Introduction To Nepalese Politics: The Reds / by Thomas-Xavier Christiane

Communist rally, New Baleshwor, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2017

Communist rally, New Baleshwor, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2017

I made my first encounter with the Himalayan Politics in November of 2017. Getting contacts and information was not easy. No one wants to talk about his private times in a country where the food is spicy most of the time. Until one day I invited Laxmi, a local photographer, for a coffee. After a few conversations, he said « Tomorrow, you go 7am Ghattekulo. Big NC meeting. » Through my basic knowledge in Nepali politics at this time, I knew that NC meant Nepali Congress, the right wing party.

For Nepalese reasons, I arrived at 11. I was expecting to see how the Nepali conservative party would look like. But instead, I found myself in a small street surrounded by people carrying communists flags « Hey bro, take a photo!  - Sure! ». This is how I began to follow communists in the streets.

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Meet Saurav, 22 years old. He was studying tourism and managing a small business. « Tourism is good money ». When i asked him if all his family was communist he said: « No, my family Nepali Congress. I have big clash with my father home. ». Saurav was furiously involved in the organizations of processions for Anil Sharma, the main candidate for the Maoist party in Kathmandu. He used to write me someday: « Hey bro, the community wants the pictures, please send me » or « You think Nepalese people are foolish and you are selfish »

I started to follow this procession of people to find out what they were doing. « We are going door-to-door to convince people to vote for Anil. ». A political processions in Nepal is something I had never witnessed. The candidate was dressed in a suit. He walked with a bodyguard carrying a gun and was surrounded by a crowd. One man was carrying a speaker blasting traditional music as loud as possible. Another was carrying a speaker blasting communist messages. Every now and then, the crowd paused and everybody began dancing. At the same, the candidate would go inside someone’s house preaching the good words of communism.

Since I had no idea of whom I was hanging out with, I asked questions. «  Why communism? - I like communism. People equal, I like that ». To another, questions about the candidate. « In Nepal, all politicians shit, all liars. But he good, he will save Nepal ». To another much younger supporter I asked why he wasn’t in school at this time: «  I don’t go school because of election ». And finally to a young boy walking with us if he had a girlfriend « I have five!! » . One thing was certain, I was with people.

Suddenly, something happened. My eyes crossed those of the candidate. He walked up to me and asked « Which country you from? ». I had now met « the main candidate »  of the Maoist party for the 2017 State Elections in Kathmandu. I was proud.

Anil Sharma, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2017

Anil Sharma, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2017

After a few more doors and dances, we headed to the local Dal Bath fast food to have lunch. «  Hey Thomas, you come to have lunch with us? Dal bath, very good! ». I never say no to a lunch with communists. 

Two days after, my Nepali phone rang, it was Saurav. « Go 2.30pm at Kalikasthan. Same process, different place. ». 

I arrived at 2 pm and took some time to have lunch because I was becoming used to do so. Then I called Saurav to find out the location of the meeting. « I’m not there yet, I’ll call you. ». Finally, at 3pm, Saurav called to give the location. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, I handed the phone to a random man in the street. The man pointed his finger in a direction and I followed.

When I arrived, most of the people that were present two days before had returned, including the guy with the speaker. 

They had all recognised me and were happy to see me. Maybe they thought they had successfully converted me. When the candidate arrived, he came up to me to shake my hand « Which country you from? ». Then, he stopped the procession so I could have a clear picture of it. All the crowd was honored to have a photographer meeting them. « You journalist? International media? ». 

We started walking and executed the same process as two days before, but this time, with more people and a police escort. « Take picture of police, they are our friends. » I was told by one. «  I hate police », reported another. 

Kalikasthan is a neighboorhood of appartment buildings. The candidate was visiting each dwelling to share his program with the people. When the procession arrived at some location, all the participants called for the inhabitants to come at their window.  At a moment, I found myself alone with the candidate and his bodyguard in an apartment so he asked me, « Which country you from? ». 

Before dawn, around 5, the press came. A journalist with a fluo jacket and a microphone plugged into no device asked the candidate if he could interview him. All the procession reunited in a wasted land and the journalist started to office. Behind them, all the militants were gathering with flags. Before the interview, the journalist didn’t plugged his microphone to the camera.

After the interview, it started to get dark and I decided to leave my friends. «  No light no pictures! ». 

«  Bro tommorow is the biggest communist program where our communist ex pm Prachanda and KP Oli will be there the crowd will be huge. It's in New Baneshwor. Time is not yet fixed. I will update you in evening have a good day » 

I arrived there the next day at 1pm. At first sight, I saw a big avenue closed by the police. A few meter further, they were hundreds of chairs on the road. After the chairs, big speakers and a bamboo stage. But since the show was supposed to start at 2, there was nobody yet. So, as usual, I decided to have lunch. One hour later, when I came back, all the seats were taken. A huge crowd was around the avenue. Between the chairs and the stage, journalists and young people with a red cap. There was also an approximative of two-hundred policemen securing the place. In the public, people were dancing and other one were taking selfies. The rest was just sitting and waiting. This crowd was good business for the local peanut street vendor.

As time passed, the crowd grew bigger and the people started to arrive on the stage and in the public. I used this time to go on the stage and take portraits of the attendees. Suddenly, Anil Sharma arrived. «  How are you? » this time. He went all the way through the crowd to cheers and shake hands from every person he could touch. After he did some selfie and went to the stage. At 3, the music Stopped and the speeches started. But first, a group of professional had to dance. Dancers shaking hammer and sickle flags.

The whole point of this reunion was to promote the candidates of the marxist coalition. In all the speeches, I could hear them yelling « ANIL SHARMAAAAAAAAAAA!! » followed by applauses and dances. Anil Sharma was seating on a couch behind the speaker. He was looking at his phone to manage his campaign at the same time. Or maybe, he was just bored… All the speakers had something proper to them. One was yelling with his hands on his pockets. Another one tried to launch the singing of the Nepali National Anthem by putting the speaker of his phone on the microphone. Another one was very old. I could hardly understand what was said by who. Everybody was very busy. 

The event was organised in last minute. There was so, no organisation at all. The people on the stages were never aware of who was going to talk after. But it was no problem for them. No speech meant dancing.  During a dance break, a man arrived from the back of the stage. Madhav Kumar, the former prime minister of Nepal. The crowd applauded. As soon as he arrived on stage, he made greetings to Anil Sharma who carried flowers to him. He took the microphone and started a speech. All of a sudden, a big SUV crossed the crowd. It was escorted by two Nepali Armored Police car. This was KP Sharma Oli. Another former prime minister of Nepal. Another protocolar ceremonial started.

At this moment, I had to leave but in one day I had seen the big deal of Kathmandu being cheered by two former prime minister. This was the last time I saw my communists friends.