Maoist wave in Nepal’s ‘land of disappeared’

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : A remote backward district in far western Nepal, whose fame for its national park was eclipsed in the decade-long “People’s War” due to a high number of disappearances, arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings, is now seeking to take revenge on the ruling parties by voting en masse for the former Maoist guerrillas.

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As vote counting started in three constituencies in Bardiya district after Thursday’s historic constituent assembly election, the former rebels, who have been campaigning for the state to disclose the whereabouts of hundreds of people missing even two years after the signing of a peace pact, were substantially ahead.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC), which gave carte blanche to the army to stamp out the Maoist movement and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) – once the second largest party – were losing ground in Bardiya, with the Maoists steadily forging ahead in their first national election after 17 years.

In Bardiya Two and Four, Maoist candidates from the Tharu community, freed slaves who are at the bottom of the social ladder, were substantially ahead of the NC and UML as counting started.

In Bardiya One, little known Maoist contestant Sarala Regmi was plodding sturdily ahead of her UML rival, Bamdev Gautam, a veteran politician and one of the mediators who forged an understanding between the rebels when they were underground and the main political parties.

While the NC was ahead in Kathmandu, with the Maoists following a close second, in the outer districts, the former rebels were ahead in the race.

Maoist Minister For Information and Communications Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who is also the spokesman of the Koirala government, was way ahead of his nearest NC contender Anita Devkota in Dang district, a Maoist stronghold in midwestern Nepal.

In the tourist district of Chitwan, famed for its rhino park, Maoist strategist Ram Bahadur Thapa aka Badal was leading the race.

In Banke, the Maoists were ahead in Constituency Four, while debutant ethnic party Madhesi Janadhikar Forum was leading in Constituency Three.

Even in Palpa district, the site of a devastating attack by the Maoists during the last days of King Gyanendra’s rule, the Maoists were well ahead.

Maoist chief Prachanda, who is vying from Kathmandu 10 as well as Rolpa, the cradle of the Maoist movement, was leading in the capital while the Election Commission said vote counting was yet to start in Rolpa because of its remoteness.

As Maoists routed the UML, only a small, localised Left party stood its ground.

The Nepal Workers and Peasants Party (NWPP), a minor partner in the ruling alliance, held its traditional bastion Bhaktapur town in Kathmandu valley defending it stoutly against both the NC and Maoists.

NWPP chief Narayan Man Bijukchhe was winning from Constituency One, while his lieutenant Sunil Prajapati was leading over his nearest rival, NC’s Lekhnath Neupane, in Constituency Two.