Kathmandu, April 30: At the Tudikhel tent shelter mid-town last evening, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala had
A day before, deputy Prime Minister Bamdev Gautam nearly pulled out of the completion rites of a major rescue mission near the Shobha Bhagwati Bridge on the capital’s outskirts for fear of being heckled; he had to be assured by senior Indian officials in charge of the operation no harm would come to him before Gautam agreed to go.
On the boundary rails of the Singha Durbar, seat of Nepal’s government, Kathmandu residents have put up a missing-person notice as taunt to their representative in the Constituent Assembly: “Dhyan Govind, where are you? And where is the aid?”
The quake has opened a chasm between Nepal’s political class and the people that’s brimming over with ire and indignation.
“Our leadership has collectively retreated from responsibility in a time of grave crisis,” says Kumar Regmi, one of Nepal’s better-known constitutional lawyers.
“Much less come forward and come to grips with the situation, they have not even moved to empathise with the people they rule, or even been on call in their hour of need. It makes things worse that the government and Opposition are united in their dereliction; the people have no option to forsake one formation and embrace another.”
In the days since Nepal’s worst quake in living memory struck, the national leadership has made its truancy palpably felt. It has not presented itself on the crisis barricades, it has absented itself from the public discourse.
The government has omitted to engage with a stricken nation, issuing neither appeal nor assurance from the helm it occupies. It has shut its door to media interaction or questioning. It has left coordination and execution of rescue and relief efforts to the army. It has offered little sense to the people it is an institution whose central purpose is to serve them.
“Where are the people we worked and voted for?” asks Akhilesh Shreshtha, a farmer from Sindhupalchok district, who has lost his home and three near ones.
“Where is the government that said it wants Nepal to be a democracy, a republic of the people? Where are those people? Surveying our tragedy from helicopters?”
That sentiment is widespread, bubbling across Nepal as victims await succour.
It’s the kind of anger that former Kathmandu mayor and Nepali environment minister P.L. Singh finds just as well as alarming.
“I am least surprised the politicians are running scared, they have lost credibility overtime and with this quake they stand exposed; they have proved themselves a set that can only serve themselves, not the people. That can’t be good for the health of a democracy; this democracy is failing the people,” Singh says.
A long-serving leader of the Nepali Congress and a man with access to inside workings of the government, Singh said: “The government and administration are in total disarray, such that they are sitting on piles of aid and relief and cannot get it distributed; they don’t know what to tell international rescue and relief workers; even senior minister don’t know, they are just busy trying to hide from the people.”
A senior Nepali government official who attended a government-international aid agency interface revealed on condition of anonymity that department heads had not been able to furnish clear directions to aid workers; their most offered response: “We shall let you know.”
Caroline Anning, a “Save the Children” volunteer from the UK, told The Telegraph she and her team had been working “pretty much on our own”.
Her great advantage was she had had a previous stint in Nepal. “It’s because I know people here and have some sense of what might be needed where that we are able to make some headway. There isn’t a central place or nodal agency that is overseeing deployment.”
For a volunteer fresh in Nepal – and there are many – the lack of local guidance can be a handicap – to them and, more critically, to the aid effort.
On the road to Gorkha in the west Nepal hills, we ran into a stranded medical team from Bihar. The doctors were taking a nap in a local lodge, the ambulance and a bus loaded with medicines and first aid were being washed.
“For three days we have only been running from one place to another,” said driver Ram Kumar.
“Wherever somebody sends us we are told we are not required; now we are headed to Gorkha, if there is nothing to be done there we may just head back.”
Back at the Tudikhel camp in Kathmandu, where Prime Minister Koirala was jeered, Bikram Bhele, a displaced tour operator, made a cutting summation of why public rage was beginning to sporadically erupt: “This lot (the politicians) have not been able to give this country a Constitution for seven years now; do you think they can be up to any good other than holding on to power?”