Friday, August 15, 2008

New Prime Minister

"Breaking news" – Maoist leader Prachanda elected Prime Minister of Nepal.

This is on all the news wires (by all I mean BBC and the local Nepali TV stations).

As I get key from hotel lobby, four people cluster around the TV, watching the live coverage of Prachanda delivering his acceptance speech. I ask, “Is this good news or bad news?”

“Very good news,” says the man who’s behind the desk. I want to ask more, but there's not much more we can say between my Nepali and his English. (Except maybe "where's the toilet?") 30 years old, baby in his lap (his daughter, Elena), middle class for Surkhet standards. Is he the typical Maoist supporter? Did most middle and lower class people in Surkhet vote for the Maoists in April? It seems like it.

What I don’t understand is how Prachanda – the man who led the Maoist insurgency that caused the 10-year civil war where 13,000 people lost their lives – can be so popular. How people who live in towns whose infrastructure was destroyed by Prachanda’s army, who’s women were raped by his soldiers and who’s children were taken for “the cause” – often by force – support this man.

Here in Surkhet I have a burning desire to ask people more about their allegiance to him. Just one conversation would teach me more than any internet search or UN report or International Crisis Group analysis.

I want to loiter where people are watching his speech – in a hotel lobby or outside of a shop – and casually strike up conversation. I’d ask them if they’re happy, if they think his election is good for Nepal.

But for now I’m limited to asking, “Tapaiko naam ke ho?” (What is your name?) and “Tapailai san chai chaa?” (How are you?) and “Charpi kaha cha?” (Where is the toilet?) Arg. More motivation to learn Nepali.

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