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Nepal’s future in Kathmandu-4

Monday, November 18th, 2013

This is not the first time Nepalis are fearful of travelling to their villages and cities by bus. In June 2005, a bomb attack on a passenger bus in Madi, Chitwan district left 38 people dead and 72 injured. Many of the victims were women and children. It was planned and executed by Nanda Kishor Pun ‘Pasang’, commander of the People’s Liberation Army. Rebels that Pun trained resumed their cowardly acts of terrorism this week as they fire bombed passenger buses.

During the 10-year conflict, Pun’s army regularly took over schools across the country, using them to conduct military parades and transforming a space of hope and learning into an infrastructure of war. But on the campaign trail, Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been calling Pun, who is running for elections from Kathmandu-4, an ‘ambassador of peace’.

Pun is up against NC youth leader Gagan Thapa. In Madi, Thapa helped build a school. In the parliament he drafted and proposed a bill that would declare schools as ‘zones of peace’. Both men are anticipated to be the ‘next generation’ leaders of their party, a role that will shape Nepal’s socio-political future. On November 19, only one version of that future will win.

STANDING TALL: Kathmandu-4 candidate and NC youth leader Gagan Thapa addresses a mass gathering at Sifal Chaur on Saturday. (Pic: Kashish Das Shrestha)

STANDING TALL: Kathmandu-4 candidate and NC youth leader Gagan Thapa addresses a mass gathering at Sifal Chaur on Saturday. (Pic: Kashish Das Shrestha)

In 2002, I travelled to the Maoist heartland, Rolpa, and spent a week talking to their local fighters and commanders in a village far from the district headquarter. In the years that followed, I would spend time with Pasang’s army in Nepal’s western plains to eastern hills. All around me I would see young boys and girls carrying backpacks filled not with books, but bullets and socket bombs. In other remote and rural parts of Nepal, I would find the scars of war left by Pun’s army: a destroyed District Forest Office, a bombed airport, a demolished school, blown out electricity substations.

Renowned columnist Khagendra Sangroula praises Dahal as the political commander and Pun as the military commander of the Maoist insurgency. The chairman too is effusive in praise of Pun: “It was Pasang who helped the movement reach this high, this fast.”

No one calls Gagan a commander, but most people refer to him as a leader. In the Constituent Assembly, he helped lead the process of the Fundamental Rights Committee finishing its work on time. When the CA extended its deadline, he was the sole CA member who proposed the extension not come with additional salary. The proposal failed, so he led by example: he was the only member who stopped taking any salary, just as he had promised he would during the campaign.

In the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Means, Gagan Thapa led many of its most significant hearings on issues of forest management, hydro power development, agriculture policies, climate change, and illegal mining of the Chure region. In the parliament, he planned and established the committee on children’s rights and forged a cross-party participation to push issues of child rights. He was the only MP who proposed parties disengage from Nepal bandas. It was him who wrote the bill to stop the burning of tyres during protests. He fought for the right of Nepali children to get citizenship with their mothers’ name.

Pun does not challenge his party establishment. His biggest endorsement comes from the party’s chairman himself. To vote for Pun is to vote for him, said Dahal during campaigning. Thapa, on the other hand, has faced much resistance from old party leaders. But the people have consistently thrust him into that space. In 2010, he was voted into the Central Working Committee of the NC with the highest number of votes. On and off the campaign trail, Thapa has emphasised the need to change the old guards in his party, which is why he has been nurturing youth leaders across the country for years now. “Politics should be a service, not a job,” he tells youth as he helps them become educated entrepreneurs. Today, thousands, including non-party members, have adopted that path because of him.

In the election manifestos, every party boasts development agendas, but Gagan Thapa made sure the NC also took a sustainable development approach. Every manifesto promises expanded roads networks, but Thapa addressed air pollution too. Every party talked about using natural resources, but he made NC view those issues through a sustainable lens.

In 2009, when I talked to the Energy Minister, a senior NC leader, he dismissed my climate change concerns. This year, Gagan Thapa has made addressing climate change a part of NC’s manifesto. He made others such progressive additions on issues of education, public health, women’s rights, migrant workers, and more; taking the lead and shaping what NC stands for. “Their politics is the politics of poverty. My politics is the politics against poverty,” he has frequently said.

What are Pun’s visions for Kathmandu’s development? He has an opinion on what Kathmandu should be called and who gets to run it. But even that opinion is simply his party’s. He wants to represent the Maoist party.

Dahal has been telling his constituency that he is Nepal’s next president. Pun is said to be harbouring dreams of becoming the next home or defence minister. A victory for Pun in Kathmandu-4 is a big step to ensure their dreams are realised. It also allows Pun to assert more political influence on Nepali society. As a military commander, he would like nothing more. The question is, would you?

Kashish Das Shrestha

Kashish Das Shrestha, an independent policy researcher and analyst, has co-authored essays on environment and development issues with Gagan Thapa for several years. He tweets at @kashishds. You can reach him at [email protected]

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