What prompts the govt to be cautious in the face of the UML Youth Wing and Durga Prasai’s demonstrations in Kathmandu?

Mahesh Basnet and Durga Prasai
The announcement of protests led by Mahesh Basnet and Durga Prasai has put the government on edge.

CPN-UML’s sister organisation, the National Youth Federation Nepal (youth wing), and Durga Prasain-led Rastra, Rastriyata, Dharma-Sanskriti, and Nagarik Bachau Andolan (a citizen’s movement for the protection of nation, nationalism, religion, and culture) have declared they will stage a one-day demonstration of power on November 23. This announcement by Mahesh Basnet and Durga Prasai has put the government on edge with fears of a clash between the two groups.

Initially, both parties said that they would hold a program at Maitighar Mandala, but the District Administration Office, Kathmandu had other plans. Kathmandu’s Chief District Officer, Jitendra Basnet, fearing a clash barred protests from being staged at the Maitighar and Baneshwor area for a month. That has led the two groups to hold their demonstrations in separate places.

During the discussions at various stages, Jitendra Basnet said that not only would Maitighar Mandala be off-limits, but any concurrent events by two parties in Kathmandu at the same place, time, and date would not be approved. Instead, they were advised to opt for different areas such as Tinkune, Machhapokhari, Narayanchaur etc.

Subsequently, the Mahesh Basnet-led youth wing selected Tinkune for its program, while the group led by Durga Prasai opted for Balkhu.

Former DIG of Nepal Police, Hemant Malla Thakuri, says that the administration has taken such a decision to prevent any untoward incident as both Mahesh Banset and Durgra Prasai and their followers have been publicly targeting each other over the past few months.

“In the past, there have been instances of unpleasant incidents when we did not take precautions. Now the administration is doing so as it does not want any riots in the city,” he says.

However, on Tuesday, both Kathmandu and Lalitpur took extra measures by banning protests in the vicinity of the UN House and the Minister’s quarters along with the residences of the President and Prime Minister.

Mahesh Basnet and Durga Prasai’s bitterness

File: UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli and Maoist Centre Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal during a lunch meeting, in Kathmandu, on Sunday, February 18, 2018. Durga Prasai hosted the lunch.

Controversial businessman Durga Prasai was once close to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. He claims to have given refuge to the Maoists during the People’s War. The proof of this was when Dahal, when he was prime minister in 2016, insisted on giving affiliation of Prasai’s medical college B&C Hospital. But, thanks to Dr Govinda KC, that plan did not materialise.

Later, when UML and Maoists merged to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), Prasai also became close to KP Sharma Oli. Prasai even joined the UML and also became its central member.

However, Oli got angry with Prasai when he started conducting a campaign for the restoration of the monarchy. He was subsequently expelled from the UML in February.

It appears that the expulsion has soured Prasai’s feelings, as he has been speaking negatively about Oli ever since. This has not been well-received by UML leader Mahesh Basnet.

On October 9, Prasai was smeared with black soot by members of the UML youth wing in Kathmandu. This was ironic as Prasai had been stating the bankers and local sharks needed to be smeared with black soot.

It was Mahesh Banset’s turn to face the music as Prasai’s followers tried to disrupt a programme he was due to attend in Jhapa. Vehicles were vandalised but Prasai’s followers never got close to Mahesh Basnet.

While the bitterness between Mahesh Basnet and Durga Prasai continued, both of them continued to speak against each other at public forums.

While garnering public support by expressing his stance against loans, microfinance, and the plight of loan shark victims, Prasai declared his intention to demonstrate his power in Kathmandu starting from October 24. He outlined programs with the assertion of ‘changing the system.’

In the statement issued on November 19 on behalf of his group, it is said that the ‘Peaceful Civil Liberation Movement’ will be started from November 23. Prasai has called upon Hindu organisations, activists and even Nepalis living abroad to participate in the demonstration.

At the same time, the UML youth wing has also announced that it will stage a demonstration against corruption and anarchy. On Saturday, UML president KP Sharma Oli also said that this is the party’s program. However, some observers have remarked that the UML has become entangled in the animosity between Mahesh Basnet and Durga Prasai.

When asked why the UML youth wing was staging a protest on the same day as Durga Prasai, Mahesh Basnet said they planned the protest two months in advance.

With both parties unwilling to yield, the protest is scheduled to take place tomorrow in Kathmandu, and it is anticipated to disrupt traffic. Fearing potential disruptions, some schools have decided to shut down altogether.

Kathmandu is on high alert

home ministry The Ministry of Home Affairs, Singhadarbar, Kathmandu Thug Bahadur KC
The Ministry of Home Affairs, Singhadarbar, Kathmandu

After efforts to ask Mahesh Basnet and Durga Prasai to stage their protests on different days proved unsuccessful, the Home Ministry conducted joint meetings involving all security agencies for security preparations.

On November 17, Prime Minister Dahal personally convened a briefing with the heads of the security agencies. During the briefing, he expressed interest in Prasai and the youth wing’s programme and directed the strengthening of the security system.

According to sources, following that, the Home Ministry engaged in discussions with officials from various security agencies. On November 17, Home Secretary Dinesh Bhattarai held a three-hour discussion with the three chief district officers and the security chiefs of the valley.

Security sources have reported that Prasai appointed contact persons at 86 locations, announcing plans to mobilise people from all over the country.

“There is information that they have been given the responsibility to bring people in the bus”, a source from the Home Ministry told Onlinekhabar on the condition of anonymity. “We think there is a chance of over 10,000 gathering in Kathmandu.”

The security apparatus has a report that rooms have been booked in some hotels in the valley in the name of Prasai’s campaign till Tuesday night. Prasai is planning to gather a large number of people with the conclusion that his future will be determined by this demonstration.

According to sources from the National Research Department, recent programs organised by Prasai in Kathmandu had no more than 300 attendees. However, the Department predicts the number may increase, as disaffected groups from political parties can potentially mobilise people from various districts to join the demonstration in Kathmandu.

“On top of that, the area chosen by Prasai is also a place where there is high movement of locals, it increases the crowd”, the source said.

Investigation suggests that security agencies need to remain vigilant, given the estimation of the presence of extremist groups in Prasai’s demonstration advocating for a Hindu nation and monarchy. Prasai has also invited Hindu organisations to participate in the demonstration.

In light of this, security for November 23 is being coordinated by establishing a joint operation centre, with the presence of an officer from the Directorate General of Military Intelligence (DGMI) of the Nepal Army.

It will also have a team from the Armed Police Force and the National Investigation Department. Officials say that since Prasai has announced that its program will continue after November 23, they have to prepare accordingly.

Kathmandu Police Chief SSP Khatri says that the security system has tightened the checks even at the major entry points.

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Pokharel is an Onlinekhabar correspondent covering security and crime.

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