As Nepal prepares for local elections in May, here in the far-western mountains, there is anticipation and hope about grassroots leaders who are more efficient and accountable. This is in stark contrast to Kathmandu, where apathy and cynicism about national politics is rife.
When Nepal had its first local elections in 20 years in 2017, the tiny settlement of Chaurpati had no electricity, no roads, and there was no doctor in the health post. Most men were migrant workers in India, and many of those who stayed behind would spend the days gambling and drinking.
“Our main focus in the past five years was to improve infrastructure that had been neglected for decades,” says Harka Bahadur Saud, the elected chair of Chaurpati Rural Municipality. “The pandemic delayed things, but everyone can see that things have changed for the better.”
This bucolic village clings to a mountain side surrounded by rhododendron forests in full bloom, a 360 degree panorama, and now boasts a brand new 15-bed hospital, motorable roads, an upgraded government school, and a football field sized pond to store monsoon rains and recharge ground water to replenish springs that have gone dry.
Saud went over to the Unified Socialist (CPN-US) party after it split from the UML, and is confident that his constituents have seen the progress and will reward him with another five-year term as Chair.
“There is so much still left to do, we need to asphalt the road, invest in cash crops and create jobs locally so people do not have to migrate anymore,” says Saud, who has leased terraces abandoned by migrating farmers for banana plantations.
Saud’s deputy is Maya Kunwar, and although she is from the Nepali Congress (NC), the two complement each other. The fact that the CPN-US and the NC are partners in the coalition government in Kathmandu helps.
While Saud focuses on physical upgrades of roads and buildings, Kunwar has concentrated on removing discrimination, exclusion and tackling social injustice. She is active in the village’s Judicial Committee that works to mediate local disputes so they do not escalate.
Kunwar is not one of those token women that parties selected as candidates to fulfil the female quota for deputy chair. Before standing for election in 2017, she was active in the cooperative movement, campaigned to end the practice of menstrual banishment called chhaupadi, reduce domestic violence, and rampant alcoholism.