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A night's stay
Publication Date : 15-10-2012
Nepal Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, since ascending to the highest office in the land, has been known for the use of political symbolism. In his early days in office, he chose to ride a locally made car, the Mustang Max, to apparently indicate his desire to create a strong indigenous economy capable of supplying the population with necessary goods. Similarly, he has been making it a point to visit places outside the capital, Kathmandu, once a month. Although this came to notice only after he became prime minister, it was a practice that Bhattarai began some time ago. Initially, he visited the various village development committees (VDCs) in his home district of Gorkha. After visiting all of the VDCs in this district, some repeatedly, the PM has now started traveling to remote places across the country, spending the night in the homes of some of Nepal’s most marginalised citizens. Most recently, he spent a night at the home of a Musahar family in Mahottari.
After he became prime minister, there was general public approval of these attempts. But there were detractors then as well. Over time, as disillusionment with the entire political class grows, the numbers of those criticising the prime minister is also increasing. They maintain that acts such as visiting poor people in their houses are only empty political stunts. It instead places a burden upon the families with whom the prime minister spends the night, as well as on the national treasury. In addition, these people receive absolutely nothing in return. Rather than wasting his time visiting remote settlements, the prime minister should focus on bringing about policies and programmes that will benefit large sections of the population. In visiting places across the country, it is said, the prime minister is only concerned about his own personal popularity.
It is true that the bulk of a prime minister’s time and energy should be focussed on policy matters. But political symbolism in democracies holds great value as well, and has to complement the hard policy work. The people among whom he chooses to spend the night have rarely received any attention from the high authorities and it’s a rare opporunity for them to share their grievances with the prime minister. These visits also lead to media attention upon the poorest and the marginalised, who have more often than not been forgotten by their rulers. That granted, the prime minister still can’t dismiss the charges that these visits are often a drain on national coffers—the helicopter flight to Jumla last month must have cost quite a bit, for example.