|RUMBLE TUMBLE: YCL cadre put on an acrobatic display in Gorkha during campaigning. Not all their activities are so peaceful. |
. As soon as voting ended on 10 April, the NC and UML complained to the Election Commission about intimidation and threats and boycotted vote counting. I filed a live report on this for Kantipur TV on the morning of 11 April and was immediately accosted by Amrit Upadhya, a local Maoist.
. An hour later, Maoist cadres forcibly pulled NC candidate Ramesh Bastakoti from a Kathmandu-bound bus and beat him up. Police took Bastakoti to hospital, but fearing another attack he ran away and hid in a bamboo grove behind the stadium. The Maoists tracked him down and beat him up again. When we arrived to report, the Maoists roughed up journalist Bhimlal Shrestha.
. Vote counting started on the night of 11 April. There was commotion outside. Lawyer Mohan Pokharel was running away from a group of Maoists who were attacking him. They said they wanted to exact revenge for "the blood of our 13,000 martyrs". Pokharel was leaving Gorkha because he felt it wasn't safe, but the YCL pulled him out of the bus at 13km and beat him up.
. On 12 April I got a call. "Not it's the turn of you journalists," an anonymous caller said. YCL activists were walking around with iron rods. They stopped people on the streets and forcibly searched their pockets and bags, sometimes taking away wallets and mobile phones. Some NC and UML activists went underground. Gorkha-based reporters were themselves so afraid they didn't file any of this news.
. I stayed at the counting centre at night on 12 April and told Maoist MP Parashuram Ramtel about the beatings and threats. He told me journalists wouldn't be harmed and we were free to report the facts. Maoist district in-charge Krishna Dhital and Secretary Chudamani Khadka said this wasn't party policy and said there might have been "infiltration". This worried me even more because it meant that if we were harmed the Maoists would simply blame someone else.
. The obstructions and threats had actually started during the election campaign itself. When we reported on excesses they accused us of being anti-Maoist. "Kantipur is a capitalist newspaper, the battle from now is against Kantipur," Maoist district secretary Chudamani Khadka said. We thought this would stop after the elections, but it hasn't.
. On 13 April, New Year's Day, it was still tense. The man mainly responsible for the threats against the media is Amrit Upadhaya, whose exact designation in the party is not clear but he used to be in college with me until he went underground.
. On 14 April it was announced that Babruam Bhattarai had won by 40,000 votes. All three constituencies in Gorkha went to the Maoists.
. The Maoists had planned a victory rally for 15 April. The Maoists threatened us again, saying they'd chase us away "like dogs" if we dared cover it. Chudamani Khadka told us we'd have to walk inside the YCL security cordon. But we feared another attack and left the rally.
. By 17 April we thought the situation had returned to normal and went to Manakamana. But on return, the Maoist threats started again. This time they said they would analyse everyone's election coverage and take action.
. The final results of the PR ballot were also out, but reporting in Gorkha had become hazardous to our health. The police didn't tell me what kind of threat they received, but on 20 April they put me in a van and drove me to Kathmandu where I am now.
Damodar Neupane is the Gorkha correspondent for Kantipur daily and Kantipur TV.