Nepal Banda and Power Cut

By Dinesh Wagle
This is part of an article that appeared on today’s Op-Ed of the Kahtmandu Post. The other part is here. The complete article in PDF is here.

In my five-month-long stay in Delhi, I almost missed two things in particular about Kathmandu. 1. Why no bandas here? 2. Why no power cuts?

I was back in Nepal for a week recently and experienced both in ways that were in no way enjoyable.
A colleague at Kantipur told me about the banda the next day as I reached the office in the evening after booking a nonrefundable ticket with Buddha Air. I was destined to get stranded in Biratnagar (from where I planned to reach Delhi via Darjeeling). I thought, okay, a day of banda has become a non-issue for many of us these days, so I’ll take it. It’s like only a couple of hours of power outage a day. But eastern Nepal has become a hotbed of protests of all kinds. So my sixth sense and my colleagues at the Biratnagar office were saying that there might be another sudden banda or disturbance on the East-West Highway the next day as well.

So it was decided that I take the office vehicle that carries newspapers early in the morning to Jhapa. So Madhav Ghimire, the Biratnagar bureau chief of Kantipur Publications, and I woke up at 2:30 a.m. to catch the distribution van that would leave the office at 3 a.m. (I had stayed at Ghimire’s apartment.) As we were approaching the Bargachhi office, a loud noise came from far away. Within minutes, we could understand what was coming from the loudspeaker. “Respected brothers and sisters,” said the speaker, “our office was attacked yesterday at 10 p.m., and our candidate from Morang-7 Dr. Subodh Kumar Pokharel was attacked. In protest against the assault, we have decided to observe a banda today (April 7).”

The instant publicity was being done on behalf of a fringe party called Chure Bhawar Ekata Samaj that came into existence after launching an agitation in the Chure area months before last year’s CA elections. By-elections were scheduled to be held in six constituencies on April 10.

The vehicle carrying the loudspeaker went towards the bus park to convey its message to the targeted audience — the bus-wallahs.

That was an impromptu decision. The alleged incident happened at 10:30 p.m. and guys were already publicizing the protest programmes by 2 a.m. “They must have decided to organize the banda without visiting the place and the supposedly injured person,” commented Madhav as the vehicle passed us.
The banda culture has reached such an extent in Nepal that even a small annoyance or incident instigates people to go for a shutdown. “A husband and wife fight could see a city closed,” said Madhav. He wasn’t joking. His tone was serious. And I believed him. On my way to Ilam that morning, I saw many people stranded on the highway. Those people who were waiting for buses to show up didn’t know there was a banda on the other part of the highway.

When I reached Darjeeling via Ilam, a local Nepali singer told me that her daughter had to return from Kakkarbhitta, the border town, after finding out about the sudden banda in the eastern region the other day. The daughter worked at Jet Airways in Kathmandu.

And the power cuts. As I was stranded in Biratnagar, I wanted to use my computer, but no luck. The area was in the midst of an eight-hour-long load-shedding. In my home in Kathmandu, I didn’t watch TV and mostly had candlelight dinners. I am sure enough has been written about our failure to provide adequate power. There is a huge shortage of electricity in India too. But load-shedding rarely happens in Delhi. I experienced power cuts a couple of times in the past five months, but only for about five minutes or so. Light is one of the key aspects of a city: be it inside homes or on the streets. They should be illuminated. When will Kathmandu come out of darkness?