Tilak Shrestha: We want to live peacefully
By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
When Maoists provided musical and celebratory feel to their protest gatherings, the former rebels were not innovating a protest tactic. Their innovation, so to speak, was to push thousands of villagers to Kathmandu valley with the party bearing the cost of travel and living. Interviews with a few such people revealed that not all of them were Maoist supporters or excited about the free jaunt. Some were forced to leave their homes for Kathmandu in the midst of agricultural activities. The Maoist-sponsored city tour of the villagers may not have immensely contributed to their agitation against the Madhav Nepal-led government but that surely brought our poverty on surface for the world to see. The rural folks came with their chafed hands that told the story of suffering and lowly life that they had been living in the hills. The arrival of these folks, without shoes and proper clothing, also revived the city versus village debate at tea-shops of Kathmandu. “Everything’s centered in the city,” I overheard a villager telling to city folks at a tea-shop in Tinkune. “It’s high time the city heard our story, understood our plight.”
Maoists have been at the forefront of using the word People as if they alone, and no other political force, is fighting for the people. Everything they do — from organising protests to looting grains to waging a war — is in the name of people, with the word prefixed in all their activities (People’s action) and expectations (People’s constitution). I talked to one of those ‘people’ who was brought in to Kathmandu to take part in the agitation. He wasn’t interested in replacing Madhav Kumar Nepal with Pushpa Kamal Dahal in Singhadarbar, he had no desire to establish civilian supremacy. These are not the issues that, I felt after talking to him, people in village can identify themselves with. All he wanted was an environment where he and his folks at Bhunji village of Ramechhap district could make a decent living (coincidentally I hail from a nearby village of the same district).
“This senseless fight for kursi (power) is what is troubling us,” said Tilak Shrestha, 31. “People shouldn’t be trapped into this fight.” Ironically enough, he was already trapped in that fight. Tilak said he was hopeful four years ago, when people launched a successful April revolution that brought Maoists into peace process and made country a republic. Over the past four years, he said, people’s expectations haven’t been met. “We thought peace had finally been restored in our society,” he said. “But that turned out to be our illusion. Look at our situation now. There’s no peace in village, we are living in fear.”
“But you have come here to fight for civilian supremacy, for timely constitution,” I told him. “You must be a Maoist sympathiser. Why do you say you are living in fear?”
He dismissed my question with such a facial expression that it didn’t take me long to understand it wasn’t his wish to come to Kathmandu this time. “There’s no peace in village,” he repeated. “There is intimidation.” He didn’t name the intimidators. And I didn’t insist upon it.
“We have seen so many political changes, demonstrations and agitations in the past several years,” I said. “What are your expectations?”
“Shantisanga bachna paiyos,” he said. [We wish to live peacefully.] “Yes, peace,” repeated other folks around him from same village.
“What do you want the most apart from peace?”
“Road,” Tilak said.
“Road is the most important thing for us after peace,” said another man, Man Bahadur Shrestha, 54.
“Then electricity and drinking water,” Tilak said; others were nodding. “We live not far from Kathmandu but live in darkness.”
“How can the government provide road, electricity and drinking water to you?”
“I know the government can’t provide us those things in a day. But they can start now. They can create an environment where we can work at village level freely, can use and mobilise resources available at the local level. We are not asking anything for free.” Other people, dressed in daurasural, patuka, waistcoat and Nepali cap, nodded in agreement. Kaam garna hamilai apthyaro chhaina, one of them said. “We have no difficulty in working.”
Had the Maoists wanted, I feel, they could have started, at least, quite a few road and electricity projects during their months at the helm of the government. But they were no different from other political parties in that they too encouraged nepotism, favouritism and corruption. Several Maoist leaders have become millionaires since 2006. They are involved in not just extortion and forced donation drives but also in legitimate businesses in illegitimate ways. They are into, among other things, land brokering business making unnatural profits. People like Tilak and his folks have no idea about all these activities. Some people brought in to Kathmandu by Maoists were strictly under their supervision which made free-flowing interview with them impossible. A 19-year-old “YCL cadre” who agreed for interview quickly excused himself from a reporter saying he would first “consult with commander comrade.” He never came back.
Maoists had ‘over-mobilised’ for a very small cause (making Prachanda the prime minister) despite the easier and legitimate way available though Constituent Assembly. The agitation was not about any serious issues that concerned the public. The 2006 revolution, for example, had promised freedom of expression, democratic rights and hope of peace. The recent agitation did no such thing. It was just about kursi.
This article first appeared in today’s Kathmandu Post