Bollywood ‘ban’ stokes instability fears in Nepal

Kathmandu: Kaushal Raj Sapkota, a Nepalese fan of Bollywood films, had his weekend cinema plans ruined by a Maoist intimidation campaign that has stoked fears about the country’s post-war stability. The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) last week demanded that cinemas across the country stop showing Bollywood movies for 10 days, in protest over what it sees as India’s growing influence in the tiny Himalayan nation. The hardline party, which was formed in June and includes rebel fighters from the decade-long civil war that ended in 2006, has recently used similar threats of violence to stop Indian-registered vehicles crossing the border into Nepal. Members of the splinter group have also torched school buses and smashed computers in a Kathmandu college in the latest sign of tension over Nepal’s lack of progress since the Maoists and the state signed a peace deal to end the war. “This is a violation of my individual rights. At the weekend, I would have watched my favourite Hindi movies. But the ban has ruined my plans,”

Sapkota, a 20-year-old information technology student at Kathmandu University, told AFP. “They are investing their energy in a useless campaign. We all watch Hindi movies. This will only force us to watch pirated movies.” Bowing to the demands of the CPN-M, most of Nepal’s 100 cinema halls have refused to screen the popular Bollywood films that pull in their biggest audiences. The party, a breakaway faction that split from the ruling Maoists, believes that the mainstream Maoists have abandoned their principles and that the sacrifices made by rebels during the bloody civil war have been forgotten. Pampha Bhusal, a party spokeswoman, said the anti-Bollywood campaign was seeking a fairer relationship with India, Nepal’s influential neighbour.

“We are fighting for equal treatment. Be it small or big, both Nepal and India are sovereign countries,” she told AFP. Bollywood movies spread “hatred against Nepal. They portray Nepalese as lowly security guards and helpers. Such portrayals humiliate us. They hurt our sentiments”, she said. The Maoists won post-war elections in 2008 and last year Baburam Bhattarai became the second leader of the former rebels to form a government. He was sworn in as Nepal’s fourth prime minister in as many years. Narayan Wagle, a veteran political commentator, said radical Maoists see an opportunity opening up due to national politics being in a dire stalemate after endless squabbling among parties.

“The war is over but peace has not prevailed yet. People are still fearful. And, Maoists have always stoked fear among people,” Wagle told AFP. “In a poor country like Nepal, fear psychology can be very effective. That’s what the Maoists proved during the war. The hardline faction is trying to create an environment of fear so that they will have an upper hand,” he said. Wagle said that the CPN-M were also tapping into disenchantment among former rebel fighters who criticize their war-time leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal—better known as Prachanda—for being seduced by power since the war ended.

The party last week halted Indian-registered vehicles from crossing into Nepal, arguing that it would reduce dependency on India. Nepal’s Maoists have traditionally resented India, viewing it as interfering in the country’s internal affairs. But India provides a lifeline to its landlocked neighbour as its sole supplier of fuel and the two Hindu-majority countries share close links. According to Madhab Basnet, a political writer at current affairs magazine Nepal Weekly, the hardliners’ protests are likely to increase. “After the split, they are very keen to establish themselves as a force to reckon with. Their actions can be interpreted as tools to garner visibility,”Basnet said.

“Secondly, the causes of the war—poverty, unemployment—are still here. So, they have popular agendas with them.” Nepal’s interim parliament, known as the Constituent Assembly, which was set up following the war, collapsed in May after it repeatedly failed to agree on a new constitution. Since then, the impoverished country has been run by a caretaker Maoist government, which announced elections for parliament on 22 November. But the election commission has said it lacked a legal framework to hold the polls, plunging the country further into uncertainty.

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