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Chill in Kathmandu

From scarcity to looming ethnic tensions,the city is slipping

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Published: February 4, 2012 3:19:11 am

From scarcity to looming ethnic tensions,the city is slipping

Nepal faces a daily 14-hour power cut crippling industry and normal life. A group of consumers took control of a vehicle headed towards the depot,and each of them “bought a cylinder” on the street itself. Nepal’s gas stations have thousands of vehicles parked outside waiting for their turn to refuel. The government has not been able to ensure adequate supply even after it hiked the price of petroleum products recently.

Nepal presents a case of scarcity,collapsing service delivery and order. The country’s prominent media recently published photographs of two top police officials seated together with a Maoist legislator convicted by the supreme court for murder,and who the police have said time and again is a absconder. Public security,the rule of law and government failure to check the price rise hardly triggers a debate in parliament.

Yet,the prime minister and his ministers try to inject a sense of hope in the scarcity-stricken people. “The Peace Process has entered an irreversible phase,” said Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai. Over 7,300 combatants will start leaving their cantonments as part of the settlement package for Maoist fighters. Under the package,they will be given a financial grant between Rs 500,000 and Rs 800,000 each in two instalments. But the trickier part of the peace process is yet to follow.

Another remaining 9,000 combatants want their integration into the Nepal army,and much against the previous understanding — that only a couple of combatants out of the 6,500 to be absorbed would be up to the rank of Major,or at most of Lt Colonel — they want ranks up to Lt General,and 443 of them. The army chief,Chhatra Man Singh Gurung,has said privately to the PM as well as the defence minister that foregoing academic qualifications,training requirement and physical eligibility while accommodating Maoist combatants is just not possible. But people are no more as euphoric as before. And Bhattarai,seen as a cure for all of Nepal’s problems till a few months ago,is not a politician held in esteem by the people any more.

His party — the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) — simply refuses to operate within the framework of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement,or the subsequent 19 agreements it has signed with other political parties in the last six years. It continues to maintain its revolutionary condition. The stability or success of any major component of the peace process goes against that condition.

“It will be difficult to move ahead without the issue of rank harmonisation,” said Chandra Prakash Khanal “Baldev”,hinting that the process of vacating the camps completely would not be smooth. Erik Solheim,Norway’s environment minister and a frequent face in South Asian conflict zones,endorsed the same line recently. His advice to the Nepali actors was to “settle the issue of rank harmonisation”,an issue which others say has been settled long ago “in principle”.

Parties say the peace process is inseparably linked with the delivery of the new constitution by May 28. Apart from the combatants settlement issue,the model of governance and federalism continue to remain contentious. The State Restructuring Commission by a majority wants the creation of 11provinces,most of them on the basis of ethnicity. “In a multi-ethnic,and multi-linguist country,it is only natural that different identities are recognised,” said Krishna Hatechhu,a member of the SRC. He is also the representative of IDEA International in Nepal. And the members constituting the majority view have strong affiliation to a particular set of international donors supporting a radical agenda in Nepal,including the creation of ethnicity-based provinces with autonomy and the right to self-determination. Many fear Nepal is headed towards ethnic and social tensions in the days to come as there are about 102 ethnic groups. All of these are likely to make the constitution-making process more complicated,contrary to Bhattarai’s claim that it has reached an irreversible stage.

The fact that both the PM and the speaker of the Constituent Assembly have approached the supreme court for reviewing its verdict — that the House will stand dissolved on May 28 — shows that neither of them is confident about the deadline being met.

In the midst of all this,the Bhattarai government has brought 140 different subjects,including the award of contracts by government — a major source of corruption — as classified,barring the media its rightful access to related information. The “bourgeoisie media”,among others,brought the Maoist chief’s lavish lifestyle,his move to a luxury house,and many corrupt deals by the revolutionaries of yesteryears,to public debate. Bhattarai has opened too many fronts together,and appears unequal to the mass resentment building up nationwide.

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