Dipak Sapkota is the Assitant Editor of The Red Star, which is a progressive english language paper based in Nepal. The Lal Salam blog talked with Dipak and he answered our questions about the radical changes happening in Nepal.
Lal Salam: Nepal is currently going through a very radical time of change, with the declaration of the republic and the abolition of the monarchy. What is the atmosphere like on the streets of Nepal in this time of great changes?
Dipak Sapkota- Yes, as you said, Nepal is going through very historical changes. People celebrated with huge enthusiasm the declaration of Republic. On 28th May, people in the capital city organised rallies and gathered outside the constituent assembly to hear the declaration of Republic. The government announced holiday for three days to celebrate the Republic. People now hope a lot from the first government after the Republic. But at the same time we are suffering from acute fuel shortage and inflation that is hampering our happiness.
LS: The Monarchy has been abolished, but the King remains in the country. Is there any possibility of the Monarchy returning, are there any royalists forces left in Nepal?
Sapkota- The possibility of the Monarchy returning is very less. The king was so infamous and he is not a politically strong man. He was a businessman and he still holds his business. So he may not dare to re-establish monarchy. There is a very small force who still advocate the monarchy. There are only four members out of 601 in the constituent assembly from the Royalist party.
LS: While the monarchy was only officially abolished this year, it lost the majority of its powers in the 2006 Democracy Movement when millions protested in the streets. What was it like during that movement? What was the feeling in the people during that movement?
Sapkota- The People's movement in 2006 was a joint attempt of CPN-Maoist and seven parliamentary parties. The 12-point understanding made on November 2005 was the main inspiration of the movement. People wanted to get rid of Monarchy as well as they had also wanted peace and progress in the country. 21 people were killed during the movement in the cities.
LS: In the corporate media a lot is made of the Young Communist League. Could you tell me more about the young Communist League and the role they are playing in Nepal today?
Sapkota- The League was a semi-military organisation before the Maoist armed movement started in 1996. Many revolution-aspirant youths joined this organisation. Later during the armed movement People's Liberation Army came into existence. The League was overshadowed. After the Maoist agreed on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in November 2006, PLA started to stay in 28 different temporary cantonments. But there were no provisions for thousands of Militias. So the League was again reactivated that organised the militias and youths who joined Maoist at that time. In the past YCL engaged in building roads, controlling crimes, distribution of drinking water in cities, control the frauds at manpower agencies, traffic management, and youth awareness. Now they are busy in collective farming, working for solving the problems of education and unemployment.
LS: The corporate media characterises the YCL as the "young criminals league" and there are many allegations of criminal or violent activities. Is there truth behind the claims of intimidation and violence?
Sapkota- This is the matter of class. The corporate media serves the interests of elite class of Nepal. That means they see the League as the criminals. The activists 'arrested' some most infamous corruptors and handed to the police, that was 'intimidation' and 'violence' for corporate media.
LS: During the Peoples War and the state of emergency enforced by the then Royal Government there were many limitations brought against freedom of speech and the press. What was it like to act as a journalist under those conditions?
Sapkota- Yes, the then Royal Government imposed many restrictions against freedom of speech and the press. They especially attacked the progressive journalists. More than 25 journalists were killed by the state and about 200 arrested during the conflict. There were dangers of being killed by the state at any time.
LS: The progressive press in Nepal often talks of Krishna Sen. Who was he?
Sapkota- He was one of the senior-most progressive journalist in Nepal. He was an editor of a progressive daily 'Janadisha' at the time he was arrested. The police killed him in the custody by torturing him a lot. He was also a revolutionary poet, a soft spoken man and highly respected among the left in Nepal.
LS: There is much talk in he mainstream media about the "authoritarian" tendencies of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) and the media expresses concerns for the freedom of the press. Prachanda was said to have threaded certain media outlets earlier this year. As a journalist, is freedom of speech under threat in Nepal?
Sapkota- This is very common allegation to the left and the revolutionary forces in the world. The Nepali press enjoys a lot of freedom and facilities. The present government is not sole Maoist government. The Maoists have assured multi-party competition and they have time and again expressed their commitment for the freedom of press. Prachanda had not threatened the press but he had requested the media to be serious about the nation before they write.
LS: What role are women playing in the changes in Nepal? What are the conditions like for women in Nepal and are there any signs of improvement?
Sapkota- Woman play a vital role in the change in Nepal. The participation of the women in the People's war was surprising. About 40 percent in the People's Liberation Army were women. Likewise the participation of the women in the movement 2006 was also significant. Now there is about 33 percent women participation in the Constituent Assembly as the result of People's War and people's movement. The present condition of women varies in cities and villages. Women enjoy quite a lot of economical, social and educational rights in the cities whereas in the villages women live in worse condition in terms of all these issues.
LS: Nepal is home to a range of oppressed nationalities, castes or religious groups. What role are these groups playing in the changes in Nepal, and are there signs of improvement for them?
Sapkota- Yes, Nepal is home of range of nationalities, castes and religious groups. These groups are now struggling to institutionalise their rights in the new constitution either through the Constituent Assembly or various activities. They have proportional participation in the Constituent Assembly and the cabinet as well as various government bodies. These groups are enjoying reservation in the civil service, political appointment and they will soon have in security sector too. They are having significant benefits but the advantage is not reaching to the lowest level within these groups too.
LS: The elections to the constituent assembly this year were historic. What was the atmosphere during the elections? Was there any intimidation or fear?
Sapkota- Nepal had the election of the constituent assembly for the first time in Nepal. Nepal waited it for more than 60 years. The participation of the voters was more than 60 percent in the election. The election was like the celebration. Many corporate media reported 'intimidation' and 'fear' but it was not like that. Some parliamentary party leaders who had betrayed the people in the past faced the bitter reaction from the people in the election, some were even chased from the villages.
LS: The changes in Nepal are dramatic and have only been won after years of hard work. What role are youth playing in the political process in Nepal?
Sapkota- The participation of the youth in the People's War and People's Movement was the decisive factor for their success. The 30 thousands strong People's Liberation Army had more than 98 percent youths. More than 60 percent were between 18-25 age group. There are more than eight students unions who are affiliated with different political parties. Likewise four youth organisations who also organise youths for movements and awareness. The youths of Nepal, may be, are the most political conscious youths in the world.
LS: Where do you see Nepal going? Where do you think Nepal will be in the future?
Sapkota- Nepal is still at the crossroad. The Maoist, who lead the government is trying to start a campaign for economic progress and political transformation. But some parliamentary parties are trying hard to foil the government. Nepal needs stability and steady economic progress. As well as the republic should be institutionalised and must be people's oriented. Nepali people hope for a better future.