ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
The easy road, always taken
Publication Date : 07-03-2013
Bandas (shutdowns), like the one called yesterday, are slow days for everyone in Nepal. Family members put on weekend faces with nothing to do as the entire city comes to a close. Offices, schools and businesses are shut. Neighbourhood convenience stores stay open but always with a wary look, ready to close down promptly anytime anything untoward is sensed.
When political demands aren’t addressed, the parties act enforce bandas, with cadres and hooligans patrolling the streets, on the lookout for anyone foolhardy enough to test them. This syndrome has even spread to individuals in Nepal now, where ragtag bands of locals get together and enforce bandas to demand anything from monetary compensation for accident victims to a protesting against fuel prices. Long gone are the days when bandas were an aberration; these regular strikes have now become part of our culture. They have now become the norm, the only mode for political discourse in a country that is stymied time and again by conflicting interests.
However, according to economists, these strikes have massive effects on an already stagnant economy. “While big industries face irregularities, daily wage earners are hit the hardest by these regular bandas,” said Bishwambar Pyakurel, an economist. Pyakurel calls bandas “political terrorism.” As Nepal is already a victim of “informal trade,” bandas help promote such kind of trade by 50 per cent, increasing the import business. According to the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), the country witnesses a loss of nearly 2 billion Nepalese rupees (US$22 million) for every banda day. Not just industries, even the banking and financial sectors are hit hard by these shutdowns. Pyakurel claimed a 10 to 12 per cent business loss in the financial sector. “People feel insecure during these strikes which incite violence and destroy physical infrastructure,” he said.
While others say that as Nepal is chiefly an agro-economy and so, is less affected by regular shutdowns, Pyakurel disagrees. Rural areas have weak law and order situation and bandas are more effective there, he said. Additionally, Nepal’s agriculture transition from traditional to modern farming is also likely to be hit, he said.
Nepali Congress leader Gagan Thapa has a different take on the banda culture, calling it an easy means of protest. “Enforcing a banda requires fewer resources, manpower and effort from organisers. It is the easiest weapon to make noise and get attention,” said Thapa.
Thapa had drafted a resolution to abandon bandas in the now dissolved Nepali Parliament, but it was discarded by all political forces, including his own party.
“The parties refused to accept my modest resolution because they are addicted to the same easy road. Shutting down parliamentary sessions would be more effective than shutting down the entire country,” said Thapa.
Thapa’s proposal gives rise to a question: how should one protest in a country like Nepal? Thapa’s solutions include mobilising people onto the streets to pile pressure on the authorities. “As a democratic nation, we shouldn’t disrupt day-to-day lives, but flood the streets with humanity or protest in an allocated place,” said Thapa. According to him, when protestors are able to gather a mass of people, it will imply to the authorities that a lot of people are serious about the issue being raised.
Another way to discourage banda culture is to charge the perpetrators involved with vandalism and hooliganism. “Most of the individuals engaged in vandalisim in the veil of the banda are not taken action against. Individuals involved in destroying infrastructure should be treated as criminals and punished accordingly,” Thapa said.
Echoing Thapa’s resolution made in the parliament, Pyakurel suggested inter-party consensus to end the banda culture. “Parties should sign an agreement that they aren’t going to rely on bandas and will instead find alternatives,” he said. “The government should study the overall economic losses caused by these closures. Maybe this will help them realise the drawback of this trend.”