With another Maoist bandh looming, the people of Dolakha are bracing themselves for another wave of destruction. The security forces are nowhere in sight, so there is a wait-and-watch attitude for a repeat of the mayhem in April.
Scars of the vandalism and rampage in the run-up to the last five-day bandh in April can still be seen along the Lamosangu-Jiri Highway: the NEA administrative office in Charikot and the Roads Department complex in Thulo Pakhar burnt to cinders, the charred hulks of the tipper trucks and dozers at the Kharidhunga magnesite mine, an electricity substation near 24 km destroyed and burnt, horticultural farms in Maina Pokhari and Bhoj torched, a potato seedling farm in Mude destroyed, the Danda Pakhar telecom tower blasted, and even a Pepsi delivery van set on fire.
"Till May, there were a lot of people around here who gave the Maoists the benefit of doubt," says one Dolakha villager who did not want to be named. "But after they attacked the seedling farms it was a turning point, we thought they are not for the people."
During those two weeks in May, the Maoist leadership appears to have given local cadre open-ended instructions to select targets at will to destroy infrastructure and government property. In a coordinated nationwide rampage, telecom towers, hydropower plants including Jhimruk and Andhikhola, bridges, government buildings and vehicles, and village council buildings were destroyed. Stung subsequently by rising public anger, the Maoist leadership reportedly reversed the instructions. But for people in many areas of the country, as in Dolakha, that came too late.
Tens of thousands of villagers along the Jiri highway depend on fruits, vegetables and potatoes for income, and the government farms were an important source of seedlings and other extension support for their cash crops. "Many of us are not rich," said one farmer. "Selling potatoes was our only source of income." The government farms are now producing seedlings and hybrids again, but business is slow to pick up and much of the vegetable is rotting in the fields. Dairy farmers have also been hit because Maoists set fire to two milk collection tankers in Panchkhal in April just because the vehicles had white number plates.
There is an eerie absence of government everywhere. The VDC buildings that have not yet been destroyed are padlocked. VDC chairmen no longer hold office, but the villagers still come to them with problems. It is rare to see government vehicles plying the highway and, except for the army platoon guarding the Khimti hydro-electric plant and the company in Charikot, there are no soldiers to be seen.
The police left in April when the Danda Pakhar Armed Police Force training centre was abandoned because it was deemed to be too vulnerable to attack. The Maoists came in one night after they'd left, and blasted the houses anyway.
But the Maoists, who used to walk around openly carrying muskets and 303s, have gone back into hiding, fearing the army's undercover agents who reportedly patrol the trails. The army has raided Maoist training camps on the highlands of Sailung in pincer attacks from Ramechhap, Jiri and Barabise. Dozens of mid-level Maoist section and platoon commanders have either been captured or killed in the past three months, according to sources in Kathmandu.
Also, in early July, commander for Dolakha and Sindhupalchok and Maoist central committee member Rit Bahadur Khadka, was killed in an encounter in Parsa near the Indian border. Khadka was a charismatic leader with a loyal following. Legends about him spread after his famous escape while under police custody from Bir Hospital in 1997. His killing is expected to affect Maoist actions in Dolakha.