Nepal: On A Green Path to Democracy
Interview with Secretary of Nepalese Green Party
By Sola Sarmiento
Maitalal Gurung is the International Secretary of The Green Nepal Party and in 1997 helped formed the GNP. On invitation by the GPUS International Committee, he attended the Green Party Presidential Convention in Milwaukee last July. He recently visited California, and describes Nepal's current political climate and his role in bringing Green politics to his country.
"My country has been under increasing civil unrest", Since 1996, over ten thousand people have died from the rural insurgency", states Mr. Gurung. After most of the Nepal's Royal family was murdered in 2001, the succeeding heir, King Gyanendra, came into power. The parliament was then dissolved by the prime minister in the following year. Gyanendra, in a Time interview this year, claimed it was necessary or "Nepal would be in a worse situation than it is today". But the five major Parliamentary parties have declared the act to be unconstitutional under Nepal's constitutional monarchy. Since then, there have been general strikes, weekly demonstrations and increased militant fighting. It has led to the arrest and disappearance of hundreds of people, as reported by Amnesty International.
For one month in April, the royal government restricted the right to peaceful expression and assembly, allowing police sweeps to arrest anyone engaged in 'suspicious behaviors', which has caused a deepening human rights crisis. The king recently lifted his ban under growing pressure from human rights organizations and from a resulting unstable economy. Yet, there is little indication that the civil unrest is abating. His spirits troubled, Mr. Gurung describes his country as "being in a state of civil war" and fears "that large-scale violence in the countryside is about to erupt, killing more innocent people".
In keeping with Green Party values, Mr. Gurung does not agree with the violent methods of the insurgents, but agrees with their platform. Political ideas such as creating a secular society, social reforms for women, free access to education and health care, nationalization of industries, and equal opportunity for all citizens resonates with his beliefs.
Fundamental changes are already beginning to be implemented by the rebels, such as redistribution of land, forms of collective farming, women's ownership to land, removal of laws and social practices that discriminate against the lower caste, and punishment for wife beatings and rape. In the meantime, ongoing general strikes where millions of people are shutting down towns and cities all over Nepal continue. The influence of the rebels "have successfully demonstrated their political clout in the Himalayan kingdom" as reported by the BBC.
In today's situation, where the U.S. attempts to label any movement that dares to challenge corrupt regimes as 'terrorists', political struggles for democracy around the world is not well understood. "The U.S. last year provided $24 million in military aid to Nepal" helping to quell the protest movement. Mr. Gurung points out, " This is not really about a communist revolt, but a social and cultural revolution. The upheaval has come about because the establishment has not addressed the problems of the indigenous people. Unless they are brought into mainstream politics, the rebellion will still persist, even if the Maoist insurgency is somehow resolved. If we are to have genuine peace talks -- indigenous people, women and the 'untouchables' must be represented".
Up until three days before flying to Milwaukee, Mr. Gurung, on his own accord, went to the Nepal countryside attempting a peacemaking dialogue between the insurgents and government military forces. He was almost shot twice under these strained circumstances. Yet, his mission remains undaunted. He is anxious to return with plans to run as a Green Party candidate in parliament, once elections are restored.
Mr. Gurung, who has visited the New Zealand to study and understand the key values of the Green Party, point's out the growing pains of GNP: "We are still in our infancy. Since the majority of our leaders are from the Hindu Brahmin caste, the issue of giving rights to "untouchables" is not being adequately addressed. Nepal's constitution is very biased and extends rights only to the Brahmin elite, ignoring the 'untouchables' and the multi-ethnic majority. Unless the 'untouchables', women, and the indigenous people in Nepal are given equal rights and represented in government, the unrest will continue." 70% of Nepal's indigenous people live in the countryside, and many are still uneducated and illiterate. Most of them cannot feed their families on their small plots of land, and are constantly being ripped off by their landlords, corrupt officials and surreptitious politicians.
"The GNP calls itself the 'anti-corruption' party, to counter the practice of corruption in government politics, common in Nepal. It is well known in political circles that only 40% of foreign aid is being used for public programs. Yet, you see government officials on fixed incomes building million dollar homes. International aid is used to maintain to the status quo", Mr. Gurung's voice rising in anger.
The contradictions are glaring. With the highest mountains in the world, Nepal has the potential to become the world's second highest hydro-power producer. Mr. Gurung comments, "We depend on and import fossil fuels" and only 10% of the population is connected to electricity. Despite the many river run-offs from the Himalayas, there is a significant water shortage in the cities. The World Bank has offered government loans to privatize and rebuild an extensive water system into the growing cities. But for the average impoverished Nepalese, a water tax to repay this debt would be exorbitant and unaffordable. "There is much social opposition to this plan", states Maitalal.
Mr. Gurung remains hopeful about the potential influence of Green politics in his country. Through the financial assistance of Denmark, sustainable energy was recently given an upstart in Kathmandu. The city, which sits in a valley and is well trekked by international tourists, now widely uses electric three-wheel taxis for public transportation.
For now, Mr. Gurung continues his stay in the U.S. to observe how Greens, such as San Francisco's Terry Baum, conduct their political campaigns. His interests also go beyond electoral politics. Besides sustainable energy, he is also concerned with the use of genetic modification in foods. He recently attended a Green fundraiser in Humboldt County which promoted a county initiative for GMO-free crops to be only grown.
Sola Sarmiento lives in Santa Cruz, California and is a member of the GPCA International Steering Committee.
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