The larger picture

Businessmen have gone on an indefinite strike since Monday, demanding security and an end to extortions. The provocation was the beating up of Harilal Shrestha, owner of Hotel Woodland, by people affiliated to the CPN-Maoist. Dozens of businessmen’s associations joined in, announcing closure of industries, including transport and education sectors, until the leaders of the eight parties, including the Prime Minister, meet them and express their commitment to ensure peace and security in the business sector. The attack should be roundly condemned. News of abductions and extortions by the Maoists still makes the headlines after the peace process has come so far — something that should not happen at all.

According to hotel entrepreneurs, Shrestha was taken away from the hotel premises and physically assaulted because he had refused to pay Rs.2 million the Maoists had demanded as “donation”. But CPN-Maoist spokesperson Krishna Bahadur Mahara denied his party’s involvement in the beating-up, describing the incident as an “internal dispute between the proprietor and the workers”. He promised to cooperate with the government to take action against the guilty. The government should investigate the issue and allow the law to take its course. Admittedly, the SPA government has been somewhat lax in maintaining internal security, which is far from satisfactory. The fluid state of national politics and the fact that various disparate forces are at work to gain conflicting ends have also contributed, in no small measure, to this state.

The demand for security is the first right of every citizen. Therefore, the reasonableness of the businessmen’s demands is beyond dispute. It is also true that the present general security situation and the prevailing labour-management disputes across industries will ultimately hurt the economy and the stakeholders themselves. That said, it is questionable that the extreme step of indefinite strike will guarantee better security for the businessmen. Secondly, in future, the businessmen may find it morally difficult to condemn strikes and bandhs called by others. Thirdly, it is difficult, however one may want, to insulate any sector completely from the effects of a poor general security environment. However, things could be improved by talks and cooperation — whether between the SPA and the Maoists, business owners and workers, or any sector (in the present case, the business community) and the government. Problems have often arisen because one or both sides in a dispute have made outrageous demands, resulting, for example, in the spate of strikes and lockouts hitting industries across the country. The need is for a cooperative spirit, the institution of a credible conflict resolution mechanism and an understanding of each other’s problems, capacity and legitimate expectations. Sincere efforts should be made towards these objectives. At the same time, nobody should lose sight of the larger picture. To give stability and prosperity the best chance, it is necessary to bring the peace process to a logical conclusion. And successful holding of the CA elections is key to it.