The government musn't attempt to stiffle dissentThe government and the ruling party need to learn to take criticism; it is a part of supporting democracy.
What started as a lawful, if a bit loud, example of protest against the abuse of power by a federal minister has now turned into a fiasco in image building for the ruling communist party. The scenario in question came into play after the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Yogesh Bhattarai was reprimanded by irate passengers, after he and his aides purposefully delayed a Buddha Air flight from Nepalgunj. Instead of accepting his errors and giving an honest apology, the minister has been lambasted for delivering a crass and insincere apology. What’s worse, Gyanendra Shahi, one of the passengers who heavily criticised Bhattarai, was detained by the police. The minister’s apology, issued by his aide, followed yet another statement by the ruling party’s youth wing, declaring that Shahi has been banned from entering Kaski district. The actions of the police, the minister, the government and the Rastriya Yuva Sang Nepal are wrong. Although Shahi’s actions could be considered over the top, the government cannot in any way attempt to stifle dissent.
The whole situation began on Saturday, when the minister and his entourage were late in reaching Nepalgunj airport while returning from a festival in Tikapur. Bhattarai’s aide, knowing full well that they would be late, called the airport chief to ask them to hold the flight. Buddha air, thinking that the flight would only be delayed by five minutes, agreed to hold. By the time the minister boarded the aircraft, the flight was late by over 26 minutes.
Nepalis have had enough of the people supposed to serve them creating a hindrance in their daily lives. In a country where citizens were used to being stalled in traffic to let politicians and government officials pass, people have been growing bolder and more annoyed at such extravagant processions. In recent times, vehicles obstructed from movement due to VIP convoys have been honking their horns in unison as a sign of protest; some have even defied roadblocks entirely. Perhaps inspired by such protests, a number of passengers got out of their seats in the aircraft to heckle the tourism minister, while some filmed the entire episode. Gyanendra Shahi was among those passengers that protested. And on Sunday, Shahi arranged for a press meet in Lalitpur to speak about the incident. At the meet, citing a scuffle, the police supposedly took Shahi in ‘for his protection’. Shahi was subsequently released a day later. Why the police chose to detain Shahi and not his supposed aggressors remains a mystery.
Much like any controversy this government seems to drag itself into, the events that have unfolded since that Buddha Air flight on September 14 could have been avoided entirely. That is if the government and the Nepal Communist Party—and its sister organisations—had learnt any lessons from past storms. This unnecessary show of power from the government and the NCP is undemocratic. While Shahi’s behaviour in the matter could be considered aggressive, he was only attempting to vent his frustration—show his dissent—at the way government officials have been acting. In a democracy, the ruling party and the government must not attempt to suppress people’s views, especially when those views are critical of the government. The government would do well to remember the people’s protests in the recent past against its heavy-handedness.
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