May 8, 2010We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore
It is not the first time that Maoist leadership has miscalculated the pulse of the Nepali people. The most recent example is their scuttled “indefinite strike”, a six-day old travesty aimed at forcing Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to quit.
Instead, it produced a spontaneous uproar by Nepalis representing all walks of life, who, deprived of vital supplies and freedom of movement, rejected the virtual siege that the Maoists had forced upon them. For those requiring medical treatment, difficulties were compounded by lack of transportation, absent heath care workers and dire shortages of essential drugs and medicines. Nearly 8 million school children were banned from attending classes. Everywhere, stocks of food were running low. All highways were empty.
On Friday morning, tens of thousands of protesters poured onto the streets of Kathmandu, demanding that the Maoists lift the strike. Wearing predominantly blue or white shirts (to distinguish themselves from the red-shirted Maoists) and representing civil society members, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, engineers, professors, journalists, artists and intellectuals, they ignored previous threats by the Maoists, braved considerable confrontation from YCL cadres wielding sticks and demanded that “enough was enough.”
Speaking for the protesters, President of Federation of Nepali Chamber of Commerce and Industries Kush Kumar Joshi said, “We don’t want strikes and shut downs, what we need is peace and consensus.” His words struck a chord with the entire nation, reeling after almost a week of Maoist-imposed hardships.
Other speakers at the demonstration were more forthcoming: “The Maoist strike is keeping 28 million Nepalis hostage.”
Later in the evening, an emergency meeting of the Maoist Standing Committee was convened and Maoist Supremo Prachanda announced that the strike was cancelled.
However, Prachanda also promised that his party would continue with protest rallies, beginning tomorrow. On Sunday, he plans to encircle the main secretariat Singha Durbar “until the current puppet government steps down.”
The Friday demonstrations no doubt greatly influenced the Maoists’ halting of the strike, although, according to Republica analysis, other elements were in play.
It is not yet clear what was the final straw that made the Maoists withdraw the strike, but reports on television of Maoist YCL attacking peace rallies across the country probably convinced the leadership that the strike may be going out of control. There were also indications that the anti-strike citizen’s demonstrations were to spread across the country.
The flurry of diplomatic meetings between Dahal and the diplomatic community on Thursday and Friday may have also contributed. The standing committee met soon after Dahal met ambassadors from Denmark, Switzerland, the United States and India. The Norwegian ambassador had initiated a mediation effort of his own in his residence in Bhaisepati on Thursday evening.
Remembering the week
Beginning with the May 1 demonstration, the Maoists behaved themselves in the capital. But as the week wore on, things grew more ugly. Particularly in the hinterlands, which escaped the attention of most of the press.
Alarming reports came in that some of the Maoists were now armed with sticks. Numerous scuffles were observed. A journalist by the name of Sudharsan Ghimire, sub-editor of Sikchhak, was attacked in Baluwatar while returning to his office on his motorbike.
Other journalists – Arjun Bista of Bhaktapur, Gyanendra Niraula of Jhapa and Kashiram Sharma of Surkhet – were attacked by Maoist cadres wielding sticks and metal rods.
Anti-strike protesters, led by the ruling party’s youth wing, Youth Force, clashed with Maoists in Bhaktapur.
In a separate incident, Youth Force said a 20-year-old supporter was killed during a skirmish in Makwanpur district when he was hit by bricks allegedly thrown by Maoist protesters.
Anti-Maoist protests were also reported in remote Parbat district after the former rebels reportedly attacked a member of the ruling Nepali Congress party in his own residence and beat up his family members, including his grandparents.
Back in the capital, Nepal's Maoist opposition blocked streets leading to key government offices on the fourth day of their crippling general strike to demand the prime minister's resignation, but the government vowed not to bow to protesters' pressure.
Maoists hoped to disrupt the government by blocking streets leading to the Singha Durbar complex which houses key offices and ministries, but many government ministers already had entered the complex under police protection before sunrise. Home Minister Bhim Rawal told reporters that the prime minister was not going to bow to the pressure from the protesters and did not plan to resign. Instead, the government would work to bring life back to normal, including deploying police to protect banks, which were expected to begin reopening late Wednesday after heeding strike calls to stay closed. Rawal also said police would escort additional convoys of trucks carrying essential goods into the city, after escorting a few trucks with fuel and food early Tuesday.
In the southern city of Biratnagar, the Maoists took over 14 beds at the Koshi Zonal Hospital to be used exclusively (and free of charge) for Maoists, forcing other patients to retreat to more crowded areas in the facility. In fact, hospitals across the country were expected to bear the brunt of preferential treatment for Maoists. Many hospitals kept open only their emergency wards, as doctors and nurses struggled to get to work. “Two doctors are working 24 hours and a few nurses are working double shifts,” reported Dr. Shyam Ranjit of the B&B Hospital’s emergency department. “A lot of people have no access to medical attention.”
The National Human Rights Commission warned that remote hill districts like Bajura, Achham, Bajhang and Darchula were facing acute shortages of medicines and food for lack of transport due to the Maoist strike.
In the streets, more and more reports came in indicating that violence had erupted with normally apolitical people clashing with Maoist protesters. Furious locals in Budanilkantha, in the northern section of Kathmandu, tried to defy the Maoists, who had ordered all private and commercial vehicles off the streets and for all shops, offices and businesses to remain closed. Police used teargas to disperse the crowd.
Local residents also started spontaneous rallies in Pulchowk, Gongabu and Kirtipur, demanding that the bandh be stopped.
In Birgunj, Nepal’s major industrial town adjoining India’s Bihar district, more than a dozen Maoist leaders were hurt and two vehicles torched by Hindu vigilantes.
The local administrations of Parbat, Humla and Dhaunkuta districts declared curfew orders to avert further clashes between the agitating Maoist cadres and those defying the Maoists.
Thousands of international tourists were reaching their limit, likewise caught up in the unexpected deprivation of the Maoists’ strike. Foreigners confined to their Kathmandu hotels were the lucky ones. Tourists trying to get back to the capital from other areas found few solutions.
Republica journalist Bimal Gautam was harassed by a group of approximately ten drunken Maoists near Jadibuti in Bhaktapur. They kicked his motorbike, and briefly seized his identity card and mobile phone, before allowing him to pass
By the evening of the 6th, organizers of the May 7 Peace Rally were receiving threats of bodily harm (from Maoists) if they proceeded with their plan to hold the rally. YCL leader Kul Bahadur Sonam announced to the press that his party would retaliate against anyone who dared to oppose the strike. “We will send YCL members to the place, take the opponents in control, and make their names public.”
The Peace Rally went ahead as planned. By the end of the day, the Maoists realized the full extent to which their strike had backfired on them. They called off the strike, shifted gears and went into full-throttle damage control. So ends one of the most self-destructive events the Maoists have yet orchestrated. And Madhav Kumar Nepal is still Prime Minister.