Public holiday or “curfew”, Kathmandu confused as Indian president’s carcade rolls in deathly silence

Krandan Chapagain

By Krandan Chapagain, Kathmandu
2 November 2016

When head of state of a friendly nation arrives on an official visit, citizens of the host country usually line up the route and hail the dignitary. But no such jubilant crowd greeted Pranab Mukherjee as he arrived in Kathmandu Wednesday afternoon.

Instead of sending people to greet the Indian president, Nepal Government deployed police and army to clear roads. This, many believe, is because the Prachanda Government is wary people may show black flags or chant unwelcome slogans in protest of Mr Mukherjee’s visit, thanks to the recent trouble in Indo-Nepal relations.

When Mr Mukherjee’s carcade rolled through New Baneshwor, the street was so deserted that it appeared more like a cemetery than the usual bustling city that Kathmandu is known to be.

Security was so tight that even professional media persons capturing footage and pictures were ordered down from the top floor of Nepal1 Television’s station at Tinkune.

Only one journalist from each accredited media outlets were allowed into the airport to cover arrival of the Indian president. The Nepalese head of state, Bidhya Devi Bhandari, was there at the airport to welcome Mr Mukherjee.

It was a rare sight in Kathmandu: the absence of people on the streets of the capital city. Many called it “a curfew” than “a public holiday” which Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal recently announced much to the “embarrassment” of his fellow citizens.

Napoleon Chepang, a young journalist from Kathmandu said it cannot be called a public holiday, “yo ta like curfew nai ho daju” (sic) –  “This is just like a curfew brother.”

“Our country did not announce public holiday even when former Prime Minister Marich Man Singh died (August 2013) but now does so to greet the Indian president? How can this be?,” the young man questioned, “There is no doubt this will leave a bad image,” he further said.

An executive member (central) of Naya Shakti, a political party formed by former Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai, said Nepalese people will one day “punish” the government for declaring Wednesday a “public holiday”. The decision of the current government to this end has “hurt” the Himalayan nation’s “self-respect”, said Sunil Khadka. The youth leader added that the government was being too obsequious in declaring the public holiday.

“This government is making too many decisions that are compromising our national pride,” Mr Khadka further added.

Police took over major streets within the Ring Road where no cars were allowed throughout the afternoon.

Apart from Kathmandu, Mr Mukherjee is due to visit Pokhara and Janakpur during his three-day state visit to Nepal – the first time an Indian president has visited the landlocked neighbour in almost two decades.

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