Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In the eye of many storms

In the eye of many storms
In Politics on November 13, 2010 at 12:24 pm

NOV 13 – Fifty-five-year-old Gopal Kiraty’s simple appearance belies his fiery character. His health may be frail—his involvement in the Maoist insurgency has taken quite a toll (veins disorder)—but his fighting spirit remains. He lives in a modest rented apartment in Anamnagar with his wife. This is luxury compared to what a lot of his colleagues in villages have, and he is mindful of the gap it has created. “For the sake of the office I occupy, this is a necessary evil,” he says referring to the apartment and little luxury he can indulge in. Kiraty likes to shake things up. “I am not a media savvy person, but if the things I do drag me to the limelight, that is probably a good thing,” he says. All his modesty and Spartan existence stands in contradiction to his headline-grabbing acts. He has been a controversial figure from his ministerial debut. As the first Minister for Federal and Cultural Affairs of a federal republic Nepal, he tried to launch a ‘nationalistic purge’ in one of the holiest sites of the Hindus, the Pashupatinath temple. He drew up a plan to simplify the administrative units of Nepal by proposing to create 800 districts and seven large metropolises. In the latest instalment of his iconoclastic act, he led the team that hurled shoes at the Indian ambassador to Nepal, Rakesh Sood, triggering a diplomatic crisis. He wasn’t always the firebrand ‘nationalist’ that he is today. In 1983, he nearly became a “mercenary” by joining the British Gurkhas. He says his brother-in-law, Hari Narayan Rai, a local school headmaster in Solukhumbu—who was active in local communist circles—inspired him to change his mind by handing him Seema, a drama about the Gurkhas to read. Kiraty eventually gave up the idea of joining the ranks of the Gurkhas and instead gravitated towards left-leaning politics that led him to join the Maoists. He quickly rose through the ranks to become a politburo member, a Constituent Assembly member and then a minister. His colleagues describe him as passionate, someone who is willing to defy the party leadership. “Only the Chairman can reason with him,” says Hari Bhakta Kandel, a UCPN (Maoist) politburo member who has known him since 2000. Party insiders are quick to claim that none of Kiraty’s actions were in line with party policies. He has little formal education, but doesn’t elaborate on why that was so. Party colleagues in typical communist-lingo say he has no “bourgeoisie degree.” But even without a formal education, Kiraty displays a brand of politics he likes to call nationalistic. For example, he sought the removal of Indian Bhattas (priests) from the Pashupati temple as soon as he became a minister. “The presence of Indian priests epitomized our cultural dependence, in order to change that it was necessary to appoint Nepali priest instead,” he says The opportunity seemed to fall in his lap when the five Bhattas submitted their resignation once the new government was formed. Traditionally, Pashupati priests always tender their resignation in a similar fashion, and by tradition, the government of the day turns it down. Kiraty, instead, accepted the resignation. It was, after all, a Eureka moment for him. “As far as I was concerned, I felt quite relieved that the opportunity had presented itself,” he says. Instead, the acceptance of the resignation snowballed into a much bigger issue. It was immediately brought before the Supreme Court. “Contrary to our expectations, the SC didn’t issue a show cause notice; rather, it issued an interim order. If they would have issued a show cause notice, we would have a strong case in our hands,” Kiraty says. The regulations of Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT) requires that the Mul Bhatta (Chief priest) to be a member of PADT management committee. But that contravenes with Nepal’s constitutional provision that requires any individual to be a Nepali citizen to qualify for political appointments, and this fit with Kiraty’s logic that the chief priest has to be a Nepali citizen to fulfil both the provisions of the constitution and PADT. For seven days until the SC order was received, Nepali priests were in charge. “I think that was quite an achievement. The incident has done much to raise national cultural awareness,” he says, reflecting on the issue now. But Kiraty isn’t just known for the Pashupati controversy. His plans for state restructuring were equally eye-raising when one morning he proposed the country be divided into 800 districts and seven large metropolises. Many saw that as a trial balloon by the Maoists to abandon federalism. But Kiraty refutes the allegations. “There is a narrow understanding of federalism in Nepal. All we want to do is further devolve the power of local bodies in a manner that makes state services easily accessible to all citizens alike no matter where they live,” he says. Kiraty explains his idea further. A trip to access state’s services shouldn’t be more than a day’s work, but that’s hardly the case in many remote districts. A return trip to district headquarter of Sankhuwashaba from Kimathanka is at least 14 days, he says. He feels his proposal is the right pill for ensuring good governance at the local level. “The idea is to make administrative units geographically smaller and closer to where people live,” he says. Kiraty is a political leader who has thrived on controversies, yet he believes the issues he has raised have helped his party mainstream many of its agendas. Though he says the attack on the Indian Ambassador wasn’t premeditated and that the locals got carried away, he doesn’t go quite as far as regretting it. “There are voices, including from within our own party, calling for action against those who threw shoes. It will be wrong to take action against the people and I will not lie low if that happens.” Kiraty argues that unless the Indian state treats Nepal as a “respectable sovereign state”, such protests will continue to happen. “No other ambassador to Nepal has been seen as interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs.” His actions seem to be governed by his reading of Marxist dialectic that encourages controversy and rational discussion to resolve disagreements, rather than practical considerations. That makes him unpredictable and a loose canon at times. But with his recent act, Kiraty is back to what he does best: raise his voice on an issue in a way that makes everybody else as uncomfortable as they can get, including his own party.

No comments:

Post a Comment