Nepali Times

Pressure tactic

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

FIRESIDE: Yubhan Tamang, 39, has been cooking over a firewood stove to feed 300 patients everyday at Bir Hospital for the past one and half months. Pic: Gopen Rai

After last week’s failed talks the government and the Madhesi parties are back to old games: wait for the other side to blink first. The security forces and the protesters are now engaged in a tug of war to control movement along the East-West Highway.

As tension escalated across the eastern Tarai after three deaths in police firing this week in Saptari, the government even mulled deploying the army to quell protests. But the army wisely advised the government to seek a political solution.

The government then decided to deploy the Police and Armed Police Force (APF) along the highway. Laxmi Dhakal, spokesperson for Ministry of Home Affairs, said: “We will not allow anyone to block the highway.”

The government’s special security plan has deterred Madhesi protesters from gathering on the highway, but it has also infuriated them. “It’s a ploy to not let talks succeed,” said Laxman Lal Karna of Sadbhavana Party. “We can’t sit for talks if the government uses force against our people.”

With both sides employing pressure tactics, chances of resumption of talks are slim.  But informal consultations continued this week between the two sides, between chief negotiator Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Prime Minister KP Oli, and between Oli and the Indian ambassador.

Even if both sides agree to sit for formal talks again, there is very little possibility of a breakthrough. The main issue is the fate of three districts in the eastern and two in the western Tarai. NC and UML hardliners like Sher Bahadur Deuba, Krishna Sitaula and Bhim Rawal want them to be part of the hill provinces, while the Madhesi parties want the districts to be included entirely in the two Tarai provinces.

The Madhesi parties view the movement as a battle for their political survival, and it will not be ready to compromise unless parts, if not the whole, of the five disputed districts are inserted in the Madhes province. PM Oli is equally  adamant, he said this week: “I don’t know how many more days I will survive, but I will work for the Nepali people till I die.”

New Delhi, the third and probably the most important player in this brinkmanship, is also waiting for Kathmandu to concede to Madhesi demand on demarcation of Tarai provinces. Realising that he cannot mend his relations with New Delhi, Oli is trying to do something to be remembered by as a true nationalist before his tenure as probably Nepal’s shortest-term prime minister ends.

Déjà vu

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

From the Nepali Press, 25 November

History has repeated itself in Nepal. A look back at the headlines, news and articles published in the Nepali press during the 1989 blockade shows what is happening now in Nepal is merely a recap of what Nepalis went through 25 years ago. Here are some examples:

11) In 1989, India had imposed a blockade on Nepal seven months after a 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit eastern Nepal. This time, India’s blockade comes just five months after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated central Nepal.

22) Just like now, newspapers back then were replete with news about fuel shortages. The only difference is: people queued up for kerosene back then but they are now lining up for petrol and cooking gas.

33) Prime Minister KP Oli has said India is treating Nepal as if the two countries are at war. Oli is echoing what prominent civil rights activist Devendra Raj Pandey said in 1989: “India is treating us as if we are at war”.

54) India denies imposing blockade against Nepal, saying cargo trucks are passing through border posts unaffected by Madhesi protests. An article in Deshantar on 2 April 1989 reads: ‘India, through Indian media, is claiming that it has not stopped supply of essential commodities to Nepal. But even goods purchased before the blockade remain stranded on the Indian side.’
65) Just like now, newspapers back then had published news about disruption in supply of medicines and medical equipment.

76) Newspapers face a shortage of newsprint paper. Newspapers back then were also forced to reduce pages.

87) Even in 1989, politicians and intellectuals used to talk about being self-reliant. Newspapers would give ample space for articles about possibility of a self-reliant economy.

98) Nepalis living around the globe have been demonstrating against India’s blockade. In 1989, Nepalis also demonstrated in front of the UN in New York urging the international community to put pressure on India to lift the blockade.

109) Nepal had tried to play ‘China card’ even in 1989 by importing fuel from its northern neighbour. Deshantar of 30 April In 1989 reported that three tankers had reached Khasa from China.

10) Nepalis are criticising their leaders for ignoring lessons of the 1989 blockade. Newspaper clips from 1989 show Nepalis had lambasted their leaders even back then for forgetting the first Indian blockade of 1971.

Nepal closing door to Syrians

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

From the Nepali Press

Annapurna Post, 25 November

As western countries discuss tightening restrictions on entry of Syrian refugees in the aftermath of the deadly Paris attacks, Nepal is also preparing to close the door to people fleeing the war-torn Arab country.

Nepal is far from activity of the ISIS, the Syria-Iraq based Islamic state that has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks in which 130 people were killed. But authorities here believe that ISIS-affiliated terrorists could use Nepal as a transit to enter the US and other European countries as refugees.

A meeting between Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA)’s Law and Division Chief Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, Department of Immigration (DoI)’s Director General Kedar Neupane and senior security officials on Tuesday recommended restrictions on entry of Syrian refugees into Nepal.

The meeting decided to ask Home Minister Shakti Basnet to revoke provisions of on-arrival visa for Syrian people.

Nepal grants on-arrival visa for people from all but 11 war-torn and politically instable countries. Only peoples from Nigeria, Swaziland, Liberia, Palestine, Ghana, Cameron, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Ethiopia and Iraq have to apply for visa before they fly to Kathmandu.

As war escalated in Syria and hundreds of thousands of Syrian people started to migrating to the West, Nepal had last year decided to ‘closely monitor’ entry of Syrian people in Kathmandu. In the last two years, Nepal has detained 24 Syrian citizens who entered into Kathmandu on fake passports.


‘Economic crisis, political solution’

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

Former commerce secretary Purushottam Ojha, former Vice Chair of National Planning Commission Shankar Sharma and facilitator Sujeev Shakya at the talk program. The event was jointly organised by Alliance for Social Dialogue and Nepal Economic Forum.

Experts at a talk program in Kathmandu on Tuesday stressed the need for a political solution to an economic crisis that has adversely affected Nepal.

Former commerce secretary Purushottam Ojha and ex-Vice President of National Planning Commission Shankar Sharma urged the government and Madhesi Morcha to find a political solution to a political crisis, which has adversely impacted Nepal’s economy over the last three months.

“We should not further delay in diversifying our trade, and we must also raise issues of India’s economic blockade at international forums like World Trade Organisation (WTO),” said Ojha. “But these are long-term strategies.  We urgently need a political solution to the ongoing economic crisis.”

Ojha added: “When we imported fuel donated by China, we realised how difficult trade across the Himalaya would be without developing necessary infrastructure. We must promote trade with China in the long run, but that cannot be an immediate solution to the crisis which we are now reeling under.”

Ojha also asked Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) to lobby with Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) to put pressure on New Delhi to lift the blockade. “FNCCI and FICCI use their joint economic council as a forum to sort out trade issues,” he said. “This council must be used to lobby for lifting the blockade, too.”

Sharma stressed the need for sustained efforts to ensure food and energy security, but said political solution was the best way out of the present crisis. “The April-May earthquakes made 700,000 Nepalis poor, and this economic crisis might push even more people below the poverty line,” he said. “We urgently need a political solution. And when things get to normalcy, we must start working towards trade diversification.”

It has been three months after Madhesi Morcah began a street movement in the country’s southern plains against Nepal’s new constitution. After the constitution was promulgated on 20 September, India also backed the Morcha by imposing a trade embargo against the land-locked Himalayan country.

Economists say the damage done by the Morcha’s agitation and India’s blockade to Nepal’s economy is bigger than that caused by the April-May earthquakes. The government has already lost Rs 30 billion in revenue so far, and the Rashtra Bank has warned of negative economic growth and double-digit inflation.

Ojha says the government has lost Rs 2.17 billion in petrol and diesel revenues alone in the last three months. “If we factor in income of petroleum dealers and transporters, this figure could go up to Rs 2.88 billion,” he says. “Our formal economy is losing this money to informal economy, which will have long-term economic impacts.”

At the talk program jointly organised by Nepal Economic Forum and Alliance for Social Dialogue, Janakpur-based economics professor Surendra Labh, Birganj-based youth entrepreneur Ajaya Pradhananga and Saptari-based journalist Bhola Paswan shared their experiences about how the Madhesi movement and India’s blockade have affected economic activity in the Tarai.

“People are giving up hope, and they want to flee the country,” said Labh. “If something has kept economy afloat in the Tarai, it is remittance.”

Diplomatic missions silent

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

From the Nepali Press

Chandra Shekhar Adhikary and Jagdishwar Pandey in Kantipur, 22 November

Illustration: Bhanu Bhattarai

Illustration: Bhanu Bhattarai

Diplomatic missions in Kathmandu seem to be unaffected by the ongoing fuel crisis in Nepal.

The international community which has always been vocal about political developments in the country has surprisingly stayed silent on the Indian blockade.

A few countries have released individual statements expressing their concern over the humanitarian crisis due to fuel crisis but the missions here have yet to condemn India’s actions.

The government has made special provisions to supply fuel to the diplomatic missions. Each day the Nepal Oil Corporation receives more than a dozen recommendation letters requesting supply of fuel to various embassies.

According to an employee at Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had the government not made special provisions to provide fuel to the diplomatic missions, then they would have been forced to speak up against the blockade.

The United Nations mission in Nepal has also kept quiet on the issue.

The SAARC Secretariat is based in Kathmandu and is currently headed by Nepal. The Ambassador of Pakistan who is the dean of the ambassadors in Nepal is from a member country and so is India, who has imposed the unofficial blockade. Even then the Secretariat has remained silent.

According to experts on diplomatic affairs, Nepal has failed to open a discussion on the subject through the Secretariat. The government has shown no concern to make the diplomatic missions understand that the ongoing internal conflict and Indian blockade are two different things.

“It is up to Nepal to reach out to them, but we have not been able to do so,” says Bhesh Bahadur Thapa, former Minister of Foreign Affairs. “It is important the government pays attention to this,” he adds.


Film South Asia concludes

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015


The tenth edition of Film South Asia (FSA) concluded Sunday evening with screening of Being Bhaijan, followed by an award ceremony at Yala Maya Kendra in Patan.

A Walnut Tree, directed by Ammar Aziz was adjudged the best film and presented the Ram Bahadur Trophy. The award carried a cash prize of US$2,000. The runner-up for the award was Blood Leaves its trail, directed by Kashmir-based filmmaker Iffat Fatima. Drawing the Tiger won the UNICEF Award. The Tareque Masud Award for Best Debut was presented to On and Off the Records.

This edition the festival introduced a special category for films made by students. The winning film in this category was Tyres, directed by Kyaw Myo Lwin from Myanmar.

This year’s jury comprised of A S Panneerselvan, Anomaa Rajakruna and Narayan Wagle.

Altogether 43 films were screened at the four-day fest which began on 19 November.


Ram Bahadur Trophy: A Walnut Tree

Runner-up: Blood Leaves its trails

Tareque Masud Debut Award: On and Off the Records

UNICEF Award: Drawing the Tiger

Best Student Film: Tyres

Saptari tense

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

As the government-Madhesi Morcha face-off continues with neither side showing sincerity to forge a consensus, a fresh wave of violence has erupted in the country’s southern plains.

Two protesters were killed and many injured in police firing in the eastern plains district of Saptari on Saturday night.

Police opened fire to disperse protesters blocking the East-West highway in Saptari. To implement the Morcha’s decision to stop vehicular movement along the highway, they hurled stones and bricks at passenger buses being escorted by police.

Police said they first chased away demonstrators by using tear gas but had to open fire after hundreds of protesters carrying home-made weapons encircled them from all corners.

After 15 years old Biren Ram and 28 years old Nageshwor Yadav were killed, protesters turned more violent prompting local security officials to call an emergency meeting Saturday midnight and impose curfew along the highway in Saptari.

But protesters began defying curfew from early Sunday morning, clashing with police in various parts of Saptari. They also burnt down one police van and one police post.

After protesters set the police van (Na.1 Ja 1316) ablaze outside Sagarmatha Zonal Hospital in Rajbiraj, police stormed into the hospital compound and thrashed protesters as well as some health workers.

Health workers have condemned police’s ‘brutality’ against innocent people in a press statement.

Protesters continued to clash with police in several parts of Saptari and other plains district throughout the day. Common people have locked themselves up in their own houses fearing being trapped between aggressive police and violent protesters.

In Barmajhiya of Saptari, protesters also broke the roadside railing of a bridge to block the highway.

In Nepal’s southern plains, Madhesi people have been protesting against the country’s new constitution over the last 100 days.

The Morcha, an alliance of four Madhes-based parties, has been spearheading the agitation to force the ruling parties, which voted the new constitution on 20 September by using their two-thirds majority, to redraw federal boundaries.

The Morcha has been pressing for other demands as well but it says redrawing federal boundaries is the bottom-line.

The Morcha wants just two provinces in the Tarai with Sunsari, Morang, Jhapa in the eastern plains province and Kailali and Kanchanpur in the western plains province. The ruling coalition has refused to insert these five districts into plains provinces.

Last week Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is now leading a negotiation panel formed by the government, floated what was seen by many as a middle-ground proposal. He had proposed an all-party panel to divide the disputed districts and place areas dominated by Madhesi people in plains provinces.

But the Morcha rejected Dahal’s proposal, saying it will not accept any proposal on future arrangements. The next day, the Morcha announced fresh protest programs, including disruption of vehicular movement along the highway.

In September’s end, the Morcha had changed its tactics and begun to block Nepal-India border posts avoiding clashes with police. No one, except an Indian protester in Birganj, was killed since then. But the Morcha’s new strategy is likely to lead to more violent clashes and deaths in the Tarai.

In Kathmandu, Prime Minister KP Oli has called an all-party meeting to come up with a common proposal with regard to the Morcha’s demands. But the opposition NC is unlikely to help the ruling collation.