On the Maoist, French restaurateur of Kathmandu and Nepali leaders in Delhi
News reports from Meghalaya are disheartening. Nepali migrant workers and Nepali-speaking Indians are being chased away from their homes and workplaces (coal mines) by the Khasis who are in a majority in the North-Eastern Indian state. Some Nepalis have been killed; one of them was burnt alive during the ruthless eviction that began early last week. Some Khasis of the state have issued an ultimatum to the Nepalis to leave Meghalaya that, some say, is against the 1950 Indo-Nepal peace and friendship treaty. The Indian state, so far, has done nothing to stop the ethnic conflict. May be they will act, but part of the problem is with us. Nepal hasn’t been able to provide jobs to its own citizens. Unemployed folks, therefore, are forced to go to the hills of Meghalaya (and other parts of India, not to mention the Gulf countries) to look for jobs
What have we done in the past 20 years of democracy to create jobs at home? Let’s not talk about the bourgeois democracy where the Congress, the CPN-UML and other parties ruled Nepal. The monarchy that intervened in between failed before thinking about jobs for the people. The Maoists who waged a 10-year-long war for the poor and unemployed didn’t show a sign of creating jobs when they were in power a year ago.
After the Maoists called off their strike earlier this month, I went to a French restaurant in Thamel, Kathmandu to meet the owner. Christine Régnier, the French owner of Délices de France, was not serving guests but dealing with the labourers who had come to fix the windows that the Maoists had smashed during the strike. This is the society in which we live, and our situation was aptly reflected in the broken window panes of the restaurant. We don’t work, we don’t create jobs, and we smash the tables and windows of those who work, who create jobs.
This French woman came to Kathmandu leaving her family behind because she said she wanted to help the Nepali economy grow. She was attracted by Nepal’s natural beauty, but saddened by its ravaged economy. “When I came here in 2004, the conflict was at its height,” she said. “I decided to come back and start a business here once peace was restored. And peace came very fast!” Apart from serving tourists and locals alike with quality cuisine, Christine’s effort has provided jobs to seven Nepali youths. Not a lot, yes, but certainly better than nothing.
The irony is that Christine thought the situation in Kathmandu was slowly improving when Pushpa Kamal Dahal was prime minister. Though not a Maoist herself, Christine said she was still impressed by Dahal’s leadership skill and had wanted to meet him. After the incident, she said, she was expecting a phone call from the leader to apologise on behalf of his goons who attacked the restaurant that was opened during the hours stipulated for business activities by the Maoists (6 to 8 p.m.). “Business is very important for peace in society,” she
said. “I hope the Maoists will encourage business in Nepal which will help
create jobs for Nepalis.” She added that she was thinking of sending the bill (for fixing the window panes) to the Maoist party.
The last time I checked with Christine via the Internet was on Friday when she said she hadn’t received any such calls from the Maoist leader and didn’t know how to send the bill to the party. “I am preparing for my absence in the restaurant,” she wrote. I was shocked and sad. But what she said immediately came as a relief, “I am going back to France for a holiday. After two years!”
Leaders in Delhi
Apart from poor migrant workers, the flow of humanity from Nepal to India is that of political leaders who come to Delhi for various reasons. Many of them come at the invitation of different Indian agencies — some governmental, some nongovernmental. What they do here largely depends on who they are: some lobby for their interests, some try to explain their position to Indian politicians and the intelligentsia, and some just limit themselves to the Nepali community in Delhi that is ideologically near to their party. The past week saw two prominent leaders of the Nepali Congress coming to Delhi to “educate” Indians about the current situation in Nepal. Both of them spoke at the India International Centre and provided practical and philosophical/theoretical perspectives to the current crisis.
Ram Sharan Mahat, an ex-minister who is involved in the NC’s dealings with the Maoists, said the ex-rebels needed to show a concrete and time-bound commitment to the issues related to integration of Maoist combatants (numbers), dismantling of the Young Communist League and returning the properties/lands captured by the party. He said non-Maoist political parties like the Congress had shown a lot of flexibility in the past several years to bring the Maoists into mainstream politics.
“We accepted the demand for a Constituent Assembly, we became flexible on the electoral system, we became republican and threw out the monarchy,” he said. “We honoured the commitments not just in words but in deeds. But the Maoists always commit, they never act. They still maintain an army. Their attitude towards integration is not helping the peace process. This time we will not settle for anything less than a time-bound commitment from the Maoists. And we will do so in a package agreement.”
Pradeep Giri, on the other hand, presented theoretical aspects of the current crisis in a captivating speech. He pointed to ideological conflict between two sections of the Maoist party as the reason for the current mess. “One side thinks revolution (and urban revolt) is the only way forward while the other thinks the rule of law is the best way forward,” Giri said. “The party is holding its central committee meeting this week. The future course of Nepali politics will be decided by which side wins at the meeting.
This article first appeared in today’s Kathmandu Post