Public humiliation of politicians seems to follow a trend. On December 14, 2008, Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi set in motion a notorious trend when he let loose his shoes, one after the other, at US President George W Bush during a press conference in Baghdad. Hot on the heels of the Baghdad ‘shoegate’ similar attempts were made at Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Indian Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and senior BJP leader LK Advani in quick succession. Perhaps Devi Prasad Regmi of Sunsari can be credited with setting off a similar trend in Nepal when he slapped CPN-UML Chairman Jhalanath Kanal on January 20, 2011, accusing ‘politicians like him’ of letting their countrymen down.
A year down the line, it was Maoist lawmaker Jhakku Subedi who had to endure the same humiliation at the hands of a tea-shop owner in Teenkune, allegedly for the failure of lawmakers like him to deliver timely constitution. The latest victim of this worrying trend is none other than Maoist Chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who was slapped by Padam Kunwar, a Baglung native, during a tea reception organized by UCPN (Maoist) in Kathmandu on Friday.
Though all kinds of conspiracy theories are doing the rounds online, on the strength of evidence so far, it appears Kunwar acted alone to settle his personal issues with chairman Dahal. Kunwar comes from a family which has been an ardent Maoist supporter since the war days. Kunwar served, first, in the capacity of a PLA combatant during the insurgency and then as a village-in-charge of YCL, the Maoist youth wing. He remained with YCL until the party split on June 18 and has since (reportedly) not been affiliated with any of the two Maoist parties. But while Kunwar’s past puts his action into perspective (he might have been frustrated at the ‘betrayal’ of party leadership) what he did is unjustifiable. Political leaders of democratic parties, despite their past failures, deserve to be treated with respect. Also, in a democracy, abusing someone in public is no way to express dissent. If people are not satisfied with their politicians, they can always vote them out in the next polls. We thus hope the probe committee under Home Ministry formed to look into the incident can get to the bottom of it.
But UCPN (Maoist)’s interpretation of the incident as a ‘pre-planned conspiracy’ is a little far-fetched. If the assailant’s intent was to cause severe bodily harm to Dahal, he could have set upon the Maoist chair with some kind of a weapon, even a rock. But Kunwar appeared content at publicly humiliating the strongest man in Nepali politics. More worrying are people’s feedbacks on the incident. If Facebook comments and letters to editor are any guide, Kunwar has found many supporters for his ‘courage’. The consensus among Kunwar’s sizable group of backers seems to be that the politicians responsible for the current state of the country deserve no less. Perhaps people would have been more sympathetic to Messrs Khanal and Dahal had they been able to deliver on their promises.
Thus while it is important that the incident be properly investigated and every measure taken to avoid similar incidents in the future, politicians would also do well to weigh public response to the attack on Dahal. Following his shoe-throw, al-Zaidi became the darling of the Arab world for daring to stand up to a ‘tyrant’. Nonetheless, it would be unfortunate if the measure of heroism in ‘New Nepal’ is the ability of dissenters to physically assault their political representatives