Nepali Times

Mahara off to Beijing

Monday, August 15th, 2016

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Deputy Prime Minister talks to journalists before flying to Beijing on Monday. Photo: RSS

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara left for Beijing on Monday, aiming to convince Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Kathmandu later this year.

Shortly after assuming office one week ago, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal decided to send Mahara to Beijing as his special envoy to convince Xi that ‘Nepal is ready to welcome him’.

Before departing, Mahara told a press meet at the Kathmandu Airport that the objective of his visit is to ‘strengthen Nepal-China relations in the changed political context.”

Early this year, the then-Prime Minister KP Oli — whom Dahal succeeded in unseating — had invited Xi to visit Nepal. Beijing had hinted that Xi could be in Kathmandu in November this year.

But the unravelling of the communist alliance in Kathmandu and Oli’s ouster have cast  a shadow over Xi’s visit to Nepal, which wants to reduce its over-dependence on India by reaching out to China. During Oli’s visit to Beijing, Nepal and China had signed a trade and transit deal, and Dahal now faces pressure to implement that pact, without irking India.

Dahal has also decided to send another Deputy Prime Minister, Bimalendra Nidhi, to India. Nidhi is flying to New Delhi next week with a mandate to prepare the ground for Dahal’s India visit and invite Indian President Pranab Mukherjee to Kathmandu.


Game changer

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

Cpt-Of0UMAA3ylpRameshwar Bohara in Himal Khabarpatrika (14-20 August)

Three months ago, Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba was ridiculed by some of his own party leaders for having been taken for a ride by Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Deuba had proposed an alliance with Dahal to topple the KP Oli government, and Dahal had agreed to form a new ruling coalition with the NC. But Dahal backed off at the last minute, prompting political pundits to conclude that an NC-Maoist partnership was not likely.

But sure enough, Dahal did end up pulling the rug out from under the Oli government, forming a new government with the NC last month – surprising many sceptics. Central to this marriage of convenience was NC leader Bimalendra Nidhi, who held several secret meetings with domestic and outside figures to make regime change happen. Nidhi, it is now known, played a pivotal role in breaking the Maoist-UML communist alliance, unseating a ‘nationalist’ Oli government, catapulting the NC to power, and facilitating the entry of Madhesi dissidents into Singha Darbar.

“Nidhi turned out to be a game changer,” says political analyst Puranjan Acharya. “He was behind every political move that eventually resulted in the NC-Maoist partnership, and it has allowed him to take a great leap in his political career.” Deuba honoured Nidhi’s contribution by making him Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister in the new government led by Dahal.

However, as often happens in Nepali politics, senior NC leaders are now feeling insecure because of Nidhi’s sudden rise and influence. Sources say Deuba is also thinking of appointing Nidhi as the NC Vice President, further fuelling consternation in Congress circles.

But those who understand the recent history and dynamics of the NC say that while Nidhi’s rise is dramatic, it is not unexpected. Nidhi was always by Deuba’s side when he emerged as the leader of the anti-establishment camp in the NC. Narayan Khadka, Minendra Rijal, Bal Bahadur KC and Prakash Man Singh later defected from the Deuba camp, but Nidhi’s support has never wavered.

The Koiralas once saw Nidhi as the ultimate leader of the Deuba camp, and Nidhi has now demonstrated what they meant. Nidhi’s father, Mahendra Narayan Nidhi, was close to Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. When Bhattarai chose Deuba as his protégé, the junior Nidhi also joined the Deuba camp instead of the Koiralas.

After Ram Baran Yadav became President and Mahant Thakur and Bijaya Gachhadar broke off to form their own Madhes-based parties, Nidhi became the seniormost Madhesi leader in the NC.

Nidhi’s biggest drawback is that he is seen as an Indian stooge, and was merely acting at New Delhi’s behest to persuade Dahal to topple the UML government. He has also been embroiled in controversy for overtly backing an Indian company to build the Kathmandu-Tarai fast-track highway.

Do or die

Friday, August 12th, 2016

dX4VGHSGanga Maya Adhikari, who has been on a prolonged hunger strike for the last six years demanding justice for her murdered son, has intensified her efforts in a final battle that may well cost her her life.

Accusing Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal of being indifferent to her demands, Ganga Maya has refused to take saline and water from this week. She says she will not drink a drop of water unless her son’s murderers are arrested.

Last week, Ganga Maya had given a five-day ultimatum for Dahal to bring the perpetrators to book. On Thursday, when the ultimatum ended, Home Secretary Narayan Gopal Malego and Health Secretary Senendra Raj Uprety visited her at Bir Hospital. But she refused to talk to them.

Ganga Maya’s 17-year-old son, Krishna Adhikari, was killed in Chitwan in 2004, allegedly by Maoist cadre. Originally from Phujel village of Gorkha, Krishna was in Chitwan to visit a relative. Ganga Maya claims that the Maoists mistook him for an informant and killed him.

Six years ago, Ganga Maya and her husband Nanda Prasad began a hunger strike to apply pressure on the government to arrest and take action against their son’s killers. Nanda Prasad died on the 334th day of the strike in September 2014 but his body is still at the Bir Hospital morgue. Ganga Maya has refused to cremate her husband’s body unless her son’s murderers are thrown behind bars.

Two days before being elected as Prime Minister for the second time last month, Dahal had referred to the Adhikari case when blaming the UML for conspiring to jail him and other Maoist leaders for war crimes.

Ganga Maya has filed a case against some Maoist cadre and sympathisers in connection with her son’s murder, but the Maoists have managed to stop the police from arresting any one of the accused.



Second monsoon in the earthquake zone

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016


(From left to right) . Tunnelling works for the Melamchi drinking water project have resumed after the earthquake disruption. A collapsed tourist lodge on the trail to Gosainkunda. Gosainkunda in the rain.

From L-R: Tunnelling works for the Melamchi drinking water project have resumed after the earthquake disruption. A collapsed tourist lodge on the trail to Gosainkunda. Gosainkunda in the rain. Pics: Thomas Bell

Thomas Bell

Walking in the monsoon across the earthquake-affected districts north of Kathmandu, it is evident that the region has been turned into one huge tin shanty.

This is the old heartland of Nepal, historically prosperous as it goes. But where there used to be handsome old villages with houses in varied styles, the texture of village architecture now consists of shacks and tin sheets where villagers squat in the ruins of their homes.

The historic Nuwakot Darbar is one of the very few old buildings on the route to have survived .... but many neighbouring structures were ruined. Ploughing in Nuwakot.

From L-R: The historic Nuwakot Darbar is one of the very few old buildings on the route to have survived …. but many neighbouring structures were ruined. Ploughing in Nuwakot.

All along the walk from Chautara of Sindhupalchok across Nuwakot, Rasuwa and Dhading to Gorkha, families are surviving their second monsoon out in the open. There is almost no rebuilding to be seen. Visible everywhere are village council meetings about how people will qualify for the Rs 200,000 rebuilding grant per family. Everyone agrees the policy makes no sense, for all sorts of reasons. For example, the money is not nearly enough to build any of the approved designs, so many people only hope to get the first payment of Rs 50,000, and to do with it whatever they think makes the most sense.

From L-R: A ruined house in Dhading. The Ankhu Khola in Dhading where all villages have been reduced to tin shacks. A small hut where a house once stood, by an ancient chautara in western Dhading.

From L-R: A ruined house in Dhading. The Ankhu Khola in Dhading where all villages have
been reduced to tin shacks. A small hut where a house once stood, by an ancient chautara
in western Dhading.

An exception to this general picture is on the trail to Gosainkunda, where people make money by operating their houses as lodges, and have rebuilt immediately without waiting for help. Alas, the government is preparing to punish them. A new Langtang National Park regulation means that people who have always lived there will soon have to bid for the right to run a lodge. In exchange for payment, the National Park proposes to give them nothing besides a licence to earn a living.

From L-R: Near Aright in Gorkha. Near the epicentre, Gurkha Bazar survived almost unscathed. Like in Chautara and Bidur, local hotels are occupied by earthquake relief workers.

From L-R: Near Aright in Gorkha. Near the epicentre, Gurkha Bazar survived almost unscathed. Like in Chautara and Bidur, local hotels are occupied by earthquake relief workers.

It is not true that people have received no help so far. They have been given tin sheets. But the perception that those who survived the earthquake have been abandoned by the government is universal, and if you ask whether they expect any different, then the answer is usually the same: “What will they ever do for us?”

Nothing we saw surprised us, nor did anyone we met seem surprised.

Is Xi coming?

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016


Will Chinese President Xi Jinping visit Nepal this year? Ever since then-Prime Minister KP Oli’s visit to Beijing in March, there has been much speculation but neither Kathmandu nor Beijing has confirmed it.

The National News Agency of Nepal, RSS, on Tuesday claimed that a delegation of Chinese experts informed Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal about President Xi’s likely visit to Kathmandu in October this year. However, a note posted on Twitter by Dahal does not confirm it.

China does not usually discuss its Presidential visits until jointly confirmed by its Foreign Affairs Ministry and the government of the host country. In 2012, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao postponed his visit to Kathmandu after the then-Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai had unilaterally confirmed it.

Prime Minister Dahal seems to have learnt a lesson from his ex-comrade’s mistake. In the Twitter note about his meeting with the delegation of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), Dahal just stated that ‘Nepal is keen to welcome Chinese President Xi in Kathmandu’.

Former Prime Minister Oli, whom Dahal succeeded last month, had officially invited the Chinese president to Nepal. In what has been seen as a series of preparatory meetings for Xi’s visit, many top Chinese officials have visited Kathmandu since Oli’s return from Beijing.

After Oli’s resignation, his party UML claimed that the regime change in Kathmandu will lead to the cancellation of Xi’s visit. But Dahal has claimed that ‘China is much happier with my government’.

During the meeting with the CICIR, Dahal said that his government wants to maintain sustainable relations with China and simultaneously maintaining strong ties with India. The visiting Chinese delegation also expressed that China wants to establish a positive and longterm relationship with the incumbent government.


Crooks and middlemen

Monday, August 8th, 2016

From the Nepali Press

Rohit Khatiwada in setopai, 8 August

DAf4dlqAfter serving as one of the six Deputy Prime Ministers in the KP Oli government for nine months, Chitra Bahadur KC has returned to his narrow rented room in Ghattekulo. He has been living in this old, congested and somewhat squalid room with his wife ever since being elected as a Member of Parliament from the Baglung-2 constituency in 1999.

KC, a life-long Communist admired for his simplicity and folksy bluntness, always used public transport, and never tried to become a minister. But his Rashtriya Jan Morcha (RJM) joined the Oli coalition for the first time. “We felt the need for national unity at a time when India was determined to foil our Constitution,” he explained.

KC’s experience as a minister was not pleasant. He says it was a nightmare from which he has just woken up. He was the Minister of Poverty Alleviation and Cooperatives, a post the big parties shunned. When he shifted to the ministers’ quarters in Pulchok, hangerson and those who needed favours started thronging to him.

“It was only when I became a minister that I realised ministers are always surrounded by crooks, even bureaucrats just want to serve their personal interests by influencing the ministers they are working with.”

KC knew he was in Singha Darbar only for a brief period, and wanted to use the period to regulate unscrupulous cooperatives, and stop them from swindling the poor. He drafted a law within three months, and sent it to the Cabinet. But the ministers were all opposed to it because they all owned or had interests in cooperatives.

“They ministers were just serving the interests of the crooks, some owned cooperatives, and they did not want this law to come into effect,” KC said. He finally persuaded the Cabinet to forward the draft Cooperative Act to the parliamentary committee, where it is languishing now. He is not hopeful that the Act he drafted will be implemented.

“Those who swindle people through their cooperatives are lawmakers, and they will not pass a law that will hurt their business interests,” he said, adding that MPs with business interests draft laws in health, education, banking and other sectors.

At least five people swindled by cooperatives had visited KC seeking justice. He estimates that cooperatives, mostly run by leaders and lawmakers, have swindled about Rs 15 billion from people so far functioning as commercial banks with exorbitant interests.

“Even the PM was influenced by these businessmen legislators, he did not help me at all,” KC said, “there are only a handful of public servants who want to serve the people. Most just want to get rich quick, and go for kickbacks.”

He says he knew the system was corrupt, but he had no idea how deep-rooted it was. “I saw it with my own eyes – it was shocking for me,” he said. “Now I know Nepal is run by a cartel of crooks and businessmen.”

He says things will not change unless the people wake up. “These crooked politicians are unfortunately elected by the people,” he said as he showed us out of his room, “make sure you note this down: anyone who has money and muscle can win elections in Nepal, it is the people who must stop them from ruining the country and their lives.”

Chopper crash

Monday, August 8th, 2016

A Fishtail Air helicopter crashed in Nuwakot district on Monday, killing all seven people on board.

The helicopter (9NAKL) was on its way back to Kathmandu from Gorkha, where it had flown to airlift a woman suffering from complications after delivering her baby.

Contact with the helicopter was lost while it was flying over a forested mountain in Nuwakot district. Authorities in Nuwakot first confirmed the crash, after speaking with some villagers who claimed to have seen smoke rising up from Betini, a dense jungle where the chopper had gone missing. Police later spotted the wreckage, and collected the charred body parts.

According to Fishtail Air, the ill-fated helicopter was flown by Captain Ranjan Limbu, and six persons — the woman, her in-laws and her newborn baby — were on board. Their bodies were later brought in to Kathmandu.

This is the fourth Fishtail Air helicopter crash in the last six years.

After last year’s earthquake, a Fishtail Air Ecureuil 350 helicopter supplying relief and reconstruction materials to earthquake-devastated villages crashed in Langtang, but no casualties were reported.

In June 2013, a Fishtail Air helicopter returning after transporting a rescue team to a landslide-struck area in Humla had crashed, killing one and injuring five others including the Italian pilot and Fishtail Air’s manager.

In 2010, another helicopter on a rescue mission in Ama Dablam crashed into the mountain, killing the pilot and the technician.