Cobbler puts best foot forward for Nepal polls

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : Bhagnarayan Mahara shares his surname with Nepal’s powerful Information and Communications Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, a Maoist. But the similarity ends there – at least so far.

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Unlike politician Mahara, who is surrounded by armed bodyguards, the wiry Bhagnarayan is surrounded by shoes.

For several years now, the 30-something cobbler who comes from the Chamar community, which was once regarded as untouchable, has been a familiar face in the Patan area of Kathmandu Valley, once the site of a powerful kingdom, where he repairs and shines passersby’s shoes.

Now, however, he is poised for a new identity.

Bhagnarayan aims to be a giant-killer in the April 10 election, in which he is taking on Madhav Kumar Nepal, a former deputy prime minister and chief of the third largest party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML).

Bhagnarayan has been fielded as a contestant from the valley’s ward 2 by a Terai party, Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandi Devi).

Sadbhavana itself has little clout now, thanks to continued splits in the party, and is unlikely to make a dent in Nepal’s bastion. However, Bhagnarayan feels he can still swing the vote of the have-nots.

“In this election, people will not vote for the candidate who comes campaigning in a swanky car,” he says. “The poor are going to vote for the poor.”

While Nepal rubs shoulders with foreign ambassadors and ministers, Bhagnarayan is illiterate and, due to poverty, unable to send his seven children to school.

To kick off his campaign for the April 10 election, he bought a mobile phone this week.

“I had been saving the money to celebrate Holi (the festival of spring),” he says. “But after being given the ticket, I decided to buy a mobile phone so that it is easier to ask the people to vote for me.”

Interestingly, Bhagnarayan is not a newcomer in the political ring. Almost 10 years ago, he had fought a local election from Pipariya village as a UML candidate.

But he decided to switch camps, he says, when he discovered that the communists were not really pro-people.

The aspiring giant-slayer, who is fighting Nepal’s first historic constituent assembly election, is not exactly sure what a constituent assembly is.

“We never had one before,” he scratches his head in perplexity. “So I don’t have any idea what it is.”