-  Sunday 25 February 2018

AP Blog on Nepal's Municipal Elections

KATMANDU, Nepal

You could drive by the Naku Prison without even noticing it. The only tip-off that there's something slightly out of the ordinary is the barbed-wire coiled around the roadside gate, and the watchtower. And, truthfully, a barbed wire gate and watchtower aren't that out of the ordinary in Nepal, even in the middle of a city.

I'm at the prison to meet with two jailed Maoists rebels. One, Matrika Yadav, is the highest ranking insurgent imprisoned by the government. The other, Suresh Ale Magar, is slightly less senior. Both were caught in India and turned over to Nepalese authorities about two years ago.

Remarkably it only takes my passport and the good word of two human rights workers to get inside the prison. Then there's a cursory pat down, a second more thorough search and a warning from a guard that I can only talk to Yadav and Magar, not interview them, a distinction that is lost on me.

Inside, the yard is only a few acres large and ringed by a fairly low brick wall - maybe seven or eight feet at its highest - that's topped with shards of glass. There are trenches encircling the prison building, a rundown brick and cement structure, and little sandbagged bunkers, all of which are facing outward, clearly guarding against an attack, not a prison break.

Loitering in the yard are families that have come to meet imprisoned loved ones. Old mothers, hunched over from a lifetime of manual labor, wives in their best saris, a little girl with a sack of maize that's being searched by guards.

We're shepherded over to the meeting area to wait for Margar and Yadav. They arrive after a few minutes and we take our a seat along cement benches on either side of a chest-high cement wall that's topped by green metal grating. When I press my fingers through the grate to try to do something approximating a handshake with Yadav and Margar, a guard taps me on my shoulder and nicely says in Nepali that touching is not allowed.

So we settle for smiles and make some small talk. Then I get their approval to quote them by name, and we start as the guard listens in, even though he doesn't speak English, and watches as I take notes, not saying a word in protest.

Both exude a lot of confidence for men sitting behind bars.

Within a few minutes it's clear that it's going to be very difficult to build any kind of rapport with Yadav, a trim and neatly groomed man with salt-and-pepper hair, and get him to relax. He doesn't seem the least bit scared of the eavesdropping prison guard. But I don't have a good translator with me and his English is just too limited. Each of our questions is being met with ideological pronouncements about the ``historical inevitability'' of communism or anti-American rants. I'm sure that if we could communicate better, we could spend hours throwing around phrases like ``dialectical materialism'' and other leftistisms that haven't crossed my lips since college.

Magar is a different story. He's a former English literature professor who did his thesis on Jane Austen. He's got on a knit cap and a scraggly beard that go well with his paunch. He smiles easily and talks freely.

What he says, however, is not nearly as comfortable as his manner. He talks of the need to ``eliminate'' class enemies.

He says that once the king is out of the way, the Maoists will be ready to negotiate with Nepal's mainstream politicians and ``won't immediately resort to renewing our armed struggle.'' Of course, ``we may have to at some point in the future.''

As anachronistic as a communist rebellion seems in the 21st century, the Maoists' rhetoric of equality resonates deeply among Nepal's 27 million people. The country is desperately poor - per capita income is $25 a month - and many Nepalis are landless peasants who live in mud and thatch dwellings, toiling in feudal conditions on land owned by a wealthy elite.

Still, many here say the rebels' power is rooted in fear, and I ask Margar about well-documented reports that Maoists routinely torture and execute critics in the third of the country they control, and that they regularly take what they need from villagers, including young men and women, who are pressed into service.

``Those people who say these things - they are scared of us. They are our class enemies, they are the ones whose paradise of plunder will be smashed by the people, they are the ones whose class interests will not be fulfilled because of our party.''

The earnestness with which he makes such strong statements is off-key more than 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and most of the world's communist regimes.

``They failed because the bourgeois forces had not been completely eliminated,'' Margar replies. ``We have learned from their mistakes.''

Source
guardian




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