Protests: Delhi vs Kathmandu

Kathmandu Protests

They have bandas in India too, but they don’t trash the city to make their point

By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
This article first appeared in today’s Kathmandu Post. Here’s the PDF version of the page.

The state government of Delhi recently hiked public bus fares in an astonishing manner. The Delhi Metro rail, a major medium of public transportation in the Indian capital, quickly followed suit. Prices of consumer goods are also going up, and the general sentiment is resentment against the establishment for its inability to curb rising prices. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called a Delhi banda on Friday. Guess what happened on the banda day. Dozens of cars smashed, pro-banda activists pelting stones at shop owners who refused to close their businesses, breaking railings on the streets? Nothing like that happened. Coming from Nepal where such things are an inseparable part of any banda and bandas themselves a part of life, I was mildly surprised to see such a peaceful banda and way of protest in Delhi. The BJP, not an ideal political party in itself, but that’s a separate issue, only requested business owners and people to mark the banda, there was no force used. And, stunningly for me, the party said beforehand that there would be no inconvenience for the general public during the banda.

“Transport and essential services will be allowed to run during the banda so that people do not face any inconvenience,” a leader of the BJP was quoted as saying. Do you, residents of Kathmandu or any other city in Nepal for that matter, believe it? Something is amazingly good about India. The parties here, many parties, though not all, fear the people and respect the rule of law. They are concerned about their reputation and believe that tormenting the public isn’t a great way of winning their hearts and votes. Morality still prevails in the majority of Indian politics despite innumerable shortcomings.

Now, as I was appreciating the BJP-way of protest, I came across a tweet from Kathmandu on Thursday. It said:

Witnessed the drama of the Maoist Morons around Singhadurbar (KTM)… walked to work (obviously!). INFURIATING

Infuriating indeed. It’s a grave matter of concern that Nepali political parties are increasingly turning into gangs of rascals with their leaders happily engaged in extortion and intimidation. Whatever happened to the ideology and principles upon which party activities are supposedly based? With their egos higher than Sagarmatha and no vision for the country, our leaders are functioning like those Hindi film goondas who kill people on behalf of anyone who gives them supari (money). Do you really think Prachanda and his collaborators are fighting for civilian supremacy now?

The word people has been so much abused in Nepal that sometimes it feels that the very meaning of the word has been changed. Those who inflict pain and inconvenience on the people and society, ironically, in the name of uplifting them scream “people” all the time. The image of a rabies affected dog comes to my mind when I hear the word “people” from the political leaders. They are never interested in solving the problems of, for example, inflation and a monopolistic market. Can’t the Maoists, who are so much concerned about civilian supremacy, help the government to fight the power crisis or inflation?

Thuggery is not limited to the opposition. One shameless minister publicly slapped a national servant last week. Instead of throwing her in jail,  the police continued escorting her. Rather than being ashamed of her act, the culprit went on declaring that she would respond by closing Birgunj bazaar if government employees protested her action. The height of anarchy that prevails in Nepal. Four members of the Maharashtra assembly in India last week manhandled one of their colleagues; and they were, at least, instantly suspended giving people the impression that there’s still rule of law in the state. I can’t forget what a Nepali student of chartered accountancy who came to study here in Delhi told me in an interview this summer. “The new thing that I found here is that people obey rules,” he said casually. “And they fear the police and bus conductors!” He had just come from Kathmandu.

What’s wrong with us? Don’t we have anything constructive to do than hit the streets and shout slogans all the time? We now have the democracy and freedom that we so passionately fought for. We voted so enthusiastically and gave the ex-rebels the largest position in parliament. We did away with the monarchy that we thought was the only obstruction to our progress. Still the general public is suffering. Why? I understand these are pessimistic questions that could have come from a politically aloof person. I am not against the political parties per se. I see no alternative to multiparty democracy. Personally, I feel the Maoists should be in government. In fact, they should be leading it because the people, not a majority of them though, voted the party to be the largest in the CA. But that doesn’t mean they can have it all their way on every issue. We have seen how theylooked like when they are ruling. Prachanda was by no stretch of the imagination different than say Girija Prasad Koirala in delivering failed governance, overlooking corruption and promoting nepotism. Forget the “we are different than the rest” Maoist rhetoric.  During the Congress regime in the 1990s, the UML did what the Maoists are doing today: calling bandas, obstructing house proceedings and disrupting general life.

Though I am for a Maoist-led government because they are the largest party in the CA, I don’t think it’s the end of the world if they remained in the opposition. They can still work towards the formulation of the constitution and completing the peace process. Who can stop them from doing so? The problem is they are not interested. Because of this anarchy in our society today, foreigners make fun of us and, at every opportune moment, preach to us. “When India became independent, the situation was far worse than what Nepal is facing today,” said K.V. Rajan, former Indian ambassador to Nepal, at a programme organised in Delhi last week in which CPN-UML chief Jhalanath Khanal was the chief speaker. “India had been partitioned; there were communal riots with thousands of victims on both sides. There were many serious problems. It was not that there was a national government, but we had leaders of great stature both in government and outside who were willing to work with the spirit of a certain sacrifice and service. It was that spirit of sacrifice and service and mutual cooperation which enabled the country to write the constitution at a very critical state and consolidate democracy itself.”

With that example, Rajan was clearly saying “you guys don’t have such leaders in Nepal”. It hurts to hear such things from an Indian, but the reality is he is correct in his assessment. Our leaders have let us down. They have put us in such a situation that we can’t face a foreigner with dignity. As Rajan said, even if the constitution is written while the Maoists are in the opposition, the real credit will go to no other than the Maoists themselves because people will think that they allowed it to happen.

But again, the fact is, they are not interested.