Campaigners wanted to paint flowers on Khula Manch podium. Mayor sent police force.Conservationists say they just wanted to draw authorities’ attention to the importance of public spaces but Bidya Sundar Shakya calls the movement a politically motivated stunt.
Kathmandu Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya is not kind to his critics. Ever since a coalition of locals, environmentalists and heritage activists launched “Occupy Tundikhel”, a drive to reclaim public spaces that have been encroached upon, Shakya has lashed out at the campaign, calling it a politically motivated stunt.
But on Saturday, Shakya decided to take a drastic measure. Just as around five dozen campaigners, including artists, gathered at Tundikhel, Shakya sent the police to stop them.
The campaigners were trying to paint flowers on the podium on the southern part of Khula Manch, which has often served as a platform for political parties to champion various causes, including against the Panchayat system and against the monarchy.
Alok Tuladhar, a cultural activist and “Occupy Tundikhel” campaigner, said the move to paint flowers on the podium was aimed at drawing the authorities’ attention to the importance of open spaces.
“Instead, Shakya, who has refused to listen to us, decided to send police to foil a citizen-led movement meant for a larger cause,” Tuladhar told the Post.
Tundikhel was once a wide open expanse in the heart of the city, spanning Rani Pokhari to Dashrath Stadium. But ever since the Rana era, successive governments have consistently encroached upon this prime land, cordoning off portions for private parks, roads, and the exclusive use of the Nepal Army.
With Tundikhel barely half its original size now, concerned heritage conservationists and locals are trying to reclaim not only this public park but other shrinking open spaces in Kathmandu, which has turned into a concrete jungle.
Mayor Shakya, however, maintains that the movement to reclaim public spaces has an ulterior motive of tarnishing his image.
On December 14, speaking at the 25th anniversary of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Shakya lashed out at the campaigners, saying “Occupy Tundikhel” is nothing but a ‘publicity stunt’.
“Ever since we started this campaign, we have been requesting Mayor Shakya to take the lead to preserve this historic space,” said Tuladhar. “But he has refused to cooperate. Instead, he deployed police, which shows his highhanded attitude.”
Officials from Metropolitan Police Circle Janasewa confirmed to the Post that security personnel were sent to Khula Manch at the request of Mayor Shakya.
“We had reached the venue at the request of a top official from the metropolitan city,” said Basu Dev Khatiwoda, in charge of Janasewa Police Circle in New Road. “We requested them not to paint anything on the podium, as the city authority wanted to take care of it on its own.”
According to Khatiwoda, the security personnel, however, later returned, as they realised they were not authorised to intervene.
Dhan Bahadur Yakha, who painted flowers on the podium along with other artists, said though police personnel returned after the campaigners convinced them about the campaign’s objective, the tendency of authorities to use force is dangerous.
“Khula Manch is a historic place. It also stands as a symbol of democratic movements,” said Yakha. “Today’s event was aimed at raising awareness about the significance of this historic place and open spaces. It’s said that the metropolitan city tried to use police force to prevent us from exercising our democratic right.”
Mayor Shakya, however, was adamant.
“Those people who had reached Khula Manch [today] have some political interest,” Shakya told the Post. “If anyone is going to paint any public space, they should take prior permission. Their campaign is aimed against us. This is totally a politically motivated programme.”