EDITORIAL: Stop attacks

The ruling party must keep its cadres under control, and the police should take action against those involved in physically intimidating the NC leader and others

The very essence of democracy will die down when citizens are prevented from airing their views publicly and freely, without any fear of reprisal, threat or intimidation. Nepal’s constitution has guaranteed its citizens the universal values of democracy – freedom of speech, freedom of movement, right to information and right to assemble peacefully, to name a few. It is the duty of the powers that be to protect the rights of the people, no matter what. If the people cannot express their views freely, we must construe that the government is taking a path towards authoritarianism, which will ultimately muzzle the voices of all people. After the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) came to power about one-and-a-half years ago with almost a two-thirds majority, people had hoped that the country would move towards stability and prosperity, upholding the democratic norms and values. Sad to say, nothing has happened on most fronts. The government is hell bent on suppressing opposition voices and media freedom by introducing draconian bills to curtail the citizens’ fundamental rights.

No sooner had cadres of the ruling NCP brutally attacked Gyanedra Shahi, a self-declared anti-corruption campaigner, in Chitwan on Saturday than they made another attempt on Minendra Rijal, a Nepal Congress lawmaker and the party’s central working committee member, in Tanahun’s Rising Rural Municipality on Sunday. Rijal had gone there to lay the foundation stone of the rural municipality office building as per the decision of the elected officials. The photographs run by various media outlets depict the NCP cadres brandishing khukuris, spears, sticks, beer bottles and stones in a bid to prevent him from doing so. They had even felled trees all along to prevent him from reaching there. The local NCP cadres claimed that they were opposed to the proposed site for the office building.

Making an attempt to physically harm a responsible opposition leader and preventing him from performing his job is a flagrant attack on democracy, human rights and freedom of expression. It reminds us of the brutal scenes of Rwanda, where rival groups provoked their cadres to kill their opponents, forcing millions of people to flee the country. Police also remained a mute spectator to the attacks on Rijal. It reminisced about the Panchayet-era mandales (hooligans) who were instructed from above to brutally attack those people having dissident views. NCP cadres in Tahanu and Chitwan displayed similar characteristics as instructed by their leaders, including the PM and NCP Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, both of whom have repeatedly called upon their cadres to “counter” the opposition just like a “swarm of hornets”. Dissident voices cannot be suppressed by resorting to violent attacks on the people who are opposed to government actions. If such acts continue unabated, they will backfire on the ruling party and its government, which has lost popular support already for its failure to deliver services to the people. If an opposition leader is unsafe from the ruling party cadres, who else will stay safe from them? The ruling party must keep its cadres under control, and the police should take action against those involved in physically intimidating the NC leader and others.

Melamchi deadline

The government has finally assigned a Chinese company, Sinohydro, to complete the remaining construction works of the Melamchi Water Supply Project, which has been stalled after the Italian contractor left the scene in December. But can we rest assured that the project will get completed within the deadline of a year, or by October 28, 2020, stipulated in the agreement? The project seems to be jinxed, having faced one problem after another, leading to extremely long delays and cost overruns. Although the idea to develop the Melamchi was floated during the partyless Panchayat era, which collapsed in 1990, it got started only in 2009.

Security is a major issue in completing any project in Nepal, and the Melamchi is no exception. It is good that the Armed Police Force has been deployed to provide security to the project site. Unhappy workers and petty contractors had staged protests over uncleared dues by the previous Italian contractor and threatened to stop all construction work. The Melamchi project has kept shifting its deadline, to the chagrin of Kathmandu’s inhabitants, but hopefully the October 2020 will be the final.