JHAPA, March 16: Barely a couple of hours after Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi took the oath of office and secrecy as the head of an interim election government, cadres of fringe political parties led by the CPN-Maoist took to the streets in Jhapa district, shutting down all shops, schools, factories and public transport. But, no agitating group dared to do any such thing in Surunga bazaar.
This was not the first case of banda enforcers sparing Surunga. In fact, no political party, ethnic group or professional organization has been able to shut down Surunga bazaar over the last few years.
Defying all manner of bandas, Surunga has earned a reputation as the country´s only anti-banda town.
In the past, the locals of Surunga have even chased away political party cadres trying to shut down the bazaar by force.
The locals say Surunga bazaar has not been closed down even for a single day in the last six years. According to District Traffic Police Office Jhapa, the district has seen shutdowns for 31 days in the last two years. But, no banda has had any impact in Surunga.
Shopkeepers in Surunga. (Photo: Raju Adhikari)
"We have proved that no one can do anything against our wish if we stand united," says Rudra Chimariya, former chairman of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), Surunga chapter.
"Earlier, we used to close the bazaar even if just two individuals took to the streets. Now, Surunga remains open even when major political forces call for a strike."
The April uprising of 2006, which dethroned King Gyanendra, was the genesis of the ongoing anti-banda movement in Surunga. In the aftermath of the April uprising, the Jhapa chapter of the FNCCI had persuaded all political parties to sign a declaration not to ever call a banda again. Afterwards, the ethnic parties also signed the declaration.
However, the political parties did not live up to their own commitment. And local people elsewhere could not muster the courage to defy strike calls. But in Surunga, the locals demonstrated exemplary courage.
"What Surunga folks are doing is praiseworthy," says Gopal Basnet, executive director of FNCCI, Mechi, adding, "The courage to defy all strike calls stems from social unity among the locals of Surunga."
Surunga bazaar. (Photo: Raju Adhikari)
Six years ago, local industrialists, businessmen, traders, representatives of political parties, labor leaders and common folks had organized a mass gathering in Surunga to declare this town free of all strikes. "We declared our town free of all strikes after just about every organization started to shut down the bazaar to fulfill their own interests," says Somnath Uprety, secretary of the FNCCI, Surunga. "We lived up to our commitment honestly. As a result, no one dares to call a strike in Surunga now."
Local political leaders in Surunga defy strikes called by their own parties. Last year, the Nepali Congress (NC) had called a nationwide strike protesting the murder of Tarun Dal leader Shiva Poudel inside Bharatpur jail.
Netra Chimariya, Surunga VDC committee president of the NC, was instructed to enforce a banda in Surunga also. But, instead of obeying the party´s order, Chimariya resigned from his post.
Later, the party corrected its stance and persuaded Chimariya into withdrawing his resignation. "When it comes to defying strikes in Surunga, we always rise above party interests," says Chimariya.