It is Friday afternoon in the dusty town of Nepalganj. Azaan from the local mosque calls for afternoon prayers. A lone statue of late King Birendra stands in the middle of the main thoroughfare holding a tattered Nepali Congress flag and breathing in the dust. There are the usual sounds of early afternoon - the bells of tanga, the horns of microbuses that have made the tanga redundant, and the yells from conductors of Nepalganj-Kathmandu buses. A couple of cars with party flags wiz past, as if in a hurry to get out of the dust. There is less than three weeks until CA II election. But apart from a few pamphlets of Shiv Sena and RPP-N, all is quiet in Nepalganj.
Local labourers take a quick break for lunch after Friday prayers. As they sit down, another election campaign car passes by. A man is yelling on the microphone in Nepali. The car doesn’t stop. We follow the vehicle with our eyes trying hard to understand what is being said. The labourers wait until the sound fades and continue with their lunch.
There’s no excitement about CA II election in Nepalganj. The air inside the roadside café is thick with disappointment. There’s a general sense of fatigue and an extremely uncomfortable feeling of hopes being dashed. “We are broken and we are tired,” they say. For this group of people from Nepalganj’s labour class, whom to vote for in 2008 was a no-brainer. Now they are conflicted and undecided.
In 2008, just like the rest of the country, Nepalganj was ready for the violence to end. They also hoped that their votes would safeguard their rights and they could finally concentrate on improving their lives. They knew that the new (and improved) parties would not tolerate the status quo.
Their demands were not unreasonable: the right to work freely, the freedom to live happily with their family and neighbours, the opportunity for their children to go to school without any obstacles, the ability to go to the hospital if their loved ones fall sick, and the chance to finally talk about progress.
What they got instead was political bickering, high-level power-play, and many many days of Nepal banda. The people here feel they had no say in what happened after 2008. The situation got much worse for so many families in Nepalganj that they just up and left. Today, it is hard to find homes that don’t have a member who migrated to work abroad. Those who remain do not trust that this election is being held sincerely. Most can’t connect with their candidates or their promises because they feel they have heard it all before.
There is also an overwhelming sense that the reasons why CA I was dissolved hasn’t really been dealt with. “Just wait, we will get stuck on the same issues after five years and then what?” asks an angry fruit vendor. “By the time we are done writing the constitution it will be 2018 ... and then they will announce round three,” jokes another to as if to lighten the mood. The fruit stall goes suddenly quiet as they realise that what is said in jest may actually turn out to be reality.
The political parties did a lot of things wrong in the last five years, but what will cost them the most this coming election is the way they betrayed the trust of sincere, hardworking Nepalis. This is especially true of the new parties because people feel they are still unproven. There are a lot more undecided voters today than in 2008, but what they are not undecided about is that they will not cast the ballot for the party they voted for last time around. Nepalis are resilient and compassionate, but five years of disappointment may be a little hard to forgive so easily.