The fabric of democracy

One sure sign that Nepal’s politics is once more heating up can be discerned these days at the workshop of Mihtila Printing Suppliers in Bagbazar.

The factory cannot churn out party flags and banners fast enough for the many street demonstrations that are taking place against Prime Minister K P Oli’s dissolution of the Lower House.

Whether it is the anti-Oli faction of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), the opposition Nepali Congress (NC), the Hindu-right Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) or the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP), they are all on the streets.

Even supporters of Prime Minster Oli’ s faction of the NCP have been holding their own rallies across the country, and they are already behaving as if they are on the campaign trail.

A man sewing flags in a factory in Nepal.

All these parties need flags and banners, which means flag-makers like Mithila Print Suppliers are working overtime to fulfil orders. In fact, there has not been a moment’s rest for the owners and workers in the past month, ever since the House dissolution on 20 December.

Inside the printer’s shop there is an overwhelming smell of wet paint, as workers use screen print to produce flags with the NC symbol of a green tree. Nearby, there is a whir of sewing machines as tailors stitch the four stars into the NC’s red-and-white flags.

Screen printing process.

"We have sold so many flags for various parties, I have lost count,” says Kailash Shah, owner of Mithila Printing Suppliers. His main business used to be printing t-shirts and caps, but he diversified into flags and banners after finding there was higher demand for them.

“We are really busy at election time and during party conventions, but this year with the house being dissolved, and election dates announced, it has been even more hectic,” says Shah.

A woman hangs the flag to dry.

Indeed, Shah and his colleagues are struggling to meet an order for Nepali Congress flags from not just Kathmandu but all over Nepal after the party announced nationwide protests. The shop is producing 1,500 flags a day in assembly-line fashion.

The process starts with tearing up taffeta into the required size, and screen printing the party symbol on it. The ink on the flags are air-dried for a while, their borders are sewed, and then packed for delivery.

Some of these flags could be seen at the NC’s demonstrations this week in Kathmandu, and at all 753 electoral constituencies across the country. The party has announced ward-level programs in 67,743 wards all over Nepal on 21 January.

The Nepali Congress itself is split between Sher Bahadur Deuba, who has not decided yet whether to join anti-Oli protests by the NCP faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal. However, his internal party rival, Ram Chandra Poudel wants to campaign for the restoration of the House.

Meanwhile, the Dahal-Nepal faction of the NCP has announced its own nationwide protests, including a big one in Kathmandu, on Friday 22 January even as the Supreme Court is debating 13 writ petitions against Prime Minster Oli’s move.

Dahal himself has threatened to “unleash a hurricane” against the move, and said that his faction’s protests would no longer be “vegetarian”. Commentators have taken that to mean his faction’s supporters will be using some measure of force during the rallies.

Flags left to dry.

Nepali Congress flags on the foreground with blurred poles at the back.

Even the underground Netra Bikram Chand-led Maoist party has announced a week-long agitation to protest the government’s arrest of the head of its western command, Dharmendra Bastola. The group has also threatened to enforce a nationwide strike on 21 January.

Monika Deupala


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