At a recent breakfast meeting in a hotel he owns, Dhawal Shumsher Rana peels a hard-boiled egg while his mobile rings incessantly.
A Muslim elder is inviting him for an Eid feast, and Rana answers in chaste Awadhi. An activist for labeda suruwal as national dress wants the mayor’s support, he deals with that. There is a call from a hospital where a student wounded in police firing on the anti-rape protests in Mahendranagar is in critical condition, and may need to be helicoptered to Kathmandu. Finally, Dhawal Rana turns his phone face down for an interview with a newspaper for which he was a regular columnist in 2002-2003.
Back then, the war was raging in the mountains of Western Nepal, the army had entered the conflict and casualties were mounting. Local elections had been cancelled, and Rana had just stepped down after his first tenure as mayor when he wrote a seminal op-ed in the 18 April 2003 issue of Nepali Times titled ‘In a federated state’.
‘Nepal must move towards federalism for the sake of inclusive democracy, social justice, greater responsibility, a responsive and streamlined administration, decentralisation and greater peoples’ participation in governance. But this does not mean fragmentation and carving out the country along caste, racial, tribal, religious and linguistic lines.
The answer for Nepal lies in true devolution of power to elected local bodies, with the phasing out of central interference. The local bodies will best accommodate the regional, racial, cultural and social aspirations of the people at the grassroots, and political trickle-up effect will bring this inclusive representation to the national level.’
This was way ahead of the times, because King Gyanendra was consolidating power in a creeping coup to take the country back to absolute monarchy.