Mahara, Rolpa and the problems plaguing the governmentIt must be a blow Mahara’s disciples that they will now have to do without their guide and teacher.
With the holiday season upon us, for my column this time I have decided to simply list out some random thoughts that have played on my mind over the months. Something to chew over as we break for Dashain.
But, what a way to usher in the holidays. The resignation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, over allegations of rape. Mahara has been in the news ever since 1991, when he was one of only nine members of Parliament representing the United People’s Front, the political wing of the outfit that eventually became the CPN (Maoist). At a time when the Nepali Congress had made a sweep of the western part of the country and the newly formed CPN-UML swept the eastern side, Mahara and his comrade, Barman Budha, ensured that Rolpa remained solidly under the hammer-and-sickle in that election.
Mahara surfaced in 2001 as the leader of the two-man Maoist negotiating team. He was part of the second negotiating team as well in 2003 and once again led the Maoist side in the 2006 peace talks. He was the Maoist signatory in the Agreement on the Monitoring of Arms and Armies. Despite controversies dogging him, as a confidant of Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal, he continued to be nominated to plum positions. Further, as a schoolteacher in Libang, Rolpa, who played a key role in moulding many young minds into joining the movement, it must have been a great source of pride for him to see so many he had mentored reach positions of power. It must have been particularly gratifying to take the mantle of parliamentary speaker from one of them, Onsari Gharti Magar. From revolutionary to rapist (albeit, only allegedly so far), that is quite a fall.
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Talking of garbage, with the onset of Dashain there will be a halt in its collection. With a large part of the population going out of the Valley, garbage production is also going to be reduced. Yet, the situation will return to normal once everyday life resumes and the volume of waste already accumulating in street corners will only get worse. The promise of a landfill site to do away with out garbage woes more or less permanently remains as distant as it was decades ago.
The only heroes in the story are the waste collectors who come by every now and then with their huge trucks to cart away all the stuff we throw away. It is such a sad sight to see them handle all our garbage, rotten vegetables or toxic material, with their bare hands and without any form of protective gear. In a country ruled by a party of the workers, one would have expected some kind of protection provided to an essential workforce such as this. But the lie about communism, as practised in this world, leading to a workers’ paradise has been laid bare in the pointed observation by the Oxford professor, Archie Brown: ‘It was one of the ironies of Communist systems...that, although manual workers constituted the official ruling class, a standard punishment for intellectuals who had been guilty of unorthodox writings or of politically suspect activities was to remove them from the ranks of professions requiring a higher education and to turn them into workers. Paradoxically, then, they were “demoted” into the “ruling class”.’
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Safety at the workplace is something we have learnt to make a spectacle of. As when ministers and other important officials visit construction sites, they are immediately given hard hats. For some reason, it does not dawn on the project managers that it is not only ministerial crania that need protecting. But that could be because donning such hats is only meant to give visiting dignitaries a sense of actually having accomplished something, not for safety reasons. Otherwise, one would expect the ministers would insist on everyone around them to be issued with similar headgear—at least one would hope so.
I think the most telling instance of a similar spectacle was when the ministerial duo, Ram Bahadur Thapa (Home) and Shakti Basnet (Environment), took it upon themselves to conduct pollution checks on vehicles. Wearing matching lab coats, red gloves and heavy-duty breathing masks, the two of them could be seen in action even as almost everyone else around them and in equal proximity to the exhaust fumes had to do that without any protection whatsoever.
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I have figured out that the rule of thumb about politicians’ intent is to note if they engage in such drama. Thus, the Thapa-Basnet show meant to be no more than a Public Relations (PR) stunt and remained no more than that since that was the last we heard of any kind of vehicular pollution control by the government. Another favourite activity of politicians is to pick up the broom and playact at cleaning the country, city, ward or office, as the case may be. The sight of a politician with a broom in hand is a sure sign that our surroundings will definitely not get cleaner.
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On the subject of ministerial visits, one keeps wondering why it is that any and every minister insists on providing ‘instructions’ or ‘directions’ about the need to speed up the pace of whatever they are inspecting. By now, they, too, must have realised how futile their words are going to be. And, with the never-ending delays that have characterised practically every government project, the PR value has also vanished. They only end up making fools of themselves in the end.
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I go back to Rolpa once again since I have been struck by something no one seems to have made note of. The fact that since 2008, the district has been home to some of the most prominent political leaders in Nepal. Unless my knowledge of Nepali history serves me wrong, I cannot think of any instance when such a group sallied out of their rural homesteads and straight into the corridors of power. The only other parallel would have been the Shah conquest of the Kathmandu Valley and the arrival of a new political elite, but the case was quite different altogether.
Until 1996 and the start of the Maoist insurgency, Rolpa figured little in the popular imagination. That changed over the course of the conflict and Rolpa became synonymous with the Maoist heartland. Hence, not surprisingly in the years of above-ground politics, many of those at the forefront of the fighting gained positions of power. Among them are the power couple of Onsari Gharti Magar, the former Speaker of parliament, and Barsha Man Pun, the Minister for Water Resources; former minister Jayapuri Gharti Magar, and, of course, Vice President Nanda Bahadur Pun. It must be a blow to all of them that they will now have to do without their guide and teacher in their rise to power, Krishna Bahadur Mahara. Another Mahara protege, Netra Bikram Chand, is not in power, and he must be crowing from the sidelines at the sight of the total bourgeosiation of the one who taught him the revolutionary ropes.