It’s a crime not to call it terrorism

Photo: SETOPATI

The terror attack on the Ncell head office in Lalitpur that cost the life of Sing Prasad Gurung and seriously injured three others on the night of 22 February proved that the Nepal conflict never really ended.

The ten year war cost 17,000 lives, left tens of thousands injured, and 1,400 disappeared. Thirteen years after the war ended, one more innocent civilian was killed last week. 

Read also: Terror attack leaves tragedy in its wake, Sonia Awale

A hardline faction of the Maoist party led by Netra Bikram Chand (Biplav) has owned up to the attack, and said the death was ‘unfortunate’. Chand used to be close to the current Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, but never took part in elections, accusing his former comrades of ditching the revolution.

On the night of the attack on Ncell, the party also set fire to a dozen of the Malaysian-owned company’s cell phone towers across the country, causing damage worth millions and cutting off communications to a large swathe of the country. 

There was shock and dismay in the Nepali cybersphere following the attack, with a lot of the scorn heaped on the government for not bothering to issue a statement or commiserate with the bereaved Gurung family. 

Read also: 

Stop the extortion, From the Nepali Press

Extortion in a federal state, From the Nepali Press

“Yes, we put that bomb”, From the Nepali Press

‘A foreign ambassador condemned the terroist attack, but our own prime minister did not utter a word. He hasn’t visited the family to offer his condolences,’ wrote Salokya in a hard-hitting blog in the portal mysansar.com  ‘We often wish that others would not comment on our internal affairs, but what do we do when we ourselves do not speak up at a time like this.’  

Journalist Girish Giri, whose father was killed while mayor of Birganj in 2004 for ignoring a Maoist ransom demand for Rs500,000 attached a copy of the extortion letter, and wrote in a Tweet: ‘Don’t those who are barking ‘I will whack you for extorting’ now have to answer for killing my upright father precisely for not coughing up five lakhs? Or are these rulers going to keep on barking?’ (See screenshot above)

Indeed, Nepal’s social media has erupted with accusations against the Biplav group attacking Ncell as part of a nationwide extortion racket that to many is reminiscent of the war years. Some have wryly noted the similarity between the Nepali word for ‘donation’ (chanda) and the surname of Netra Bikram Chand. 

In a BBC Nepali interview, Maoist leader Hemanta Oli said this week: “A life was lost, but little things like that happen in revolutions. We do not deliberately target people. It was an accident.”

Many have also remarked that the ex-Maoists in the unified Nepal Communist Party (NCP) cannot really blame the Biplav faction of extortion and terror because those were very tactics they themselves used in the past. Although Biplav’s former bodyguard was reportedly detained on Wednesday, the NCP’s former Maoist home minister has shown no real inclination to go after a group that has unleashed a wave of terror nationwide.  

By their silence, the former UML members of the NCP have shown they are also complicit in not going after the perpetrators. Although the UML is probably the least guilty of human rights violations during the war, its members have lost moral standing by not even condemning the attack.

Many senior UML leaders had thought that uniting with the Maoists would moderate the former guerrillas, but it is now looking more and more like the UML itself has been subsumed by the Maoists. 

Pushpa Kamal Dahal earned legitimacy from the unification with the UML, returned to a position of power after elections in 2017 that he would have lost if the Maoists had contested alone, and he managed to muffle accusations of war crimes.  

For its part, the UML by uniting with the Maoists has sacrificed its social democratic credentials, and its silence in not condemning last Friday’s terror bomb speaks louder than words. The UML’s strong party structure has been compromised, its local committees are in limbo.

Meanwhile, the Maoists within the NCP are not socialised into democratic functioning and essentially remain a sub-party taking orders only from Dahal and not from Oli. In fact, the ex-Maoists are doing everything in their power to embarrass the former UML, and have let Oli be their lightning rod.  

The Home Ministry which should have been the first-responder in last week’s bomb attack and arson on telecom towers is run by a Maoist commandant-turned-minister who used to be Biplav’s buddy. He is the last person to go after the one who gave the order to bomb Ncell and kill Sing Prasad Gurung.

It is time Prime Minister Oli defended the social democratic values his party once stood for, reshuffle his Cabinet to get a minister with cleaner democratic credentials, and if need be, start thinking about post-nuptial arrangements.   

Kunda Dixit

writer

Kunda Dixit is the former editor and publisher of Nepali Times. He is the author of 'Dateline Earth: Journalism As If the Planet Mattered' and 'A People War' trilogy of the Nepal conflict. He has a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University and is Visiting Faculty at New York University (Abu Dhabi Campus).

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