Nepali Times
What election?



LEFTOVERS: Political parties haven't started campaigning yet in Deuda or the rest of Bajhang. Unlike other regions around the country, there is no fresh election graffiti here.

In the crisp morning air in Deuda, a group of young health workers are sipping tea near the village health post. Deuda is on the 110km road to the Bajhang capital of Chainpur which has been under construction for the last five years. In the background, a local FM station announces that only 48 days are left until the constituent assembly elections.

Here in remote northwestern Nepal, there is no fresh election graffiti. Not even Maoist slogans proclaiming Pushpa Kamal Dahal as Nepal's first president.

The party offices are quiet, and politicians from Kathmandu haven't shown up yet. "No one has come to ask for our votes," says Uttam Upadhya, a health worker from the adjoining district of Doti.

"Perhaps Bajhang is not a priority area, or perhaps they themselves are confused about the process," says Dipendra Mishra.

In Chainpur, Tej Bahadur Khadka of the Maoists sits outside his office basking in the late afternoon sun. "Who says we are not campaigning? We are holding interactions, meeting locals. We will take it up more actively from next week on," he says.

Khadka says Bajhangis may not know the intricacies of the elections, but they know who they want to vote for: his party. Asked about the YCL, he confirmed they would be present at the polling booths. "They're not there to threaten anyone, but to help the old and disabled vote," says Khadka.

But as he gets up to leave, Khadka adds: "History will not let the CPN-M lose this election."

Local people say they really want elections but are disappointed that the political parties are once more letting them down. Karna Bahadur Kathayat runs a tea shop on the banks of the Seti River, he says: "If the same leaders win again how will things be any different?"

Min Bahadur Singh of the UML remembers the hardships people suffered during the war. There were over 50 checkpoints along the way to Deuda, and people couldn't move around freely. "Things are better now, and we are ready to vote," he says.

In Talkot, a group of villagers are gathered on a hilltop near the local health post. Three small buildings stand nearby, but they are all in ruins. "Look at what the war did to this place," says Lalit Joshi, teacher at a local school, "the Maoists didn't have to bomb this place, they created so much fear that no one wanted to stay here."

Years of neglect by successive governments and the political leaders have convinced people here they have no say in their own destiny. Asks Joshi: "How can you have elections without campaigning, without convincing people that their lives will be better if they vote for a New Nepal?"

The king of Talkot


BAJHANG: Narayan Singh (pictured) is the king of Talkot one of the ancient principalities that was fused into a united Nepal 200 years ago.

Every morning, he takes his horse out of the stable for food and exercise. He made a four-day journey across the border to Tibet to buy the horse five years ago. He lives with his wife and three children in his ancestral palace on a hilltop. Villagers still affectionately call him Raja Sahib.

Trained in Ayurveda in India, Singh spends his days studying herbs found in the forests. In the evenings he goes down to the village to talk with his former subjects.

"People have voted in elections before, they know voting will not make their lives easier and they have little expectation from these elections," says Singh, sipping tea.

Singh says the controversy over the monarchy is just another tactic to delay the elections. Singh says in these modern times, it is unreasonable for king Gyanendra to expect to be a traditional monarch.

"I don't think we should get rid of the monarchy completely, especially because people's religious feelings are attached to it," he explains, "but we should take away all his powers, keep him as a figurehead and get rid of him slowly."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)