Nepali Times
Irrelevant republic


"Monarchy, democracy, republic-it's all the same for poor people like us. I don't have time to talk politics," says Dhruba Kumar Sunar, a 41-year-old jeweller in Lele, 30km from Kathmandu.

Two weeks after Nepal became a republic, Sunar is more concerned about meeting a work deadline for a pendant he is crafting. "This is what buys our meals," he explains.

In Lele, unlike Kathmandu, there were no boisterous celebrations when Nepal finally ditched its monarch. The town is part of the Lalitpur-1 constituency, where Maoist leader Barsha Man Pun Magar defeated Nepali Congress politico Uday Shamsher Rana by more than 1,000 votes in the recent election.

"Not many in these villages know that Nepal is now a republic, and even those who do know don't really understand what it means," says Sunar. He used to be a staunch supporter of UML but joined the Maoist party a few years ago and is now the Lele secretary of the Maoist Dalit Liberation Front.

"There was a time during the war when we were all scared of the Maoists. I joined because the party had done a lot to end discrimination against Dalits and other suppressed groups in the village."

Sunar remembers the days when his family were forbidden from sitting with high-caste people in local cafes and he would have to wash his glass after drinking tea.

His wife Laxmi says it is too early to tell if living in a democratic republic will be any different. "It is not enough that the king is gone," she says, choosing her words carefully. "The political parties have to prove to the people that they are better than him."

Ram Prasad Ghimire, a 65-year-old priest at Lele's Hindu temple, receives worshippers from the city. Ghimire knows the former king Gyanendra has packed his bags and vacated the palace. "Political parties made mistakes, but the poor king was blamed for it," Ghimire says.

He is disappointed with the way the king has been made to leave, but understands the people's desire for a republic. "Does living in a republic mean we let go of our culture and a 240-year-old tradition?" he asks.

Bal Krishna Silwal is home on leave from the Nepal Army where he has been serving for the past 18 years. He took part in military operations against the Maoists in the west of Nepal during the war and is relieved it is over. "We are ready to serve whoever is our supreme commander-in-chief," he says.

But he believes the political parties decided the king's fate too hastily. "The king would have lost, but the right way to go about removing him would have been to hold a referendum," Silwal says. Like most people in his village, he says it'll make little difference to the poor whether or not Nepal is a monarchy. "People want food, water, employment, roads, development, education-they don't care who rules the country."

It is lunchtime and a local café is full of people from Lele and nearby villages. Banu Bahadur Lama, from Sanghumar, a few kilometres away, has tears in his eyes. His son Mim Lama, 20, served in the Nepal Army and died in crossfire in Kailali three years ago. Lama voted for the Nepali Congress while the rest of the village backed the Maoists. "My son was killed by the Maoists," he says. "How could I vote for them?"

Since his son's death, Lama has struggled to make ends meet, with a wife and three small children to feed and clothe. The government gave him a small compensation payment for his son's death but he no longer trusts those in positions of power. "I don't care whether Nepal is a republic, or whether the king has left the palace," he says. "My son is gone, my life is over and all I worry about is whether I have earned enough today to feed
my family."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)