Nepali Times
Here And There
Point well taken



Like many of you, I reacted badly to news of Tuesday?s six-hour banda called by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist. I fumed and fulminated. Phrases like ?who do they think they are? and ?showing their true colours? leapt to lips pursed in disapproval.

Motorcycles, rickshaws and Shank?s pony bore me about on that day and I noticed with surprise that I was more punctual than usual?no traffic for an excuse.

Through the quiet streets of Patan and Kathmandu, I rumbled along with my well-paid young rickshawalla. At major intersections, lines of smoking tyres smouldered and police stood by, batons and shields at the ready. A few basked in the midday sun, mostly officers who had little or no intention of mixing it up with the maobadi. Ambulances and a few brave taxis rolled by. A shrill young voice jabbered rhetoric from a red van flying Maoist student union flags. The words ?Nepali janta? and ?ucheet banda? echoed off the shuttered shops.

Suddenly something began to penetrate the fog of my annoyance. Why was I so upset with the comrades? Why did I feel that they?d done something evil or capricious proving they were nasties with no intention of playing politics peacefully?

Conditioning, that?s what it was. A failure to look beyond my own comfort or needs to the wider picture. As I jolted along across the Bagmati Bridge, the rickshaw groaning under my well-fed foreigner\'s bulk, I gave these thoughts free rein to see where they\'d gallop, freed from knee-jerk irritation at those who dared inconvenience me.

First there was the ostensible reason for the strike. The government\'s announcing ambassadors approved by cabinet. On the surface, this was a good thing. Crucial diplomatic posts New Delhi, Washington, London were vacant at a time when the country\'s fluid situation needed to be explained and help asked for. Rightly, royal placemen were recalled from foreign capitals when the king\'s mad experiment in one-man misrule ended last April. Who needed a former army chief who didn\'t speak French as ambassador in Paris, for example.

Nor did it seem initially that the assigning of cushy diplomatic jobs was likely to rile up the janata as much as Comrade Prachanda might want. The janata have rather more down to earth concerns,peace, order, governance, health care, schools and investment, jobs, security, and a chicken in every pot.

But as a group of grim young men in Mao caps marched by, shouting their slogans, I began to get the point. What the government or perhaps the prime minister did was wrong. Now is not the time to be sending political hacks to important allies capitals. A foreign affairs adviser should be advising on foreign affairs, not packing his bags for Washington. A central committee member should be plotting political strategy, not preparing to fly to Delhi. These central postings need senior diplomats or national figures above the fray of politics, people who will be respected and listened to in the corridors of Indian and American power.

The Maoists had a point. Even if all they intended was to press their own demands (a CPN-M comrade made ambassador to Beijing to hear what the Chinese think of a post-Mao Maoist party?), the protesters had the right to take to the streets, if not shut down the Valley. Besides, what we experienced last Tuesday isn\'t too different from what the rest of the country goes through almost every day. A little rain on our parade might just jolt civil society, politicians, and foreign types to take the national view of things.

A few agreements in Kathmandu do not a peaceful settlement make, even with a ceasefire and arms management beginning. Not that more bandas are the way to go, but I hope the Maoists\' point is taken and the government starts living up to its commitments. Consultation with all parties on all things. Proper funding of the Maoist cantonments. Progress on development, and induction of the interim government and legislature. Gearing up for CA elections, restoration of order in the countryside.

One banda, I got it. I\'m not so sure I\'d feel so sanguine about the next one.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)