Update: The government has taken back the decision to hike the fuel prices this afternoon. As soon as government decision reached the streets, the protests started to subside.
Empirical study method is used to prepare the following article, which tries to diagnose the current incidences, leading to public unrest and strike, of the past two days.
Contributed by: Bishnu Pathak, PhD and Chitra Niraula
The Interim Government (IG) hiked the price of petroleum products the third time, on January 21 implement with the effect of midnight, within six months. Kerosene price was raised from Nepali Rupees 51 to 61/liter, diesel from 56 to 61.30/liter and LPG from 1,100 to 1,250/14.2 kg cylinder. Petrol price was raised a couple of weeks back. The private petrol pumps procure (deposit the amount for) the petrol products and this sudden price raise has earned huge profit which is shared as the commission to concerned senior officials. The Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) has stated that there is a debit of NRs. 10 billion due to subsidy for the petroleum products. However, petroleum products are not easily available in the market; common people had to stand in queue for many hours to get a meager amount whereas the elites got through embezzlement. The LPG was available in general in black market.
On January 22, the student and other youth organizations of the ruling Seven Party Alliance (SPA) as well as other masses has come to the streets closing markets and shops and halting traffic. Tires were being burnt in the streets and public and private vehicles are stopped to and from, including those of Diplomatic and UN Missions. The people and the cadres of the political parties had initiated the movement on their own in the Capital, but later it widespread across the nation. Maoists were busy in their 3-day cadres’ conference along with central level training for preparations to CA polls. The agitated crowd tried to vandalize vehicles running on the roads. Since the price hike was opposed from all quarters, including the SPA, and issued statements to continue subsidizing the products till the CA polls (April 10) and people also hoped that the hike would be withdrawn till then.
However, nothing stirred in the government’s ears and there was no issuance of notice. Therefore, today more crowds have gathered in the streets, more tires are being burnt, more smoke is being emitted and the streets are full of black soot where people are on suffocation while walking along the roads or living on houses close by roads. All the roads are blocked. Police are trying to clear the blockades, but in many places, ambulances are also being stopped due to obstacles and the patients are forced to walk. Even bicycle tires are being punctured. Employees at government, non-governments and UN/diplomatic missions have not been able to reach their offices. Almost all the shops/markets, except drug stores, are closed. If the government does not take any immediate measures with due priority by this evening, the situation could turn more destructive and violence. The number of people on the streets surpasses that during the Popular Movement II. It seems to be a general strike.
Why are people on the streets?
People had expected many things from the government after the Popular Movement II. The prime hope of the people was peace, security, and new leaders closer and dear would elect for CA election. Nevertheless, the two years after the end of armed conflict along with understandings, agreements and accord, did not bring about programs addressing the problems and issues of the people, however increased insecurity. The government was mere a silent observer as arson, loot, dacoit, robbery, kidnapping, etc. were occurring in broad daylight. There were bomb blasts in the rally where Ministry of State for Home Affairs was the Chief Guest. The manager of a Bank was shot dead and NRs. 3 million was looted. Violent groups are targeting political party leaders. Cadres of Tarai Madhes Democratic Party, Madhesi Janadhikar Forum and Nepal Bhumihin Sangh attacked Sushil Koirala, Acting President of Nepali Congress, during his visit to central Tarai. A police post in Khotang (eastern hills) district was attacked and an unidentified group looted arms.
People in the districts have not seen any political party leaders although there are only 80 days left for the CA election. Therefore, there are none to share their worries and plights, and they are full of grief and anger towards them. Maoists yesterday issued the slogan for CA poll and proposed Prachanda as the candidate for future president. Other political parties have not ventured outside their ‘hole–meetings’, and many leaders displaced from the districts and rural areas have not been able to return.
Why Nepal is in the quagmire of political turmoil? The answer is:
1. The SPA leaders oriented towards their parties/cadres but not towards the people. For an example, the Interim Parliament passed to award NRs. 1 million to each MPs for development purposes on the verge of CA election, which has been opposed from all quarters. US Ambassador went so far as to meet the Speaker personally to discuss this matter.
2. Although the country has seen many ups and downs, there is lack of national leadership. There exists a sharp polarization between the Congress and the Communists, albeit they are working at the coalition government. Girija is the formal Head of the State and Government of the country, whereas Prachanda is seen as his parallel. The displeased senior government officials with Girija have become close allies to the Maoists.
3. The rift between the Nepal Army, close with Girija, and the Maoists has further widened on the issue of integrating PLA into the former. Although it has pledged to democracy, it was under the King in the earlier days, due to which people are not convinced that it will not perform coup in favor of the monarchy.
4. Insecurity is the principle factor not to hold CA poll on time that would lead to anarchism. The Nepal Defense Army and Tarai Army, close to the king, have aggravated their violent activities to foil CA election. Late king Mahendra adopted the present Chief of Nepal Army.
5. The leaders of BJP (India) have time and again stated that Nepal should remain a Hindu State, which positions the king as an incarnation of God Bishnu. Such narrations have empowered the forces trying to thwart CA poll. High volt political game of Indian power and politics is being played in Nepal after reinstatement of democracy. The PM Girija is seen to have long association with External Intelligence Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
6. The recently appointed Minister without Portfolio looking after PM’s office, Sujata Koirala, daughter of Girija, said that the king might be wrong but not the institution. Girija might have spoken this expression through her mouth.
7. The IP has resolved for Republic and amended the Interim Constitution to that effect, whereas the king is still in the Palace with all benefits. What would be the consequences if CA polls will not be held?
8. Japan has declared Nepal as a fragile State. All the diplomatic missions in the country have stressed for timely CA elections and warned that the negative result would be disastrous. Commoners doubt that the rest international communities might follow the suit of Japan because the diplomatic missions, in critical issues, avoid involving by saying that it is ‘your’ problem.
9. The ex-PM Sher Bahadur Deuba (NC) has stated that the country will push into anarchism if Maoists will win in the CA election. Maoists have claimed that the election whim is in their favor and they are sure to win. A strong force within the SPA is covertly not in favor of CA poll.
10. The violent and non-violent as well as criminal groups in Madhes are not recognizing each-other’s existence. Their debate is over “who is the true leader of Madhes?” There are three types of forces. First, the strongest comprise the groups fissioned from the Maoists, who aim to obtain similar heights to Maoists through arms and violence mean. The second type consist of those who fearing of being wiped out, who have done nothing for Madhes in the past while they were in the mainstream political parties and in many occasions in senior positions in the government. The third contain the fundamentalists along with criminal groups, who are trying to fish in troubled waters.
However, people of all strata in NEPAL are aspiring for a new leader who is capable to respect all political ideologies and socio-cultural patterns along with geo-political landscape on the course to meet justice to human kind. The crux of the troubled state of Nepal is leaders’ competition to be masters of the people rather than to serve them and the nation.
Assisted by: Prem Pathak, Ganga Puri, Rushma Shakya and Reeta Chaudhary