Wasted chances make 2009 Nepal's annus horribilis

Wasted chances make 2009 Nepal's annus horribilisKathmandu, Dec 30 - Begun on a high note after a historic election consolidated peace and the former Maoist guerrillas led Nepal's first ultra-left government, 2009 saw the nascent republic plunge into chaos with the political parties squandering opportunities of stability.

Nepal's annus horribilis affected India as well with diplomatic and even cultural ties souring.

The Maoists, who had become newsmakers since they started their "People's War" in 1996 to overthrow Nepal's royal family, dominated 2009 too, though for negative reasons.

The first Maoist government of Nepal collapsed in May after the former rebels tried to sack the chief of the army, Gen Rookmangud Katawal, for insubordination, but failed.

The bitter party began a protracted protest that kept parliament paralysed for over six months and now threatens to spill over into the new year with an indefinite general strike declared from Jan 24.

The other institution that also grabbed the limelight for wrong reasons was the former arch enemy of the Maoists, the Nepal Army.

For the first time in Nepal's 50-year association with the UN Peacekeeping Forces, the world body expelled an army major for being accused in the torture and killing of a schoolgirl in 2004. But the government failed to take action against disgraced Major Niranjan Basnet.

The government was also forced to promote Major-General Toran Jung Bahadur Singh, whose troops had run a secret torture camp and are believed to have killed at least 49 prisoners.

The cold war between the Maoists and the army as well as the government made the former guerrillas accuse New Delhi of manipulating the ruling alliance, especially after the Indian Army chief, Gen Deepak Kapoor, said he opposed the merger of the Maoists' guerrilla combatants with the state army.

Anti-Indian feelings were also stoked by the Bollywood kung fu comedy "From Chandni Chowk to China" for wrongly claiming that the Buddha, Nepal's biggest icon, was born in India, which led to the film being banned in Nepal.

The Hindi language also came under fire and Nepal's first vice-president Paramananda Jha was suspended from his office by the Supreme Court for having taken his oath of office and secrecy in Hindi.

Despite Nepal becoming secular in 2006, religion still played a dominant role.

The Maoist government created an uproar for trying to break away with the tradition of employing Indian priests at the revered Pashupatinath temple.

Its appointment of Nepali priests led to widespread condemnation and law suits, forcing the Prachanda government to scrap the decision.

But the hallowed shrine continued to be the centre of a battle even after the Maoist government fell. The new alliance's appointment of Indian priests triggered an attack on them by Maoist cadre, tarnishing the image of Nepal as a tolerant nation where different religions co-existed in harmony.

The image continued to be battered after an underground militant Hindu organisation planted a bomb in the oldest Catholic church in Kathmandu Valley, killing three people during mass. The Nepal Defence Army, which was behind the attack, had also targeted two mosques in eastern Nepal, killing two Muslims during prayer.

The darker side of religious fervour was also displayed by the notorious five-year fair at the temple of Hindu goddess Gadhimai in southern Nepal where zealous devotees sacrificed tens of thousands of animals and birds despite global condemnation.

Nepal however had its brighter images as well.

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal held a meeting of his cabinet at the foot of Mt Everest to draw attention to the effect of global warming on the world's tallest peak while 77-year-old Nepali granddad Min Bahadur Sherchan wrested the title of the oldest man to climb Mt Everest from his Japanese rival, Yuichiro Miura.

Though Sherchan had reached the 8,848m peak last year when he was 76, the Guinness Book of World Records had conferred the title on Miura, even though he was 75. But Guinness corrected the error this year after Sherchan successfully campaigned for the title and submitted all necessary evidence.

The other image of victory remains associated with British actress Joanna Lumley whose vigorous campaign for the rights of Nepal's Gurkha warriors serving under the British Army compelled the Gordon Brown government to relax settlement rights for old soldiers.

Lumley was given a hero's welcome when she visited Nepal and had a hillock named after her by the grateful Gurkhas. (IANS)