This year’s festive cacophony is well past us. Finally, you can read, write, think or take a walk under the influence of thoughts, without worrying as to when another cracker blast would shake you from within.
What a relief, isn’t it?
Looking back, one can hardly forget the peaceful and environment-friendly manner in which the nation used to celebrate festivals. With the imported cacophony getting louder and louder, gone are the days, especially in mega cities, of Deusi, Bhailo, Maruni naach (dance), Sorathi, swings of different types like Charkhe (shaped like the Charkha, the spinning wheel) and Rote (round) and many other traditional features of our festivals. The rapid fading of our soothing Maalshri and other features amid thunderous blasts does not augur well.
The environment and public health are what suffer the most during festivals of different hues and shades.
This festive season too, the tidings were not that encouraging in terms of the above-mentioned factors.
Indian media outlets reported about worsening air quality in major cities like New Delhi, Mumbai and Lucknow, thanks to celebratory firecracker blasts mainly during Tihar/Deepawali (Diwali in their parlance). Our own mega cities hardly slept, with cracker blasts every now and then, despite a ‘blanket ban’ on the import of these explosive materials, as if pollution bound to enter the country from the neighborhood were not enough, apart from ‘homegrown’ pollution.
Did these blasts, which took place despite the ‘draconian measure in place against cracker imports’, give our law enforcement a tough time? Perhaps they did, or they didn’t. With provincial and federal elections around the corner, law enforcement has its hands full anyway; it has more important things to attend to rather than bothering about celebratory blasts and their impact on the environment as well as public health.
Who cares about the quality of air we all breathe? Who cares about the deafening noise? Who cares about the poor old environment and our lives, in their totality?
The Indian government did its precious bit by releasing air quality index regularly, but what did our government do? Let the government speak for itself.
After these blasts came what is, most probably, the world’s largest man made fire event. Air quality was bound to deteriorate further in Nepal as well, with farmers in Punjab and Haryana burning stubble post-harvest in large swathes to provide ‘nutrients’ to the soil, even as the Indian government looked on instead of intervening. Isn’t it some relief that our farmers have yet to learn this ingenious way of ‘keeping’ the soil fertile?
Interestingly, all this was happening amid the Climate Change Conference 2022 in Shram El-Sheikh, Egypt.
On the heels of it came the season of election campaigns riding on the wheels. Streets and neighborhoods reverberated with patriotic songs blared through loudspeakers mounted on campaign vehicles of different political parties and independent candidates.
Wonder of wonders, cities and rural areas of the country reported the sighting of the rarest of the rare breed of homo sapiens—the political leaders, especially the repeat offenders (in reference to the leaders’ repeated failure to keep their promises to the electorate) with their henchmen in tow along with some new, some old promises.
Thanks to upcoming elections, a former prime minister is busy canvassing in his constituency in Gorkha after crossing a brook riding piggyback on a lesser mortal (where’s the bridge, comrade?), while another former PM is at his rhetorical best while campaigning, firing counter-salvos at a journalist-turned-politician. Will his salvos translate into gains for the political party he leads? Citing the last election, some reports have pointed out that the party in question lost in constituencies where the party chief had addressed campaign rallies! Ironic if these reports are true, isn’t it?
Still, other candidates—new and old—are trying to reach out to local communities with whom they have a disconnect of about five years or so, in a desperate bid to win hearts and minds. These days, you can find these candidates doing things like playing cards, harvesting paddy, plowing the fields, having tea and chit-chat with local communities, making up for years of growing apart.
So much so, even the head of the government has found time to visit his constituency in Dadeldhura in the Far-Western Province, days after a 12-year-old died on the banks of the Mahakali river. The boy died when one of those shrapnel-like stones flying from an Indian contractor-operated site hit him in the course of work meant to develop a road link between Uttaranchal and Tibet via Lipulek. Remember? Lipulek forms part of the 400-sq km Limpiadhura-Lipulek-Kalapani region that Nepal says belongs to her.
This came barely a year after a local youth from Darchula district in the same province, Jaysingh Dhami, went missing into the Mahakali river as Indian security personnel allegedly untied the metal twine despite desperate SOS from the people waiting to cross the river via the same thing. Talking about the Lipulek-Kalapani-Limpiadhura region, Mahesh Singh Dhami, a young engineer and independent candidate for the Provincial Assembly from Dadeldhura constituency-3(A), said in a recent interview with this journalist that border disputes fester on because Nepal’s rulers raise the issue only when untoward incidents take place instead of bothering to resolve the disputes through sustained talks.
Amid the rising election fever, media outlets showed the prime minister clad in Daura Suruwal walking along a dirt road stretch in his constituency with the security detail and the first lady, with much difficulty, in a reminder that time wounds all heels as Groucho Marx rightly said. While the incumbent is intensifying his election campaign, a rival candidate, Sagar Dhakal, has leveled serious allegations against the incumbent government. In a recent social media post, the engineer-turned-politician accused government authorities of not allowing him to campaign. On its part, the district administration office has refuted the charges.
For obvious reasons, Dadeldhura is the epicenter of federal and provincial elections. Distress calls coming from the epicenter may have a bearing on the credibility of the elections, so the Nepali state should probe them with due seriousness and address genuine grievances.
The country as a whole is faring no better than the road in question. The road is a powerful satire on political leaders, who got the popular mandate time and time again to transform the country for the better but ended up making the country and the people more and more miserable.
In the novel Gone with the Wind that centers on the American Civil War (April 12, 1861-April 9, 1865), Rhett Butler explains to Scarlett O’Hara, the heroine: “I told you once before that there were two times for making big money, one in the up-building of a country and the other in its destruction. Slow money on the up-building, fast money in the crack-up. Remember my words. Perhaps they may be of use to you someday.”
Our leaders, barring a few exceptions, have put the Carpetbaggers of the civil war to shame, prospering while pushing the country on a downward spiral for decades on end.
This time around, though, there are signs of the electorate awakening, if media reports and social media posts are any indication. In the course of the above-mentioned interview, Dhami, the Darchula-3 (A) candidate, had expressed confidence about his victory. This gives us hope, albeit faint, that an untried, un-tested and uncorrupted crop of leaders will get a fair chance this time.
Our political system is rotting, thanks to our decades-old political leadership that is rotting from the head, bothered, as it is, only about partisan, familial and individual interests. The system needs a thorough cleansing; spring cleaning won’t be enough.
Who will do the dirty work if not the electorate?