Thankfully events in Kathmandu passed off peacefully over the weekend.
“Amid growing fears of violence, the May Day demonstration…ended peacefully with no violence reported. Both Maoists and security forces exercised maximum restraint.” (Himalayan Times: 2 May 2010).
As day two of the ‘indefinite nationwide strike’ called by the Maoists comes to an end, press reports suggest that dialogue between both sides is slow, although further talks are scheduled for this evening (Monday 3 May). The deadlock appears to boil down to the fact that the Maoists appear adamant that they will not discuss ‘other issues’ unless the prime minister goes, whilst the PM has indicated that the government will only be ousted through constitutional means. How things will end remains anyone’s guess.
Despite the fact that there appears to be a large representation of Maoists from the Kavre district in Kathmandu, there is still a sufficient presence in Banepa to ensure that the banda is enforced. There are no vehicles on the road, save for the occasional motorbike, and shops, offices and banks are closed. There are quite a number of pedestrians out walking, and at least one group of children has taken the opportunity to play in the middle of the Arneko Highway, the main road out of Banepa into China. The burning of refuse in the street seems also to be the order of the day.
There is a small gathering of Maoists at the main crossroads in the town who make it their business to flag down and turn back any motorcyclists who are contravening the banda by being on the road. It appears to be something of a game of cat and mouse, as motorcyclists either turn round as they approach the crossroads, or seemingly ignore the frantic attempts of flag waving Maoists to bring them to a standstill. Undoubtedly the fact that the whole thing is carried out under the watchful eye of a group of armed police has some bearing on things!
In the backstreets, things are a little less clear. I walk to the shop where I usually buy my beer, to find that it is open. Sitting with the storekeeper who kindly offers a piece of water melon to eat as we chat, she says that she is usually able to open during the bandas, and there are a few other small traders that appear to be open. Similarly on the walk back through the fields, a number of small stalls appear to be open. (Common sense tells me that it is easier to ensure compliance with a banda in a large city such as Kathmandu, particularly if you have a few thousand Maoists in the city to help you! Word from our colleagues in Kathmandu tell us that commercial activity in the city has largely been stopped).
Things are never entirely straightforward it seems….