Nepali Times Asian Paints
No change


A year after the elections and almost three years since the ceasefire in 2006, Panauti is still stuck in time. The bombed out hulk of the municipality building destroyed during a night of fighting in March 2006 still stands as a monument to the war. But the people of Panauti don't want to talk about that war, they want to talk about their war against inflation, poverty, illiteracy.

A week after the CA elections when the results were trickling in and it was certain that the Maoists were going to lead the government, there was much jubilation here. The locals had hopes that the Maoists would be different. They had promised employment to the young, education, health and development. Most may not have understood that the candidates they were voting for would help write the constitution, but they expected them to improve schools and health posts.

That hope has all but evaporated. There is a mood of gloom and doom in this generally relaxed town. "The only thing I find comfort in is that when there was a king Nepalis were dying, now at least that has stopped," says Gita Shrestha. But she says there are new problems: power cuts, inflation and water scarcity. Her eight-year-old son is doing poorly in school because he can't finish his homework in the dark.

Gita has to walk to fetch water and she has to watch every paisa she spends because everything is so expensive. The family hasn't watched tv together in months. "They say the Tarai is burning, that there are bandas by various ethnic groups, I haven't listened to the news in a long time," she says, "I feel so disconnected."

Panauti residents says they are tired of hearing about yet more committees and task forces that politicians set up in Kathmandu. They are sick of the parties attacking each other, of empty promises of 10,000MW of electricity, the assurances on law and order when businesses, media and schools are all being extorted and attacked. They were willing to give the politicians a chance. Now, the feeling is that the government just doesn't seem capable of dealing with the political and development challenges. "The Maoists used the ethnic card to fight the war, now they have no clue how to deal with it, things are going to get bloody and messy," predicts an elderly resident.

Democracy is about freedom but it is also about respect of other political identities. Laxman Dahal was around during King Mahendra's rule and has seen Nepal and leadership change over the years. He knows that democracy is good for Nepal, what he fails to understand is why the Maoists, who say they want to protect democracy, go about killing and beating cadres from other parties.

Residents here are closely watching the constitution writing process and remind the CA members who will come back with suggestions from their constituencies to not forget three basic things: remember the promise they made to the people, prioritise development, education, health, and not to separate the country along ethnic lines because that would be the end of Nepal as they know it.

And they have a message for the Maoist leadership in Kathmandu: everyone makes mistakes, you can redeem yourselves by improving our lives.

Julum Pariyar, 52, makes a living sowing mattresses for her neighbours. "We had so much hope that the new party would do new things, but almost a year has passed?what have these Maoists done?" Pariyar has worked all her life to raise her two sons, but they couldn't find jobs so they've gone to Malaysia.

Akrit Sapota, 18, is a student and is lounging in the sun with his friends. He voted Maoist this past election and is an active student member of the party in Panauti. But he says the government isn't doing its job properly. "Jobs, education, health, roads, development, controlling inflation, those should be the top priorities," he says.

Badri Sapkota in Sarada Batas VDC runs the little tea shop. "Those in government are deliberately trying to create a situation of chaos so that the people will be distracted and won't question their moves," he says. "Why do the CA members have to go to the villages to collect suggestions for a new constitution? They were elected by the people and it's not like our problems have changed in the past year."

Laxman Dahal, 73, worked as a contractor in India for 42 years and has retired in Panauti. He is disillusioned with the new rulers: "The Tarai is burning and the Maoist leadership in Kathmandu either doesn't want to or has no idea how to deal with the situation there. Federalism may be a good thing but if it is not done properly, it will only separate the people along ethnic lines."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)