Drawing upon fieldwork from a two year research project entitled ‘Borderlands, brokers and peacebuilding’ this paper examines Nepal’s post war transition focusing on shifting centre-periphery relations, with particular reference to a provincial town, Rajbiraj in the southern Tarai borderlands. The paper aims to develop a ‘borderland biography’, as this provides an interesting lens and vantage point for exploring key debates about sovereignty, power sharing and state legitimacy, that rose to the fore during Nepal’s conflict and have continued, sometimes violently, during the post war period. By doing so it eschews simplistic temporal divisions between pre-war, war-time and post war.

The biography of Rajbiraj seeks to explore in detail, shifting centre-periphery power relations in the post war period, as the town and wider region, became a centre of political mobilisation for the Madeshi movement. It examines, through life history material, the role of political brokers in Rajbiraj. It shows both the subnational and transnational dynamics of political mobilisation and claim making, and it also seeks to highlight the ambiguity of brokers -they simultaneously extend and place limits on sovereign power; they manage and mediate conflict, but engage in violent mobilisation; they are both the purveyors of patronage, and advocates for radical political projects. These borderland brokers operate in an ecology of constraint and opportunity, and they provide an important lens for exploring the state ‘at its limits’.