>> Monday, September 22, 2008
By Ajay Pradhan | September 22, 2008
Dogmatic pronouncements on people's faith and culture can hardly stand the test of times. Finance minister Baburam Bhattarai made a decision to cut off funding for the celebration of the age-old Indrajatra festival, apparently without the consent of the cabinet or consultation with his peer, the Minister for Culture.
This issue has demonstrated that Mr. Bhattarai has made mistakes at multiple levels. We know that when a minister, without cabinet approval, starts trespassing on the jurisdiction of other cabinet colleagues, that invites controversy. Mr. Bhattarai either seemed oblivious of this administrative faux pas or simply didn't care. Was it a simple administrative oversight or a proof that the second in command in the CPN-Maoist party has disdain for his own cabinet colleagues?
By cutting off funding for the celebration of Kathmandu's festive icon that Indrajatra is, Bhattarai has proven himself to be a myopic politician burdened with his communist ideological baggage with thinly veiled intention of turning the society into one devoid of faith and culture. Somebody needs to remind him that he ought to quit dreaming of such a day.
As a government minister and most definitely as a finance minister, Bhattarai does have an administrative right and power to make decisions concerning fund allocation. But, his decision to cut funding for a cultural celebration smacked of a hideous intention that can only be interpreted as the first step towards making an attack on people's faith and culture.
When his budget decision incited public demonstration in the streets of Kathmandu, he confronted his own senior cabinet colleague, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bamdev Gautam. Bhattarai reportedly threatened Gautam, who is from the governing coalition partner CPN-UML, that if Gautam didn't send the police to take control of the demonstrating masses, he'd send his Maoist YCL members to do it. YCL (or the Young Communist League) is a youth militia of the Maoist party, who engages in vigilantism. That is astounding. A senior minister, who is second in command in his ruling party, threatens to use militia against Nepali people; and he expects the people to remain docile? Mr. Bhattarai needs to wake up from his slumber.
On Sunday, taken aback by the ferocity of demonstration and sensing a political mess he has gotten himself into, Bhattarai relented and issued a press release, effectively withdrawing his previous decision to cut off funding.
The issue is not really about funding, which, I hear, is only a matter of about Rs. 15,000. What's Rs. 15,000? That's only a little over $200. Public outrage surely can't be because of that meagre amount of money. Anybody can raise that much money within a matter of minutes. The issue is about a perceived attack on people's faith and culture, an attack that is steeped with communist social ideology.
This is not the first time the Maoist politicians have displayed their disdain for icons of cultural significance. Not too long ago, a Maoist politician was reported by the media as saying that the the age-old tradition of revering Kumari, the living Goddess, is outdated and must be ended. Such statements bathed in political ideology are sensational and only incite public outrage.
Bhattarai, a communist ideologue, together with his Maoist party, has tasted a first dose of failure on this issue. Too bad for him, he brought it upon himself without anybody helping him. Next time he has an itch for making a unilateral decision on matters of cultural and religious significance, he shall be better off consulting with the stakeholders first.