but disruptions of the highways will continue.