Siddhi B. Ranjitkar: O! Kantipur
By Siddhi B. Ranjitkar
Once the Nepalese poet called Bhanu Bhakta Acharya had called ‘Kantipur’ a beautiful ‘Kantipuri nagari’ almost comparing with a beautiful girl. Now, you have become a ‘Kathmandu’ – a city of chaos. Nobody knows who rules it but everybody attempts to rule it from the streets, from the open theater, from the place called ‘Mandala’ and so on. The Prime Minister once so much revered by Nepalese people and foreigners have betrayed you revealing his true nature. All thugs corrupt politicians and politicians of various colors reside here. Once the holy river called ‘Bagmati’ flowing through your heart has been the most polluted river in the world; once the clean air constantly purified by the green forest has been full of fumes coming out of exhaust-pipes of so-called microbuses. Numerous taxis crowd the streets and add fumes to pollute the atmosphere. Most corrupt businesspersons run the businesses from here. Some even become the leaders of the business community and challenge the government to agree to their demands or else they would cripple the national economy by disrupting the businesses.
Kathmandu was once a beautiful capital town called Kantipur. It was once a full of beautiful houses, numerous temples, shrines, public houses, and public-rest buildings decorated with carved wooden pillars, struts, windows, doors, and many carved stone figures of animals, birds and humans. Businesses of woodcarving, stone carving, and metal casting thrived here. Business people, administrators and even rulers were sincere to make everything run smoothly and to the satisfaction of all Nepalese people. It was the period of golden era when the Malla Kings competed with each other in creating more cultural heritage.
Then the time changed; new rulers took the main seat of administration; later on, unscrupulous rulers took over the reign. The Shah kings replaced the Malla kings. The Shahs did not have the same enthusiasm to develop the country culturally and economically as the Mallas had, as they mainly focused on how to retain their power and supremacy over the Nepalese people. They spent most of the national resources on their luxurious lives disregarding the people’s needs. Then, the unscrupulous Ranas took over the power and sidelined the Shahs for more than a century. They not only did not develop the local culture and economy but also disfigured the beautiful palaces by replacing the most beautiful and artistic buildings with the ugly buildings built in the imported architectural style. Thus, they made ‘Kantipur’ a ‘Kathmandu.’
Now, Kathmandu has been the city of chaos. If you go out you never know when you will be back home. The narrow streets and lanes are choked with taxis and microbuses. They do not honor the traffic rules. The taxis sit where they are not suppose to. They move slowly and leisurely hunting for passengers on the streets disregarding others on the streets. As soon as, they spot a passenger they stop then and there forcing the person moving behind them to apply emergency brakes. Microbuses do not do better either. They also stop anywhere any passenger asks them to stop for riding or for getting out. They do not respect the traffic rules properly stopping at the stops allocated to them. Sometimes, they put a number of microbuses parallel to each other at their stops blocking even wide streets causing traffic jams.
Taxis and microbuses rule the Kathmandu streets. The traffic police have been the mute spectators of the chaotic traffic in Kathmandu. For disciplining the taxis and microbuses they cannot enforce traffic rules without going to a direct confrontation with the taxis and the microbuses. If the traffic police attempt to use force for disciplining them, it often backfires. Taxis or microbuses simply park their vehicles barricading the traffic flow. The traffic will be jammed until the dispute is resolved amicably. If the traffic police go a little further to take forceful actions, then the taxis and the microbuses call for going on a local or even national strike.
Microbuses have gradually crowed out the battery-operated three wheelers from the Kathmandu streets. Foreign donor agencies had spent millions of dollars on researching on and introducing battery-operated three wheelers in the Kathmandu streets to save the environment destroyed by heavily smoking buses and three wheelers. There was a time when battery-operated three wheelers had gained the major business of ferrying the commuters in Kathmandu. The microbus-business community successfully lobbied the government to crowd out the clean battery-operated three wheelers from the streets to suit their interest.
Whenever a ruler duo: Girija Prasad Koirala as the Prime Minister and Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat as the Finance Minster took over the state control, they acted more in the interest of the favored businesspersons than in the interest of the population as a whole. They created an environment conducive to operate microbuses than the battery-operated three wheelers as the microbus businesspersons could serve the interest of the ruler duo. In the past, too, they dismantled the trolley buses running between Kathmandu and Bhaktapur to have more businesses for the minibus operators disregarding the pollution in the Kathmandu Valley, and the convenience of and benefits for commuters. Currently, they are selling the shares of the state-owned telecommunication company called ‘Nepal Telecom’ at Rs 90 per share to its staffs and at Rs 600 per share to the public. Nobody knows who gave the management of this company the rights to sell the shares at such varying prices.
The next street kings are the rally organizers. Currently, anybody can hold placards and banners walk on the streets in Kathmandu disregarding the vehicular traffic. Organizers of rallies of from HIV-AIDS day celebration to human rights activists rule the streets in Kathmandu. While they are rallying for doing something good for their concerned people they block the traffic and cause inconvenience to the travelers in Kathmandu. Nobody has thought to rally peacefully for their causes without causing inconvenience to others. The traffic police usher the streets rallies to their destination rather than keeping the smooth flow of traffic.
Anybody can be the ruler of the streets. If a bus hits a person on the road, the relatives of victims block the traffic on the road demanding reasonable compensation for the loss or damage done to the person and the relatives. The traffic police often failed to take immediate actions against the bus and award compensation to the victims. So, most of the time, the road-accident victims have to take the law in their hands to redress the injustice done to them. Then, the victims of such actions are the innocent travelers who sometimes are stranded for more than a day.
The open theater in Kathmandu has been the place for celebrating various cultural and religious events, and the place for the rallies of the political parties. Nepalese people of different ethnic groups living in Kathmandu celebrate their annual festival at the open theater often blocking the traffic around the theater. Similarly, political parties held a political rally at the open theater causing great inconvenience to the commuters. The traffic police simply cannot handle such a situation or just become a mute spectator. Everybody will enjoy such events if the organizers of such events think a bit about the men and the women on the streets.
It is shame on you, Kathmandu that you have been hosting the Prime Minister that has recently confessed his misdeeds done in 1970s while staying in exile. The Indian print and electronic media have trumpet the confessions of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala made in the interview given to the ‘Kantipur TV’ that has repeatedly aired it. Then, the Nepalese media also have started writing about it. According to the media report, the then Girija Prasad Koirala had produced fake India currency to support the large number of the workers of his party called Nepali Congress in 1970s. He also planned and executed the hijacking of the plane carrying Rs 3.2 million from Biratnagar to Kathmandu to the Indian unused airport, and looted the money. The case against the leader of the hijacking the plane, Chakra Prasad Bastola has been pending in the Indian Court. (The Indian Government had revoked the lawsuit against Chakra Bastola before accepting him as a Nepalese ambassador to India in 1990s when the Nepali Congress was in power.) The office of the Prime Minster has denied the report on making fake Indian currencies but has not denied other reports on the confessions Prime minister Koirala has made while talking to the ‘Kantipur TV’ reporter in an interview.
Probably, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has thought that he could wash off the stains of his past misdeeds confessing publicly in the holy land of Lord Pashupatinath and Lord Swoyambhu; however, he must be pretending that nobody is aware of his current misdeeds. For example, his government had made the shortage of petroleum products in Nepal for a year making the prices of petroleum products cheaper in Nepal and selling the Nepal-bound petroleum products in the Indian market for amassing a huge wealth for his Nepali Congress party. With this ill-earned money his party has opened its office in 75 districts and even a liaison office in New Delhi, India. Politically, Prime Minister Koirala has been trying to reinstate the monarchy at any cost. He appointed his daughter Sujata Koirala to the position of Minister without portfolio. This might be because he wanted to stage a democratic coup in the Bangladeshi style as Maoist chairman Prachanda has said. He also has an army of infamous corrupt politicians such as Govinda Raj Joshi, and Khum Bahadur Khadka, indicted by the Commission on Investigation into Abuse of Authority (CIAA) but released by the Special Court for technical reasons, and other corrupt people such as Chiranjivi Wagle, his daughter Sujata Koirala and Taranath Rana Bhat. Reportedly, they have received a large sum of money from the palace for saving the monarchy.
Kathmandu, you also have been playing the host to a large number of Maoists that have left the rural areas for Kathmandu in the campaign to capture the capital city peacefully. The rural areas have been peaceful because almost all Maoists have migrated to Kathmandu and other urban areas. They have been holding a gun in one hand and a white pigeon – a symbol of peace in another. If you are good to them they will show you a pigeon if not they thrust at you with the gun. They are ready to use both the gun and the pigeon to capture the state power. They can be both Jung Bahadur and Buddha as Maoist chairman Prachanda said. They do both good and bad things to you. The good things are that they attempt to expose corrupt people, to right the wrongs things, to control the uncontrollable traffic, to sweep the streets and so on. The bad things are they will give you a good shove if they do not like you. They will forcibly collect money from you if you have, if not, then, ask you to feed some of them. Their leaders have been telling the Nepalese people that all these things have been a thing of the past. However, you need to see it before believing them.
You also have political leaders such as Madhav Kumar Nepal and his colleagues of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML). They talk about many things that hardly make sense. They are at the mercy of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala; however, General Secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal and Education Minister Pradeep Nepal sometimes hit out at the Prime Minister in a rousing speech. They also have the corrupt colleague such as Bam Dev Gautam and a palace man such as Khadga Prasad Oli. Both of them have been the ministers in the past.
The Madheshi people rich and poor as well have been one of the dominant groups engaged in all sorts of business in the Kathmandu Valley and in other urban areas. However, their leaders enjoy saying that the hill people have been dominating them. Some of the prominent leaders have left the parent national parties and joined hands to form a regional party, and run the party from Kathmandu. Thus, they reduced themselves from the national leaders to the regional. A Maoist leader in an interview to the ‘Radio Nepal’ in the morning of January 24, 2008 said that it is the doing of the palace people to garner the support of the Madheshi people for the monarchy. Some of the Madheshi leaders even say that they are not Nepalis. If they are not Nepalis then they might need to hold passports to enter the Nepalese territory. It seems that they want to fish in troubled water.
The poor former Panchas (political activists of the Panchayat system that ended by the people’s movement in 1990) have three political parties in different names to suit the needs of their prominent leaders. One of them called Rastriya Prajatantra Party- Nepal (RPP-Nepal) has been advocating actively for saving the monarchy. However, their monarch did not believe in them that they could save him. So, the monarch has turned his back on them. Currently, the monarch believes that only the leaders of the Nepali Congress could save him, no one else. So, the monarch has been financing the corrupt NC leaders for his survival; probably, they in turn have been providing the funding to the Madheshi leaders for creating chaos in Terai to disrupt the election for a Constituent Assembly scheduled for April 10, 2008. However, it is too late for the monarch to save his institution as most of the new generation Nepalis do not want the monarchy at all. The shrewd political leaders knowing this fact have been going with the tide. However, some former Panchas have been anticipating the political events turn round sharply in their favor as did in the mid 1990s.
The holy river called Bagmati River flowing through the heart of Kathmandu has been the carrier of sewage. Religious Hindus used to go to the Pashupati area and take a dip in the holy water of Bagmati River and then pray to Lord Pashupati at his shrine every morning before eating or drinking anything. Now, the holy river pollutes the areas wherever it passes through.
In 1990, the then-interim Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai told Kathmanduites that he would bring water from the Melamchi River and wash the streets of Kathmandu. It has been already more than sixteen years since Mr. Bhattarai had publicly committed to supply sufficient water to Kathmanduites the shortage of water continued in Kathmandu. The Melamchi Project has been in a mess. While providing the funding to the Melamchi Project, the multilateral donor bank dictates its terms and conditions to the Government of Nepal, and even going beyond the limits of its terms and conditions attempts to impose the contractor of its choice for the project. The Prime Minister and the concerned departmental Minster made money out of the project for which former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and former Departmental Minister Prakash Man Singh served almost a one-year jail term following the ruling of the Royal Commission on Corruption Control (RCCC). The Supreme Court of Nepal released them from the jail ruling the RCCC was unconstitutional and consequently its decisions were unconstitutional, too in 2006.
Most of the smart businesspersons reside in Kathmandu. Many of them make money not doing fair and sincere businesses but defaulting the bank loans, and not paying taxes to the government. If the government attempts to take actions against such businesspersons then they take the issue to the streets shamelessly putting forward various demands. The business leaders are often corrupt people convicted of tax-and-bank-loans defaults. They go on strike if they are not permitted to adulterate the petrol with kerosene.
Kathmandu has been flourishing on the remittances sent by the Nepalese youths working elsewhere in the world. Hundreds of thousands of Nepalese youths have gone abroad to work even putting their lives at risk. Some of them lose their lives because of the accident at the workplace, other lose their lives because of the hostile political environment, and because of the hostile master.
If anything goes not to the likings of the donor agencies and the diplomatic missions in Kathmandu, leaders of the diplomatic missions and the donor agencies are very smart to put pressure on the government of Nepal through a direct talk with the Prime Minister or publicly disclosing their displeasure. They shamelessly could do so as the government has been heavily dependent on them.
Kathmandu, it must be a tremendous pressure on you to hold on all sorts of corrupt people, accept all sorts of pollutions such as the air and water pollution, political and social pollution, and last but not least the pollution caused by the interferences of the donor agencies and the diplomatic missions in the internal affairs of Nepal.