As the vote counting was going on Maoit’s YCL cadres were stopping people at different places and searching their bodies, bags and wallets. Some Nepali Congress cadres were complaining that their money and mobile phones were confiscated. Maoists were searching for NC cadres and beating whoever they found.
By Damodar Neupane in Gorkha
Diary of a reporter
Many people might be curious to know how the election was conducted in the district where Maoist leader Dr. Baburam Bhattarai won by the margin of more than 40 thousand votes. As soon as the voting ended in April 10 Nepali Congress and CPN UML complained to the Election Commission about voting irregularities. They refused to take part in the vote counting and because of that the counting was delayed by a day. Since representatives from other parties didn’t come, the counting began in the presence of the representatives from the Maoist and Janamorcha (Peoples’ Front). I reported about that live on Kantipur TV at 10 AM in April 11. Within hours Maoist cadre Amrit Upadhayay came to me and started debating over the report. As I was thinking there was no use in debating with them, my cell phone rang. I excused myself.
Within less than an hour, Maoist cadres forcibly took out Ramesh Bastakoti, a Nepali Congress candidate who was going to Kathmandu, from a microbus and started beating. Police intervened and took him away. In a few minutes Maoist cadres started beating another NC activist Chitra Bhatta. Police took him to hospital. They fled the hospital feeling insecure, I knew later, and were hiding in a bamboo bush near the local stadium. Maoist cadres found them and started beating again. We were taking photos of that. At that instant, Maoists started manhandling reporter Bhimlal Shrestha. They were ordering us what to shoot and what not to. We left because we felt insecure. After they beat Bhatta and Bastakoti almost near to death, Maoists handed them to the police.
Vote counting started in the night. We stayed there for whole night. The Maoist was winning by huge margin in both number 1 and number 2 constituencies. Maoist was ahead in poll results all over the country. Some Maoist cadres who were standing outside started to become arrogant about their unexpected victory. They beat up NC activist Phanindra Dhital who was in his home.
The counting was going on. As the noise outside increased the Chief District Officer Jeevan Oli, Deputy Superintendent of Police Gita Uprieti and I were going towards the noise. Lawyer Mohan Pokharel suddenly came out of the crowd. “Save me,” he was screaming. Maoist cadres were attacking him saying that they would take revenge of the ‘blood of our 13 thousand martyrs’. He was going to Kathmandu and Maoist cadres had followed his microbus up to 13 kilometers saying that he was ‘suspicious’ they needed to ‘investigate’ him. He was severely beaten up by the Maoist’s YCL cadres. “Damodar ji they beat me,” he was telling me. “Could this be done just because I voted a different political party? Can’t a person with an opinion different [than that of the Maoist] live? Thanks to the police who were near and I was saved.”
We were outside the vote counting station. A colleague called me. “Sir, you don’t come outside.” I didn’t ask a question. A few minutes later I heard a threat in my phone: “Now journalist’s turn.” The atmosphere was tense. The YCL activists who had spread around the villages during the election had come to the district headquarter. They were armed with sticks and iron rods. We were feeling very insecure. I called Kishore Jung Thapa, president of the Gorkha district branch of the Federation of Nepali Journalists. He also said that the situation was very tense.
He also said that he had talked to FNJ president Bishnu Nishturi. Nishturi had assured him that he himself would come to Gorkha should there be any problem. YCL cadres were stopping people at different places and searching their bodies, bags and wallets. Some Nepali Congress cadres were complaining that their money and mobile phones were confiscated. Maoists were searching for NC cadres and beating whoever they found. Some groups belonging to NC and UML had gone underground. I wasn’t in a position to write news about the development. Other journalist friends also felt insecure and we all decided not to write anything. Police wasn’t in a position to control the YCL crowd. NC activists were beaten up in front of the police. It seemed like there was no presence of the state.
Meanwhile threats were coming in one after another. I didn’t publicize the problem immediately thinking partly that they could be solved in couple of hours. I thought for a long. There was no way that I could get out of the circle created by the Maoists. I talked to the regional bureau in Pokhara, central district bureau in Kathmandu of Kantipur Publications and also to Kantipur TV. They told me to be safe. Colleagues went to their homes in the evening. I stayed there. I told Maoist lawmaker Parashuram Ramtel about the circumstances. He assured me that nothign would happen to journalist. I also reminded him of the reporting that I had done until then. He said that I was free to write and report the facts.
Maoist distirct in charge Krishna Dhital and Secretary Chudamani Khadka also said that such was not the party policy. They also said that there might be infeltration of those elements who are willing to beat journalists. That statement made us even more suspicious. That meant in the event of attacks the Maoist wouldn’t take responsibility.
I had to face Maoist threat as the election campaign started. Maoists had prevented NC candidates Chiranjivi Wagle and Chinkaji Shresta from going to many villages. They had thrown boulders in Ashrang village targetting a bus that was carrying journalists, candidates and human rights activists. When we wrote news about such incidents Maoists used to complain that we were anti-Maoist. They used to humiliate us in various ways saying that media was working to defeat them in the polls. They had mobilized their cadres in the village against journalists. Maoist district secretary Chudamani used to say even before the poll campaigns that “since Kantipur was a capitalist newspaper there battle from now onwards would be against Kantipur.” He used to indirectly threaten me that I was “a good person so he had no complain again” me but with the newspaper that I was working for. There is a long list of Maoist cadres manhandling but we had taken them as a temporary arrogance.
I have always followed Maoist programs and reported their events be that Dr Bhattarai’s door to door campaign or other campaign-related events. I had tried my best to write balanced and impartial news. But Maoists take any news as the one against them.
The situation was tense until three days after the vote. Amrit Upadhayay was mainly responsible to create such situation. I am not sure about his exact responsibility in the Maoist party but he was my classmate in the college. After finishing BA, I joined MA and he went underground. He used to complain about my ‘anti-Maoist news’ in our occasional meetings. The same guy was heating the mass by passing negative comments on news filed by me.
I continued reporting despite the fact that I wasn’t able to use my laptop and Maoists continued beating up NC cadres. News came in that some of the NC cadres were airlifted by a chopper.
Maoist leader Dr. Bhattarai won my huge margin. All three constituencies went to the Maoist. A victory rally was slated for Baishak 3. We heard that Maoists would chase away reporters who want to pariticpate in the rally like dogs. We requested the Maoist leadership to create an atmosphere in which we could attend the rally and cover it. Maoist Secretary Khadka said that we would have to walk inside the YCL security ring. We went to the rally and left a few minutes before it ended fearing that it uncontrolled people would turn violently against us.
After a few days of no activities of the Maoist we thought normalcy had returned. We went to Manakamana along with CDO, DSP and polling officer. After we returned to the headquarter Maoists started giving mental torture. “We will analyze what a reporter has written until now,” they told, according to a colleague. District-level leaders have gone to village but their cadres who were in the headquarters didn’t stop spreading rumors to intimidate us. The final results of the proportional election had also come. I decided to escape from this torture and go home for a few days. I don’t know what information they received; Police came today and drove me to my home in Kathmandu.
Damodar is a reporter with Kantipur Publications and Kantipur TV. This article appeared in today’s Kantipur. Translated by UWB.