The Real Nepal
Photos: Amirul Rajiv
Text: Nader Rahman
For the average man Nepal conjures up scenes of the Himalayas, the ice capped top of the world. Along with the mountains it is home to innumerable hippies fresh of their psychedelic "trips" in the 60s they moved en masse to Nepal in search of some kind of enlightenment. But there is more to the country than just the hippies and the Sherpas, it is a country in turmoil, a fact that one will never find in travel brochures.
Nepal's recent history has been mired in bloodshed and uncertainty but with general elections next month there is a glimmer of hope. In 2001 the heir apparent Dipendra went on an apparent killing spree leaving his brother Gyanendra to inherit the throne. The situation continued to deteriorate and by 2004 the king lost the popular support of the people. Since the country changed to a constitutional democracy in 1990 seemingly most of the monarchy's power was curtailed, but that was not entirely the case as they retained many important and ill-defined powers, which essentially gave them a free hand in the government. The continuing power of the monarch led to successive unstable governments and eventually after being politically isolated for long enough in 1996 the Maoists started what to be known as the Nepalese Civil War. More than 15,000 people have been brutally killed while the King did all that he could to hold on to power. But things were never worse than 2005 when a state of emergency was declared and the King assumed all executive powers. Gayanendra's argument was that the politicians were not capable of dealing with the Maoist insurgency and that he would take the country to safety.
After the state of emergency, an alliance comprising 90% of the old dissolved parliament signed an agreement with the Maoists. Within the framework of that agreement the Maoists committed themselves to multiparty democracy and freedom of speech. The Seven Party Alliance as they were known, accepted Maoist demands for elections to a Constituent Assembly. For the first time in 10 years the Maoists had a voice and now all that was left to be done was to overthrow the king. Amidst massive protests the king announced that he would return political power to the people and was soon himself stripped of most of his powers. Since then there have been major breakthroughs in the road to Nepalese Democracy and none greater than last month with the Communist Party of Nepal finally joined the interim government.
Things finally seem on track for Nepal and with elections next month they could complete their move into a full democracy sooner rather than later. But while the political mess is on the mend the country has fallen to pieces. For most people Kathmandu is Nepal and that does not bode well for the nation, as most people in the capital have to put up with sporadic electricity and little or no running water. The situation outside the capital is far worse as a decade of civil war has decimated the country's infrastructure.
For the people, merely surviving everyday is a chore, as prices have steadily increased and unemployment is at an all time high. For the youth of the nation there is a growing sense of frustration as most of them are without gainful employment and the ongoing political crisis only adds to their dissatisfaction. A social revolution is simmering as the political one is seemingly off the boil. But all is not entirely well politically; next months planned elections are still some time away with many factions claiming that they will be delayed. Until they are actually held and the votes counted the disbelieving public still has nothing to concrete to hold on to. The promises of democracy is apparently never ending…
The real Nepal is not mountains and hippies, it is that of people living their lives under a cloud of uncertainty amidst the crippling politics of a movement into democracy.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007