Flying objectsWhen dissatisfaction reaches a tipping point, people will protest.
On Sunday, co-chairman of the Nepal Communist Party Pushpa Kamal Dahal had a shoe thrown at him. The young shoe thrower, Ratan Tiruwa, son of a former Maoist fighter who died during the war, missed the target, however. According to reports, Tiruwa resorted to attacking Dahal owing to his frustration when the latter started talking about class struggle. This is not the first time a political leader has been attacked. Back in 2012, Dahal was slapped by a former Maoist fighter. In 2011, Jhala Nath Khanal, then chairman of the former CPN-UML, was slapped in the face by one Devi Prasad Regmi at a function in Sunsari. In 2012, the then Nepali Congress president Sushil Koirala was attacked by his own party cadres at a programme.
While a physical assault of any kind on anyone is condemnable, the series of attacks by people at public functions represent something—the citizenry’s growing dissatisfaction and anger towards the leaders they have chosen. Such discontentment stems from the leader’s inability to deliver on their promises.
Hurling footwear at politicians has long been used as a means of protest. In 2008, Muntadhar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi journalist, threw a pair of shoes at United States President George W Bush during a press conference at the prime minister's palace in Baghdad, Iraq. Although Bush managed to duck and dodge the fast-flying missile, the act’s symbolism was acute. Zaidi, after the act, also became the one to start a trend. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was meted out similar treatment while delivering a speech at Cambridge University in 2009. The same year, the Israeli ambassador to Sweden was also hit by a shoe when he was addressing an audience in Stockholm University.
Nepal has finally come out from a protracted period of instability. It is no longer embroiled in conflict; and after a long long time, the government there is a stable government. Given that, it is natural that the citizenry, who have had to go through a lot in the past, will have high expectations from the leaders who capitalise on their sentiments. Most of the leaders are quick to make lofty promises like ending class struggle, making Nepal inclusive and decentralising power. It’s like speaking about these things comes naturally to them. And the layman usually takes them at their word. But when playtime is over and its time to deliver, leaders often shirk their responsibilities. Rather, barring a few exceptions, most indulge in corruption, forget their roots, and even start contradicting themselves.
When incidents like these happen, it provides a chance for those attacked to introspect. Citizens are usually patient in nature. They try to rationalise things and vote for their leaders one election after another. But once their dissatisfaction reaches a tipping point, people in a democracy will resort to protest—by one means or the other. Dahal and other political leaders must think deeply about what triggered Tiruwa to launch a shoe at him, and hopefully, take corrective measures to improve their perception among people. It is the people who put leaders on a pedestal, but it is also the same people who have the power to trash them.
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