The approach to the 21 September bandh called by the coalition of nine minor leftist parties saw a hardening of postures by both the organisers and the government. While the communist grouping accelerated its activities to garner public support for the country-wide shutdown, the administration also began taking measures to ensure public life is nor affected much.
The bandh calls for the complete closure of all transport, educational institutions, factories and markets to protest the government\'s failure to address a host of issues, including immediate implementation of a two-year-old agreement between the government and the communist grouping. Other major demands are the demolishing of the Laxrnanpur barrage, scrapping of the Citizenship Bill, withdrawal of the title of "royal highness" from Paras Shah and bringing him to justice, arrangement of employment for freed kamaiyas, termination of the 1950 treaty between Nepal and India. The protest is also aimed at corruption, price hike, increased salary and allowance of parliamentarians and "unpatriotic activities" by the Prime Minister during his visit to India.
With the Maoists coming out in support of the bandh there is also apprehension that the Thursday bandh may turn violent. That may have provoked the government to issue a statement on 17 September assuring the public that "adequate and reliable" security arrangements have been made to mobilise security personnel to maintain "better" law and order situation in the country. The statement further says that the administration is prepared to make extra efforts to provide security to people and check criminal activities.
But perhaps the most drastic move was the banning of torch processions. These processions are a regular feature of political protests and usually take place on the evening preceding the bandh day. The Home Ministry has announced the outlawing of torch processions as they might "lead to untoward incidents and cause loss of life and property".
The leftist coalition is, however, determined to stick to its original plan and carry out a torch procession on 20 September. Their confidence has been boosted after the underground Maoists and the main opposition in the House of Representative CPN-UML openly declared support for the bandh call.
Meanwhile, the bandh has come under criticism from the business community. With Dasain just around the corner, it is boom time and closing shop for even a day is likely to lead to huge losses. A study carried out by a Kathmandu-based independent research institution about three years ago calculated that a day\'s closure of business can cause business losses of about Rs 30 million in Kathmandu alone. The business community believe damages will be more extensive this time given that sales double during Dasain. A meeting of businessmen, transport entrepreneurs, representatives of consumer organisations and the police that was called by the Kathmandu district administration agreed to disobey the call to close businesses.
The meeting decided that businesses would run as usual so as not to interfere with the festive mood that people arc gradually getting into.
A pretty bold step that considering such defiance by the business community has never been demonstrated before. Even if the resolve comes to naught, it signals a general apathy towards these shutdowns. But until political parties can come up with more imaginative methods of protest, Nepalis have no choice but to live with the endless cycle of bandhs.