Nepali Times
State Of The State
A small, shrinking centre


The UML and the NC have considerable influence in Gaur. In this hometown of Madhab Nepal, his party's supporters include small farmers, traders, and entrepreneurs, and traditional priests. The NC's support base here is a mix of minorities, dalits, wage-earners, professionals, and retirees, initially mobilised by Sheikh Idris for democratic struggle.

If free, fair, and independent elections were held today, the NC and the UML would probably gather over two-thirds of all votes cast. But both parties appear paralysed on their very home turf. Like other central tarai border towns, Gaur has become the battleground for collisions between the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum and the CPN-M.

Wednesday saw the highest casualty figures for a day since the government and the Maoists signed the ceasefire deal last year. The Maoists were the victims this time. But there is no telling which way the wind will blow if the situation deteriorates further-the Maoists have over a decade of experience running an effective armed insurgency.

The situation in Kathmandu Valley is also alarming. In a cavalier display of their disruptive power, businesspeople closed the town down without any warning. In 'normal' societies, shutdowns and strikes are the tools of trade unions. When employers have grievances, they turn to the law of the land.

The physical assault by the Maoists of a hapless hotelier deserved to be condemned. But the loyal royalists of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Chamber of Nepalese Industries, and the Nepal Chamber of Commerce do not seem to have thought through the negative consequences of their rash reaction.

By shutting down nursing homes and internet services, the private sector has shown that it can't be depended upon to provide essential services in times of crisis. During the insurgency, banks deserted the countryside citing security concerns. This week they closed their ledgers in cities. What do those who oppose government interference in business have to say about this display of class solidarity at the expense of service to customers?

Nationalisation of essential service providers may not be practicable, but monitoring and tax mechanisms need to be tightened to ensure better functioning of private airlines, banks, nursing homes, ISPs, and gas stations. Workers' cooperatives would probably run such operations more efficiently and reliably.

It's time for political parties to include a socialist agenda in their democratic manifestos. The absence of that is the reason the radical right and extreme left dominate national politics. Since political parties have deserted their constituencies, non-political alliances are filling the vacuum. They de-legitimise political parties but can't replace them, and their activism weakens democracy.

Conspiracy theories are attractive during uncertain times. It's convenient to blame the disturbances in the tarai, the disruptions in the Valley, and the murmurs of dissatisfaction in the midhills on palace strategists, as Pushpa Kamal Dahal does publicly. It's also tempting to see ghosts all around Baluwatar, as Baburam Bhattarai does in his newspaper columns. But if the monarchists were that smart, the Maoists' Bahun Brigade would probably still be in the jungles. Palace strategists are the beneficiaries, rather than the instigators, of anti-democracy eruptions all over the country.

Peaceful politics need to be re-activated. The Maoist politburo will have to come down heavily upon cadres who create avoidable confrontations such as the one in Gaur. Maoist MP Prabhu Sah did not have to announce a rally at the same time and place as Upendra Yadav's appearance. No hotel owner in Kathmandu needed to be roughed up. Hisila Yami helps no one by condoning such acts in parliament.

The UML and the NC must reassert themselves. There may not be an apparent collusion between the regressive right and extreme left, but the middle ground is shrinking rapidly. Civil society must rally behind political parties again, despite their deficiencies. Weakened parties are an open invitation to extremists.

Meanwhile, Mr Prime Minister, could we please have some governance?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)