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NEPAL: Living In a Republic

Mallika Aryal

LELE, Jun 12 2008 (IPS) - A week after Nepal was declared a republic, in the small sleepy town of Lele, some 30 km away from the capital Kathmandu, Dhurba Kumar Sunar, 41, goes about his day like any other.

Laxmi Sunar wants political parties to prove they are better than the monarchy.  Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Laxmi Sunar wants political parties to prove they are better than the monarchy. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Jeweller by profession, he is on a deadline to finish the last pieces of pendant that he has been working on for the last few days. "I don’t have time to think about politics, this is what buys our meals," explains Sunar.

When Nepal was declared a republic last week, there were loud celebrations in Kathmandu. In Lele there were some low-key processions, but most people in the village did not really care. Lele used to be a predominantly Nepali Congress area but in the Apr. 10 constituent assembly election, Maoist Barsha Man Pun Magar defeated his Nepali Congress counterpart Uday Shamsher Rana (15,329 to 14,011 votes).

"Not many in these villages know that Nepal is now a republic, and even those who do know don’t really understand what it means," says Sunar. Once a staunch supporter of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), the third largest party in the present constituent assembly, he joined the Maoist party a few years ago and is now the Lele secretary of the Dalit Liberation Front.

"The Maoist party has done a lot to end discrimination against Dalits and other suppressed groups in the village," says Sunar recalling days when his family was looked down upon, how he was not allowed to sit with high caste people at a tea shop and how he had to wash his tumbler after drinking tea at local tea shops.

Sunar’s wife Laxmi chooses her words carefully. "It is not enough that the king is gone, the political parties have to prove to the people that they are better than him," says Laxmi adding, "until the living standard of people improve, unless there are roads, development, construction, until our kids can go to schools for free and we won’t have to worry about health-care, the king, the Maoists, other political parties are all the same for poor people like us."

At Lele’s local Hindu temple, a priest Ram Prasad Ghimire, 65, receives worshippers who have come from the city. Ghimire knows that the former king Gyanendra was given only two weeks to pack up and leave the palace. "Political parties made mistakes but the poor king was blamed for it," says Ghimire.

Although disappointed with the way the king has been made to leave, he understands that the people want a republic. "But do we just let go of a 240-year institution? Do we stop worshipping the person who we consider the re-incarnation of lord Vishnu? Is it so easy to let go of our values and traditions?" he asks.

Last week, a cabinet meeting decided that the former king, revered as an incarnation of a Hindu god, will be allowed to stay in the Nagarjuna palace, just outside Kathmandu. Meanwhile, another late night meeting of the cabinet on Jun. 8 decided that the wife of late King Mahendra, 80-year old Queen Mother Ratna will be allowed to live at the Mahendra Manjil, which is inside the Narayanhiti palace premises.

In rural Nepal, where the locals were often caught in the crossfire between the army and the insurgents during the ‘People’s War’, there’s an overwhelming sense of hope that with the Maoists in power the war has finally ended.

Many like daily wage worker Asha Kaji Maharjan, is hopeful that things will change for the better. "We have gone through an entire war, voted for the constituent assembly elections, are in the process of writing a new constitution, of course things will be different," says Maharjan.

In Lele town, Bal Krishna Silwal is home on a break from the Nepal army where he has been serving for the last 18 years. Silwal was a part of major operations against the Maoists in west Nepal during the war and is relieved that the war is over. "We are ready to serve whoever is our supreme commander-in-chief," he says.

However, Silwal thinks that the political parties made the decision about the king in haste. "The king would have lost but the right way to go about removing the king would have been to hold a referendum," he says. Like most of his villagers, he says it’ll make little difference whether Nepal is a monarchy or not to the poor people of his village. "People want food, water, employment, roads, development, they don’t care who rules the country," says Silwal.

It is lunchtime and a local tea shop is full of people from Lele and the neighbouring villages. Banu Bahadur Lama is from Sanghumar village, some 20 km from Lele. His son Mim Lama, 20, served in the Nepal Army and was killed in crossfire in Kailali three years ago. Although his entire village voted for the Maoists, he voted for the Nepali Congress. "My son was killed by the Maoists, how could I vote for them?" says Lama.

Since the death of his son, it has been very hard for him to provide two square meals for his wife and three small children. "I don’t care whether Nepal is a republic, or whether the king has left the palace," says Lama. "My son is gone, my life is over and all I worry about is whether I have earned enough today to feed my family."

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