A Nepali recalls his recent stay in a country marred by conflict and political turmoil
By Gaury Adhikary
I am posting this report based on my visit to Kathmandu recently. I was in Nepal from Feb 6th, 2006 till 24th. My report is based on my chance meeting with many people and I emphasize it at the beginning that nothing was organized. Most of what I write is based on one on one spontaneous conversation.
We reached Kathmandu on the first day of Baundh. To our surprise the taxis were running form Airport to the town, so we did not have any difficulty in getting to our home. However the market and streets were deserted. Next day, Maoist shot dead a taxi driver near B and B Hospital so the Bandh was completely obeyed and Kathmandu looked eerily silent. On Feb 8th the election was held with minimal participation by the population. Most of the people did not seem to care or know the candidates etc in Kahtmandu valley. Government claimed legitimacy of the election but the general population seem to have ignored the whole affair. Bundh was lifted on Feb 9th, day after the election. Kathmnadu seemed business as usual.
Then came the historical unanimous verdict of Nepali Supreme Court dissolving the RCCC. In handing down the verdict, Supreme Court declared the current regime illegal on constitutional basis. This was further expounded in detail in Kantipur by constitutional lawyers next day. A feeble press release was issued by Nepali Congress 36 hours later welcoming the verdict but it was not followed up by any protest activity by any party.
King Gyanendra responded to the verdict by releasing Deuba and Prakash M Singh but ignored the constitutional basis of his regime so well questioned by the verdict. Instead of getting political process started he made a scheduled trip to Pokhara.
East Nepal: While in Nepal I made a trip to Eastern Nepal. On my trip to Koshi barrage and Chatara area I noticed many army bunkers along the highway which were ringed with barbed wire and land mines. The highway was reduced to one lane by creating the maze with barbed wire. At times traffic had to stop to clear the motors coming from opposite direction. At Biratnagar airport I noticed a young lad of around 18 on local undershirt (ganji) with uniform trouser of armed police force lounging aimlessly in airport area. He had his rifle slung into his shoulder with magazine of bullets in plain view. I wondered how well he would be trained to use his firearms in such a crowded area if he ever had to.
Similarly I had noticed rows of armored vehicle lined up in Tundikhel readied for Shivaratri Army parade. In totality this gave me the feeling that Nepal was hopelessly militarized to the brim. For the first time I felt Nepal was looking more like central American Banana Republic rather than a traditional Kingdom of the past.
During my stay I had chance conversation to many and this is how I could paint a picture of today’s Nepal:
On the Monarchy: King Gyanendra is still looking for legitimacy as a Monarch of the country. General people do not respect him as a traditional Monarch of the country. King is his own man and he takes advice very sparsely. Even the Monarchy’s close supporters are exasperated with king’s solo adventure. There is an impending sense of uneasiness among the monarchists which is very much palpable.
On the Political parties: I spoke to a central committee member of the Nepali Congress after supreme court verdict against the RCCC and asked him why Parties ( NC in particular ) were not following up on supreme court decision? He plainly told me that the NC leadership was far behind the general population in demanding full democracy. He could not explain the hesitation of the parties to go all out against the King’s regime.
On Diaspora: One of the close family friends of royal house asked me what diaspora’s view on Nepali political affairs was. I told him that the Nepali diaspora in North America think Maoists to be integral part of the political solution of Nepal. Maoists are knocking the door at Kathmandu valley. It is high time that the king should start opening the dialogue with civic society and political parties at its earnest, away from media glare and keep the door open for Maoists to join in. Sooner it is done better chances Nepal has to come out from this nightmare without loosing much of collective wisdom of Nepal. Otherwise we run the risk of getting into “zero sum game “of Maoists, where all will be destroyed in Nepal and we start from scratch. Nepali diaspora in North America does not think that Nepal has to go through all that, only if the King relents form his current position. He listened intently and asked me “how do we get this message to the King?” I laughed and told him, I was hoping he would be one of the links for that job. At that we both laughed together! Later I sensed how isolated King has become!
On RNA views on the King’s move: (based on conversation with a Royal Nepali Army colonel) King has asked for 3 years, so he should be given that time frame. He just finished municipal election and once he finishes the parliamentary election within a year he will hand over the power to elected government and country will be back on track. When I pointed out that King’s move has produced nothing for the country other than increased militarization he responded that the country’s very existence is at stake and King needs all the support he can get form all patriotic Nepali. RNA does not see King deviating form his roadmap.
On Maoist presence: Many people from various parts of the country that I spoke to informed me that the Armed Police Force and the Army patrolling do not go out of the barracks or their outpost after sundown. Maoists run the writ in much of the countryside and they decide how the administration is run in the district. Taxation to business in district has not abated; Maoists are invisible but in control of the countryside.
Indian perspective on Nepal: (based on talk with an Indian political analyst): India cannot and will not allow Maoist takeover in Nepal. The ramifications are unthinkable for India so they will not allow it to happen. India can accept Maoist as a part of the political mosaic of New Nepal but not their takeover. When I asked 12 point agreement seem to give credence to the fact that India is in control of Maoist he replied: yes, India is in contact with Maoists (as they are with Kashmiri separatist, Naga rebel etc) but India is not in control of Maoists. It is not possible and it s not the fact. India is very worried of Maoist takeover in Nepal and will do every thing possible to avoid that.
I further queried: does that mean India will support King Gyanendra instead? His plain reply was that King Gyanendra was not trustworthy partner. He has made many promises in the past that he deliberately did not keep. Besides, his popularity within Nepal is so slim he can not be supported even if India wished to. India can not afford to be on wrong side of the fence when it comes to Nepali people’s welfare.
I asked him “if and when Nepal gets a stable political system will India agree to a defense pact with Nepal (something like NATO pact) so that rest of the development work in Nepal can go forward in faster pace?” He categorically explained that such a move will not be possible because anti India feeling within Nepal runs very high. Politically it cannot be sold within Nepal. India will most probably welcome the move but Nepal can not make the offer as of now. He however agreed that such a move will help future development of Nepal.
I further asked: does India think China is providing substantial support to the current regime. Is India worried? He thought China has always kept a neutral position with Nepali affairs and nothing significant has changed currently. No, India does not see any evidence that China has provided substantial help to King’s regime.
At the end he emphasized that decision making process in Indian system is a messy one and there are lots of push and pull from various interest group. Unlike Chinese system, Indian decision making and implementation is complex. So to define Indian position with any certainty is near impossible. His analysis was based on his personal observations.
On Civic society: Best I could get is from Ms Shanta Dixit’s article in TKP:
On “Men who ruin Nepal” she clearly warns the extreme right to be aware of the impending danger Nepal faces if they do not come to their senses and then on ” Mind your language” she warns Prachanda to be careful (if he wants to be taken seriously by the intellectuals) when he uses the terms” either executed or exiled” while referring to fate of King Gyanendra in new Nepal. I think these article sums up the mood of Nepali population that they are fed up with the king’s regime as well as Maoists’ unrelenting violent method to achieve their political goal.
On Non Resident Nepali movement: during an informal chat among Nepali democrats on a Saturday morning I asked for their guidance on diaspora’s dilemma:
I informed them of our Nepal Democracy forum and debate we generate on the forum.
I asked them: Majority of diaspora feel strongly for ceremonial monarchy and many are for Republicanism and very few are for Monarchy as well. At times we get into heated argument as to who wins the day in favor of the democracy in Nepal. I asked what would be their advice to the forum. They all laughed and said that this is mirror image of Nepali society as well!
Mr Nilambar Acharya addressed the question thus: first agenda of the day is to restore democracy in Nepal so our common enemy is current regime. We must speak against it at all forums, and the degree of democracy etc will be taken as miscellaneous (tapasil) activities at a later date. To talk about Republicanism vs Monarchism is not productive at this time.
My next question was their impression about NRN movement vis a vis NRN’s stance of political neutrality: Again it was Mr Nilambar Acharya who has this to say about the movement: Overall, NRN movement has grown to be a global force and it is very encouraging for all in Nepal to see NRN get so mobilized. He however pointed out that the NRN leadership has not kept the political neutrality.
UWB Note: This piece was first posted by the author in Nepal Democracy, a member-only discussion forum in the Internet. UWB reproduced the article with permission from Gaury Adhikary.