The streets of Kathmandu wear the look of a city that has freshly emerged from a revolution of sorts. The streets are still fresh with the slogans, posters and banners demanding the end of monarchy and proclaim the will of the people – democracy. They remind one of the country-wide protests that caught international attention during the month of April. UN vehicles & police patrols are a frequent site on the roads as they attempt to monitor and maintain peace in the country. From my own experience, I got a sense that there has been a lot of internal migration from rural areas to urban ones, especially Kathmandu. This is likely to have been fuelled by the armed struggle that has plagued the country for a long time now. Foreign tourists, who could be seen swarming the streets of Kathmandu until a few years ago, are a rare sight today. Tourism, which is one of the main sectors of the economy, has taken a beating and the sector has been forced to reduce prices drastically to attract tourists.
As the country is moving towards normalcy and as the economy recuperates from the crisis, talks are on between the Seven-Party alliance (the seven top political parties) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) to form a constituent assembly and hold general elections to the National Assembly. They want to redraft the constitution of Nepal and establish a sound multi-party democracy, while stripping the monarch of all his powers, even ceremonial ones. The Seven-Party alliance is also initiating confidence building measures to ensure the continued buy-in of the Maoists in the peace process. The ceasefire agreement has marked the end of over a decade-old armed struggle by the Maoists and they are actively trying to enter mainstream politics.
As I went out with our field partner to administer the questionnaires, I realized that there is an increasing sense of despair in the country. Though the people have been successful in reinstituting democracy, they are confused about the future state of their nation and their own lives. I also spoke to a small group of businessmen in one of the main commercial towns of Nepal. Though they welcomed democracy, they were apprehensive about the fate of their businesses if a Maoist government came to power because Maoists advocate complete equality amongst the ‘producers’ and the ‘peasants’ – an idea abhorred by capitalists. They are also worried about “forced donations” by the businesses to support the Maoist cause. While the Maoists are appreciated for their views on undoing the caste system in the society, equal rights for women etc., critics are quick to point out acts of violence and human rights violations. But, it needs to be kept in mind that the country hasn’t had a good experience with democracy either. It had over 10-12 different government in about as many years! The instability of democracy and the discomfort with Maoism is adding to the confusion & woes of the people.