Making sense of Nepal’s protests

Demonstrators in Kathmandu demand federalisation but many believe it is tantamount to fragmenting the country.

There was anger in a restaurant near the prime minister’s residential quarters where protesters from the federal alliance of minority parties were demonstrating.

In Kathmandu, there is a lot of resentment against the protesting parties.

“Because of these guys, our business has gone down,” the proprietor said.

One bystander said: “If the police wanted, they could easily control this protest.”

There were hundreds of security personnel. At times, it felt like there were more of them than the demonstrators.

For three days, Kathmandu has been chaotic.

Political parties representing marginalised communities have been occupying city centres from Singha Durbar, the administrative headquarters of the country, to Baluwatar, the residence of the prime minister.

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Traffic has gone haywire. And Kathmandu, which had finally come to a semblance of normality from the earthquake and the blockade, is not prepared for another protest.

After a while, a bunch of protesters tried to enter the restaurant. “I don’t want to entertain people who fragment this country,” the proprietor said angrily.

Then the sign on the door turned to “Closed”.

I’ve heard the same argument before. Many believe that federating the country is tantamount to fragmenting the country.

Devolution of power is not something that they seem to understand or want to understand.

How Nepal will be federated has been one of the most contentious issues and the protesters want the government to revisit their plan.

With so much resentment, one wonders why people are protesting in Kathmandu. That was what the proprietor wanted to know.

Looking at the crowd, it was easy to understand. They represented every section of Nepal – from Limbus and Sherpas from the mountains, to Tamangs and Newars from the hills and valleys, to Madhesis and Tharus from the plains.

The only melting point for them is Kathmandu, the capital.

“If you feel that your voice has not been heard, where would you go?” I asked.

Many say the streets are the only place to exercise democracy in Nepal.

'Why are they afraid of us?' one protester asked [Reuters]
‘Why are they afraid of us?’ one protester asked [Reuters]

But getting to Kathmandu to protest has not been easy.

People trying to come to the city were stopped on the road, their luggage rummaged through and questions asked.

One woman from Sunsari said it took her 21 hours to reach the city instead of the usual eight hours.

“Why are they afraid of us?” one protester asked. The question coming from a very thin woman in a bright purple sari sounded almost comical.

By 1pm, the proprietor had given up trying to stop protesters. Business seemed to be thriving.

“Kathmandu is so isolated that people in the Tarai don’t know what they can get from the centre and the government does not know what is happening in the Tarai,” a diner at the restaurant said.

For five months, when protests happened in the Tarai, the government effectively ignored them. Now the government says these protests are pointless and untimely.

They are saying the protesters should come for talks. But as one leader pointed out, the government has not said where and whom to talk to.

But talking to the protest leaders, it did not seem that they knew the direction they were taking. Every leader seemed to have his own ideas.

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One protester said: “We’ve been told to be patient by our leaders but I don’t think they know where we’re headed next.”

The protesters still chanted for their desire for a change. Songs and dances were there to entertain them. But many complained that they have no clue where they might spend the night.

Their leaders have made no provisions and those travelling from afar have been left to their own devices.

“These protest leaders treat their constituencies the same way Prime Minister Oli is treating them,” said another diner.

Callousness runs in the leadership across the front and those who suffer happen to be the people.

Source: Al Jazeera