I sit here at my elderly laptop, ensconced from the outside world. A world which is deteriorating steadily into mayhem. Mayhem created by Nepalis themselves, with a little help from a few foreign friends of course. The 6-day Maoists' country-wide strike is just over, but their "agitation" continues. But more is threatened unless the Government accepts their demands within two days. The Government, a coalition of 22 political parties led by two major parties, meanwhile fiddles as the political fire simmers with deadly possibilities. The Maoists want the present government to step down, to be replaced by one led by themselves. The government wants the Maoists to return all confiscated property, disband their militant youth wing (YCL), be reasonable about the rehabilitation of their ex-combatants into mainstream society, and a few other lesser demands before a consensus government can even be considered. Neither side is backing down. The Nepali people wake up every day not knowing how safe their life and property are. There are shortages ranging from medical supplies to vegetable. Development of the country has been forgotten in this orgy of power. Nepal and its people are being truly "raped" by heedless politicians.
A Peace Rally was held in Kathmandu on 7th May, the 6th day of the Maoist-imposed general strike, at the historic Hanuman Dhoka Square, Basantapur. The rally was organized by business and professional organisations. The speakers spoke from the steps of an ancient temple, flanked by the palace of Kumari, the Living Goddess, as about 100,000 men and women, myself included, listened rapturously. There were roars of "Yes!" at every oratorical flash of the speakers. Not a single sign of the red hammer and sickle flag was evident; only a plethora of the national flag and also a few Buddhist flags. Peace and an end to the stalemate between the Government and the Maoists was the clarion call of all. The organisers then canceled the march that was to follow the rally, to avoid confrontation with Maoists gathered at various sites around the city. The people would have none of it. Waving flags and chanting peace slogans, not directed at any particular political party but rather to all of them, they ignored the organisers and set out on the Peace March. The first clash came at Ratna Park. Maoists, armed with sticks, set upon the peace marchers. The police had to resort to tear gas before getting the situation under control. Similar clashes took place in Baghbazar, Bhotahity and Mangalbazar. To top it off, some of the people returning from the rally were attacked in Sorakhutte; 5 people were injured and a police car was vandalised.
News24 TV station, which covered the march live, interviewed both the peace marchers and Maoists. One peace marcher said, "Dirt has gathered among Maoists as well as in Singha Durbar (the government secretariat; this rally will sweep that dirt away." Another said, "Political parties must look after the people and the country, not just their seats." The responses from the Maoist side were more aggressive. They wanted to fight. The interviewer was accused point-blank of being anti-Maoist and attempts made to snatch away his microphone.
The Maoists announced an end to their country-wide strike that evening. Yes, People Power had made an impact, no matter how small, in this decision. But let us not forget that there was ample pressure from the international community, represented by its Ambassadors here, too. On 8th May, the Maoists held one of their frequent mass rallies in Kathmandu. Speaking there, Chairman Dahal tried hard to raise the morale of his followers, most of them brought in from neighbouring districts with money and promises. I recently had an opportunity to observe a march of these followers. All were below the age of 25. Their sullen faces reflected, in my mind, the state of Nepali youth. With no future, they have decided to see where the Maoists will lead them. They have nothing to lose. Little education, no prospects for employment, they are fodder to the Marxist dreams of the leaders. On 9th May, the Maoists surrounded the government secretariat and scuffles broke out between them and the police. At lease two journalists of Avenues TV were assaulted by the Maoists, and one of their cameras smashed. Talk about Press Freedom in the “New Nepal”!
On the other hand, the Government is mainly composed of self-serving individuals who have had a chance to do something for this country since 1990 when Nepal became a multi-party democratic state with a constitutional monarchy. They have failed miserably. They joined with the Maoists in 2006 to deprive the country, unconstitutionally, of the Monarchy and Hinduism as the state religion - the only two so-called "successes" they have had in the last four years.
The Constituent Assembly was elected into office two years ago – all 601 members of them (larger than the Indian parliament)! Their primary job was to have a new constitution ready by 28 May 2010. They too have failed miserably. There is talk of extending the CA’s tenure by 6 months. That will be of no use. They will fail again – even more embarrassingly. What then? We had better start thinking of the consequences.
Meanwhile, the country weeps. At least 35% of its population remains below the poverty line. The cream of its youth leaves the country for employment elsewhere. Corruption is rampant. Security has deteriorated to the extent that fly-by assassinations, in broad daylight, have become common. As one who has returned here after decades abroad, I sometimes ask myself why I remain. Simple answer - this is my country. No real choice.
We need Statesmen here, not pitiful politicians. People who have the principles and dynamism of a Nelson Mandela of South Africa or a Lee Kwan Yeu of Singapore. People who put their country and its people first, not their bellies and pockets. People who are real leaders, not parasites on the suffering millions. We need visionary competent NATIONALISTS. Any takers?