Balen's Bold Moves: Stunts Or Genuine?

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Balendra Shah, mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), continues to be in the media limelight ever since he got elected to the coveted post. Upon assuming office, Balendra, aka Balen, took a series of drastic steps that ruffled feathers of many ranging from those living in power corridors of Singha Durbar to those eking out a living in the corner of the streets. He has crossed swords with the federal government as well as the court as he moved to enforce his agenda. On the face of it, it seems his actions are out of steps with the dignity of the position he holds but he, like Harka Sampang, Mayor of Dharan Sub-Metropolitan City, has proven to be rough diamond as he has found an increasing number of supporters for his scores of daring-do.

Balen showed audacity in challenging the installation of mural in the newly inaugurated Indian parliament, which includes Nepali territories such as Lumbini and Kapilvastu. The display of the map of ‘Akhanda Bharat’ (Undivided India), which the Indian authorities call a ‘cultural map,’ not a political one, manifests the hegemonic intention of present Indian establishment. It has triggered protests from the people of different walks of life here at a time when Nepal and India are still at loggerheads over the territories in Lipulek, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura located in the western part of the country.

Symbolic protest 

In a symbolic protest, Balen hung a map of ‘Greater Nepal’ in his office. Although placing unofficial map in the chamber of mayor raises legal and constitutional questions, it has been greeted by a wider section of people. In yet another bold decision, he has banned the screening of Hindi movies in cinema halls inside the KMC until producers of ‘Adipurus,’ a newly-released Indian movie, removed a controversial dialogue from it. It contains a line - ‘Janaki (Goddess Sita) is a daughter of India -, which the experts say, is an affront to the cultural heritage of Nepal. 

Balen has even defied the ruling of the Patan High Court that orders unhindered showing of Hindi cinemas in Kathmandu. But he has dug his heels in and he said: "I firmly stand against obeying any law or court if they are against the sovereignty and independence of our nation." He went on to accuse the court and the government of being slavish to India, and announced that he was ready to face any consequences arising from his defiance of court’s interim order. This sounds like remarks of a rebel and a nonconformist dead-set on dismantling the status quo.  

Balen’s decision to enforce a blanket ban on the screening of Indian movies has divided the public opinion. Those criticising it argue that the KMC mayor is overstepping his jurisdiction and the ban of all Hindi movies can affect the cine business in the country. Some insist that though it is wrong to challenge the court ruling, the spirit of the mayor’s move is appreciative. Noted constitution expert Bhimarjun Acharya falls into this category. He says, “No one has the right to disobey the court’s order even if s/he disagree with it but court should also be mindful that law, constitution and the court itself have been created for the sake of nation. Many decisions of the court are subject to criticism.” A growing number of people is drumming up support for Balen, terming it a patriotic decision. 

Balen has cited the provisions of constitution to defend his move. He has invoked Article 56 (6) of the national charter that states: the federation, provinces and local levels shall protect Nepal's freedom, sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence, national interest, and identity, among other things. Balen has argued that letting the screening of the film without any changes could irreparably damage Nepal's nationality, cultural unity and national identity. 

Nepal has been a lucrative market for Indian films that fetch millions of rupees for their producers annually. Nepali film producers also rue that Indian movies have hampered the growth of domestic cine industry. But Indian films have also earned notoriety in touching a raw nerve of Nepalis, with their objectionable subject and incendiary message. This is largely due to sheer ignorance of Nepali history and culture as well as deep-seated prejudice prevalent among a section of producers, directors, writers and actors. For example, Manoj Muntasir Shukla, who wrote the script of 'Adipurush,' stirred up a hornet's nest by claiming that Nepal was a part of India until 1903. It is pathetic that Shukla even did not know that Nepal was one of the world's oldest nations and never colonised in history. 

In the past the cadres of political parties had vented their ire against some Indian movies. The CPN-UML workers had one time demanded a ban on the screening of Hindi movie ‘Rangila’ over its highly sensual scene. During the time of launching their armed movement, the then Maoist cadres had called for banning the Hindi films and songs in Nepal. In a twist of events, the KMC Mayor is in conflict with CPN-Maoist Centre-led government over the same issue that once served as the ingredient of insurgency in mid-1990s. 

New-found political space 

By protesting the controversial map of ‘Akhanda Bharat’ and ‘Adipurush’, the rapper-turned-politician Shah has morphed himself into a stanch nationalist figure, a surprising development that agitates the support base of Nepali communist parties that often mobilise masses on the plank of nationalism. Balen is now speaking the language of the left while slamming the major political parties for being unable to defend the national interest and dignity. His election to the mayor of the capital city has already dented the popularity of older parties in the heartland of nation. Now his new-found political space might elevate him to be a national leader. If the oldies dismiss Balen’s moves as mere stunts, they are simply mistaken and have to pay dearly in the upcoming polls.  

(The author is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)

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