Call it off

Today is the third day of the nationwide general strike called by the Maoists as part of their programme to protest against tomorrow’s elections for the 58 municipalities. The seven-party alliance has been boycotting the polls in its own way. Both have branded the holding of the polls a government ploy to win legitimacy and to mislead the international community. The boycott seems already to have achieved much of its objective by robbing the polls of legitimacy and credibility at home and abroad. It has ensured that the candidates in the fray for the 4,146 municipal seats number just 1,895, leaving 2,251 seats uncontested. Even among those who have filed their nominations, many remain uncontested, for example, for the post of mayor in 24 municipalities and for deputy mayor in 31. About other important aspects necessary to make the polls a laudable democratic exercise, the less said the better.

In this context, the question arises about the need for such a long period of bandh. A number of mainstream politicians have also urged the Maoists to call it off. Tomorrow, it is widely estimated, voter turnout will be very low, perhaps unprecedented in Nepal. Indeed, the bandh had been announced a pretty long time ago, but even at this late hour, it merits reconsideration. A day of bandh costs millions of rupees to the economy. It affects all sections of society, including transport, education, health services, and business, bringing life to a virtual standstill, and those in need of emergency services, including health, and poor people, particularly the daily wage earners, suffer the most.

In the Kathmandu Valley, some vehicles have been plying and some of the shops have remained open, mainly because of the government’s highhanded way like impounding some 500 passenger vehicles and their legal documents on the eve of the bandh to make sure that vehicles do not stay off the roads, with some of the steerings being reportedly manned by security personnel. Another undesirable practice adopted by the administration in some parts of the country is the pressure it has put on people — e.g. owners or drivers of vehicles and shopkeepers — to defy the bandh, and the blacklisting of those who fail to go along for whatever reasons, mainly fear, for possible punitive action. Besides, the government has hardly ever lived up to its word, either, to provide adequate security and compensation for those defying the bandh. No government with minimum civilised norms should do anything that is likely to bring ordinary people into the crossfire between it and its foes.