Nepali Times

Charismatic Nikita

Monday, June 12th, 2017
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Miss Nepal Nikita

Pic: Bikram Rai

During the conflict years, Miss Nepal pageants were constantly threatened by underground Maoist guerrillas, and there used to be arson attacks outside the venue. Maoist leaders issued statements saying that they were against the ‘commercialisation and commodification of the feminine body’ by international multinationals sponsoring the events.

Eleven years after the war ended, this year’s Miss Nepal pageant was held while the Supreme Commander of those guerrillas was prime minister, and the venue of the former Miss Nepal contests is now the Parliament building.

Criticism of the Miss Nepal event is now muted, and restricted to a few outraged op-eds by gender activists and one such piece in Setopati last week by Sabitri Gautam dissected the premise of ‘beauty’ contests, of stereotyping, and patriarchy.

‘The glamour industry is marketing the female body, parading women in swimsuits on a stage and calling it empowerment,” Gautam wrote, “beauty pageants are the starkest examples of the commodification of a woman’s body. It shows how little families, society and the contestants themselves know about personality development, and their mistaken belief that such pageants empower them.”

However, the selection of Nikita Chandak as Miss Nepal last week was unexpected because of what many deemed to be her unconventional looks, the fact that she was not ‘fair’, and that this was the first time a person from the Marwari community and a Tarai resident was selected. The trolling on social networking sites proved that it is perhaps society’s notions about stereotyping and beauty that needed to change rather than beauty pageants themselves.

Chandak, for her part, seemed unfazed by the uproar, refused to be drawn into the debate, and kept an upbeat positive outlook on her win. She told us: “I believe positivity leads to happiness and when people are happy and have self-esteem they are naturally beautiful. I believe in tolerance, respecting everyone, being compassionate towards all.”

Chandak became a contender for the Miss Nepal contest by chance. The 20-year-old from Morang, who is pursuing a BBA degree in New Delhi, had come to Nepal to take part in a fashion show in January, and was approached by the organisers who were impressed with her self-assured personality to enter the Miss Nepal contest.

Chandak started developing an interest in modelling while she was still in high school, but because she came from a conservative Marwari family in which no one had ventured in the profession before, it wasn’t easy for her to talk to her parents about it. But when she did, she found them to be very supportive, and has since appeared on many cat walks in Pune and Kerala Fashion Week in India.

“My win was mostly possible due to the support of my family,” says Chandak, who impressed the judges and audiences with her poise and confidence. The warm response she got during the Marwari celebration of Mahesh Nawami festival the day after being crowned was confirmation for her that attitudes within her community towards the entertainment industry are changing. “There is a minimum participation of our community in showbiz. In that sense my win is in itself a big deal,” she says.

The Miss Nepal crown has also given Chandak an opportunity to represent youth here and abroad and she wants to use social media to reach Nepalis all over the world. As a part of her preparation for the forthcoming Miss World pageant, she plans to learn from the experiences of previous Nepali participants.

As for the future, Chandak has her eyes set firmly on a film career once she finishes her studies. And for the Nepali public, notwithstanding criticism from critics, Chandak has proven through her win that Miss Nepal itself has become more inclusive.

Sabita Shrestha


The UML’s Madhes crisis

Sunday, June 11th, 2017
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In March, five people were killed in police firing as Madhesi cadres disrupted the East-West election campaign of the UML. The mob that attacked the rally in Siraha was led by Dinesh Yadav, a defector from the UML and once protected by the party’s Suman Pyakurel. Many saw him as being almost his foster son.

But Pyakurel did not support Yadav in the party’s seventh district convention in 2009, and Yadav fought party elections as a rebel candidate, but was defeated. After that he quit the UML and joined the Madhesi Jan Adhikar Forum.

Since then, Yadav has always nursed a deep grudge against the UML. He has torched the UML office in Saptari twice in the last three months, his supporters even attacked Pyakurel’s family, forcing them to flee Saptari for two months.

Some Madhesi leaders of the UML say that their party is losing ground in the Tarai, and it is mainly because of their party’s wrong policy, behaviour and actions like this.

UML Secretary Yogesh Bhattarai disagrees. He says only some Madhesi activists have quit the party because of personal animosities, but it has nothing to do with the party’s policy. “There is a conspiracy afoot to weaken us in the Tarai, and it is not difficult to see who is behind all this. Madhes-based parties are attacking us because our cadres refused to join them,” Bhattarai said.

However, it just takes a journey through the heartland of the Tarai to understand that Madhesi cadres of the UML are not turning against their party due to personal reasons. The main opposition party has largely failed to counter accusations that it is anti-Madhesi because its top leaders have often made statements that were misinterpreted as being anti-Madhesi.

Shrawan Yadav, a local resident in Janakpur, “Madhesi parties have often spearheaded powerful protests not because of their own strength but because they could cash in on UML Chair KP Oli’s derogatory statements.”

Oli has often tried to explain that he is not anti-Madhesi, and his statements have been misreported and misinterpreted.  But this explanation has not reached the Tarai, and Som Prasad Sharma, the UML secretary in Dhanusa admits: “Because of what our leaders say in Kathmandu, we find it difficult to retain our cadres.”

The UML has often neglected its loyal Madhesi supporters, creating an impression that there is indeed no room for them within this party. Jaya Krishna Goit, an influential UML leader in Saptari, was expecting a party ticket in the last local elections in 1997. But the party’s zone committee recommended Satya Narayan Mandal for the ticket, and the party high command did not approve Mandal either.

UML fielded Diwakar Devkota as its candidate for the Saptari DDC president. Devkota was junior to Goit, who felt humiliated and did not just leave the party but went on to form a violent armed group, inspiring many other outfits to take up arms.

Devkota did not win, but the UML did not learn its lesson. It kept ignoring its loyal Madhesi supporters, adding to the impression that it is just a hill-dominated party. UML leader Satya Narayan Mandal says his party’s Madhes policy has been in disarray ever since the death of charismatic leader Madan Bhandari in a car crash in 1993. According to him, Bhandari had formed a taskforce to study problems in the Tarai just a day before his
death. The taskforce held a discussion in some Tarai districts even after Bhandari’s death, but its report was abandoned by the new leadership.

Says Mandal: “If the UML had understood Madan Bhandari’s vision, no one would have dubbed our party as anti-Madhesi today.”Mukesh Pokharel in Janakpur


Stuck again

Sunday, June 11th, 2017
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rajapaEven after postponing local elections three times in the Tarai as demanded by the Tarai-based parties, the government has failed to bring Madhesi dissenters on the board for the second phase of local elections.

Two back-to-back negotiations failed at Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s residence, and the Madhes-based Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) on Sunday revived its agitation aimed at disrupting the second phase of local elections on 28 June.

On Saturday, the RJPN had urged the ruling NC-Maoist coalition to postpone local elections for a fourth time, which Deuba rejected. The two sides met again on Sunday, and the RJPN urged the government to put local elections on hold at least in Province 2, but even this proposal was no accepted by the new Deuba government.

The coalition has instead decided to amend the Local Level Elections Act 2017, allowing the RJPN to register itself as a new party in the Election Commission and choose its election symbol, which it has refused to do citing existing laws.

The government also instructed the Office of Attorney General to appeal to the Supreme Court for review of its stay order on creation of more local councils in the Tarai. The ruling coalition has also agreed to address other demands put forth by the RJPN, including withdrawal of criminal cases against its cadres arrested during last year’s Madhes agitation.

But Deuba has made it clear that amending the Constitution before local elections is not possible. He told Parliament last week that he will try to secure a two-third majority needed to amend the Constitution, but that will happen only after local elections.

However, the RJPN was unimpressed, and unveiled its protest programs at a press conference in Kathmandu on Sunday. RJPN leader Rajendra Mahato said: “It is now meaningless to hold talks with the government.”

As talks stalled in Kathmandu, RJPN cadre disrupted an election rally by the ruling NC in Janakpur on Sunday. In Sarlahi, RJPN cadres clashed with supporters of the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSPN), another Madhes-based party that has agreed to participate in local elections though its major demand of Constitution amendment is not met.

Analysts believe that the revival of agitation by the RJPN is just a strategy to put more pressure on the government, and bringing Madhesi dissenters on the board is still possible. RJPN leader Mahato also hinted at this on Sunday. Asked if the door is closed, he said: “It will always be open.”

 


Adventures of an ambassador

Friday, June 9th, 2017
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Meyer

Driving 10,000km through eight countries in two months would sound like an adventure for anyone, but for outgoing German Ambassador to Nepal, Matthias Meyer, it is something he has been planning for years.

It is the old ‘Hippie Trail’ from Europe, via Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India followed by thousands to Kathmandu in the 1970s. But Meyer will be doing it in reverse.

After ending his 37-year long diplomatic career and a three-year tenure in Kathmandu, Meyer is being flagged off from the embassy in his Mitsubishi SUV and will have a first night stop in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha near the Indian border.

“I hope it will be a fun ride, I have always loved long and adventurous car journeys and this is going to be my longest,” said the 65-year-old diplomat who once rode through the Sahara desert when he was posted in Libya.

From India, Meyer will enter Pakistan at Wagah from where he will be escorted by a Pakistani Army team until he enters Iran. He will travel through Turkey, Armenia, Greece, Italy, Switzerland and then finally reach home in Hamburg in July.

When Meyer first came to Nepal as a young trekker with long hair in 1979, it was a short overland journey. He was an intern in the German-Indo commerce chamber in Bombay and wanted to get lost in the wilderness of the Himalayan kingdom. The hippie era was almost over, but Kathmandu’s exotic beauty had not begun to fade.

Meyer loved Nepal so much that he came to trek in the mountains four times before being sent to Kathmandu as the German envoy. It was raining when he landed in Kathmandu, and he often strolled with an umbrella in his hands around Yak and Yeti where he initially stayed. He loved to walk through the narrow alleys of Thamel, often gazing at, and buying, colourful Tibetan thangka.

Meyer also loved Nepali cuisine, and had got addicted to dal-bhat, especially during treks. Asked about his experience in Kathmandu, he diplomatically avoided sensitive political topics and said: “I ate so much. See my stomach.”

Meyer was generally considered a staunch supporter of Nepal’s moves towards democracy and spoke out when the media was under pressure from government agencies. When the American and British Embassies issued only terse statements about last month’s elections, the German Embassy did not join them.

Meyer will be travelling through parts of the ancient Silk route that China is reviving under its Belt and Road initiative — a Chinese project that Nepal recently agreed to join.

He said on the eve of his departure, “I will miss Nepal, and will be back soon.”


Nepalis in Qatar worried

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017
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KARMA DOLMA GURUNG

On the morning of 5 June Saudi Arabia and seven other countries including the UAE and Egypt declared a diplomatic boycott on Qatar, accusing their small but gas-rich Gulf neighbor of backing Islamist terrorist groups. The blockade of Qatar now also includes a suspension of land, sea, and air travel to and from the country.

The suspension of travel links has isolated Qatar and provoked fear among Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf region as uncertainty and lack of information lingers around the situation.

Ram Hari Neupane, a salesperson at Lulu Supermarket in Doha was on his daily commute to work and described the city as being normal, but an increase in tension among his compatriots regarding the future.

“Our managers haven’t told us anything yet. All the information we are getting is from social media right now. This has caused fear among people as to what will happen if the situation worsens here,” he said over the phone, describing a tense atmosphere in the workplace.

“Since the blockade of Qatar was announced, we have seen people at the supermarket stock up on daily essentials. We get a lot of produce and dairy products from Saudi Arabia so those stocks have been decreasing,” he added.

For eager workers, and for those planning trips to Qatar, the ban on flights has had an immediate impact on purchase of cheap air tickets. Even though there has been no direct effect on migrant workers in Doha, experts claim that the decision could affect Nepali migrant population in the long run.

“The long-term impact of this boycott depends on how the Qatari government responds. With the decline of oil prices, the number of Nepali migrants to GCC was slowly decreasing but Qatar was the only country constantly accepting migrants as in previous years because of its construction boom,”said Ganesh Gurung, an expert on migrant issues in Kathmandu. “But if all of this is impacted by the ban, many Nepalis could lose their job – thereby affecting our economy.”

Immediately after the diplomatic boycott was announced, the Philippine government declared that it would stop sending foreign workers to Qatar until further notice — citing food shortages as a major problem should the situation worsen.

“After hearing about the decision taken by the Philippines government, we are worried now about what will happen to the Nepali workers there because many of the Nepalis fall under the same category as Filipino migrant workers,” said Som Prasad Lamichane, Secretary General at Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee, an organisation run by returnee migrant workers in Kathmandu. “We are all just waiting for the government to inform us about what next steps Nepalis in Qatar should do.”


Yes, Prime Minister

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017
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Two editorials on new Prime Minister From the Nepali Press 

Editorial in Naya Patrika, 7 June

After serving as Prime Minister twice under the constitutional monarchy and once under an active monarch, NC President  Sher Bahadur Deuba has become Prime Minister for a fourth time in a republic. Congratulations to Deuba, and we hope that Nepal finds a mature leader in the septuagenarian PM.

Deuba’s tenure this time could be relatively easier. The coalition that he is leading has already ruled the country for one year, and is unlikely to unravel for another year. Deuba is expected to hold all three elections by November, and the Maoists will certainly not pull out of this coalition before that.

Preparations for the second phase of local elections are in full swing, and Deuba will get  due credit for holding them. But he would face bigger obstacles in holding provincial and parliamentary elections. Madhesi parties are pushing for redrawing of federal boundaries before provincial elections. Persuading them to participate in all the elections will be his biggest test.

The country has just witnessed impressive GDP growth, the political transition is nearly over. Mega development projects are being completed. Nepal’s relations with neighbours have improved markedly. So it should be a smooth ride for Deuba compared to his previous three tumultuous tenures. He just needs to avoid repeating past mistakes, and focus on solving the present political crisis.

Editorial in Nagarik, 7 June

New Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has two priorities: holding all three elections before January and amending the Constitution. Success or failure of his fourth tenure as PM will largely depend on how he deals with these challenges.

Deuba was sacked by King Gyanendra for failing to hold parliamentary elections during his second tenure. As he returns to power after 12 years, he again faces a similar task. He needs to hold the second phase of local elections in 20 days, and provincial and federal elections before 28 January. This is going to be his foremost challenge.

Deuba’s second challenge is to bring Madhesi dissenters on the board by amending the Constitution. The Madhes-based Rastriya Janata Party has threatened to disrupt local elections if the Constitution is not amended beforehand. Nearly two-thirds MPs have voted for Deuba, and he just needs a few more to amend the Constitution. But it is not certain whether all the MPs who voted for him will also support the amendment bill. So securing a two-third majority for the amendment is still not as easy as it looks.

Deuba has other challenges. Of late, India and China have shown heightened interest in Nepal and Deuba will have to maintain equidistance. Deuba and his coalition partner Pushpa Kamal Dahal have a common position on transitional justice, but they have to  respect international principles. The UML will not allow them to have their way on this issue.

Deuba’s party constantly criticised the UML government for delaying post-earthquake reconstruction. When it formed a new government with the Maoists, it sacked the CEO of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), a UML appointee. Now the NC leads the government and its man is at the NRA’s helm. Deuba will face more criticism if reconstruction is not expedited.

 


It’s Deuba once more

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017
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New Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba with ex-Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Parliament elected Deuba as Nepal's 10th Prime Minister in 10 years on Tuesday. Bikram Rai

New Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba with ex-Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Parliament elected Deuba as Nepal’s 10th Prime Minister in 10 years on Tuesday. Bikram Rai

Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba on Tuesday became Nepal’s 10th Prime Minister in 10 years, and head of government for the fourth time in the past two decades.

Of the 558 MPs present in the House, 388 voted for Deuba while the rest voted against him. There was no rival candidate from other parties, but Parliament still conducted a voice vote.

Addressing the House before being elected, Deuba said he will focus on three issues as new Prime Minister: holding all three elections by January, amending the Constitution and boosting infrastructure.

The CPN (Maoist-Centre) that led the previous coalition with the backing of the NC had proposed Deuba as the new PM last week, but a parliamentary impasse over the Bharatpur mayoral vote-counting row delayed Deuba’s election.

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Pic: RSS

The UML had allowed Parliament to function only after Deuba gave his word to hold the second phase of local elections on 28 June, provincial and parliamentary elections before January 2018, and to wait for a probe on the Bharatpur fracas before re-conducting polls there.

Deuba also won support of the newly-formed Rastriya Janata Party (RJP) and the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSF) by signing a three-point pact with them. Deuba has promised to implement the previous deal that the NC-Maoist coalition signed with Madhesi parties, withdraw cases against those arrested during the Madhes movement and create more municipal and local councils in the Tarai.

By becoming Prime Minister again, Deuba equalled the record of his former NC colleague Girija Prasad Koirala. Only Surya Bahadur Thapa who had been PM five times is still ahead of both.

Deuba’s previous three tenures as Prime Minister were marred by the Maoist war, the royal coup of February 2005, and a stagnant economy. In his first tenure, the Maoists declared war on the state. In his second term, the war escalated and he was removed by King Gyanendra for being “incompetent”. In his third tenure, Gyanendra took over and put Deuba under house arrest for 10 months.

But Deuba has proven that politicians always live to fight another day by patiently biding his time and strengthening his hold over the party. Twelve years later, Deuba has returned to Baluwatar with the help of Prachanda, the same man who once tried to assassinate him and on whose head he had put a price.

Deuba has often been criticised for having brought about a crisis in Nepal’s democracy every time he became prime minister – either by surrendering to the royal palace, or by cancelling local elections in 2002. This time, he has a chance to prove critics wrong if he can hold the second phase of local elections, federal and parliamentary elections in the coming eight months.


 

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