These days the nation is abuzz with news about a rally planned for Thursday, November 23 (Mangsir 7) in the capital by certain pro-royalists. Durga Prasain, a health entrepreneur, turned ardent supporter of the campaign aimed at "restoring monarchy and reverting the nation to a Hindu state," will be spearheading the rally. He intends to bring hundreds of thousands of pro-monarchy and Hindu followers to Kathmandu to demonstrate their might, and his move to arrange the demonstration has swept Nepal's various social media platforms. According to him, the rally's goal would be to send a message to political parties that followers of the monarchy and Hinduism will uproot the current republican system and topple party leaders from their current places.
A former CPN-UML party functionary, who was close to Prime Minister Prachanda for a while, Prasain has long made acerbic remarks about political parties, particularly the UML chair. He once claimed that the UML chair had invested around 33 billion rupees, earned through corrupt ways, in a Cambodian telecom company, which the UML chair denied. Because of his growing anti-UML stance, he and UML youth leader Mahesh Basnet have long engaged in verbal duels, in addition to 'exposing' each other of their 'misdeeds'. While Basnet claims Prasain is depressed, the latter refers to him as a Bhaktapur hoodlum who used to sell milk in the neighbourhood.
A couple of months ago, members of the UML's youth wing, under Basnet’s alleged guidance, splashed black ink over Prasain's face, which is considered a public denigration. Prasain responded by 'exposing' Basnet in a viral video in which Basnet is shown having an adulterous affair with a lady. As the tensions rose, the UML's youth wing planned to stage a public mass assembly on the same day Prasain is set to hold his demonstration in the capital. Meanwhile, the UML chair applauded the youth wing's rally, claiming that such activities were required to counter regressive forces (such as those headed by Prasain). However, the plan of two competing forces to organise two rallies on the same day and in the same location has made the authorities nervous.
Given the likely confrontation, the administration may issue prohibitory warnings to rally organisers in the capital on November 23 to avert a clash. Why has such a situation threatening law and order arisen? If one looks at Prasain and his recent acts, one can find the answer. The health entrepreneur gained notoriety as a bank loan defaulter. He allegedly told banks that he would not return loans he had obtained from them to establish health care facilities and a medical college. The total amount of debts has reached billions of rupees, and banks have warned him that if he does not return the interest and loans, they would confiscate his properties.
He said that after taking out loans and establishing his institutions, the government refused to provide him licences and affiliations, leaving him unable to repay creditors. He was a member of the UML's central committee for some years until leaving after failing to reap advantages when the UML was in power. His long-awaited desire to get licences to manage the medical institutions he built in Jhapa district went unmet, while the interest on his bank debt continued to rise. Many said that after failing to gain desired benefits from the UML, he became a pro-monarchy and pro-Hindu advocate. This is when he began spewing venoms at the leaders of major political parties, claiming that he would eventually expose all of them for their misdeeds and corruption.
Because of his hawkish stance and approach against political parties, politicians, and certain businesspeople and his anti-republican remarks, a slew of pro-monarchs and Hindu groups have lauded and even supported him. Another facet of Prasain's current campaign is that he has taken full advantage of social media sites such as TikTok and Facebook. Actually, he rose to prominence as a result of his vitriolic criticism of leaders on these forums. Apart from condemning leaders and authorities for their alleged corruption, he also slammed a few businessmen of Indian descent, who, according to him, have taken hostage to nation’s economy by sitting on massive bank loans. He has questioned the country's current practise of permitting merchants and industrialists to establish commercial banks.
The administration appears to be afraid of him because of his popularity on social media. Some argue that the current government ban on TikTok is in part due to his rising presence on the site, though the government claims that the restriction is in place to prevent TikTok from disrupting social harmony by spreading anti-social remarks, activities and obscenities. It is worth noting that Prasain has highlighted popular problems. The allegations of corruption by politicians while alleging businesses, and industrialists for possessing huge banking money seem to have struck a right chord with the public, increasing the appeal of the health entrepreneur who appears determined about not repaying bank loans, which is completely unlawful.
Finally, our government officials and political parties must not fret much about Prasain but need to keep a vigil on his illegal and unconstitutional ways. In a democratic society like ours, Prasain enjoys the rights of embracing any ideologies and engage in practicing them as long as they are not harmful to our constitution and social fabric. Our leaders, on the other hand, do well if they respond to the accusations the health entrepreneur has levied against them and avoid all forms of corruption and nepotism. At present it seems that Prasain has stuck to the anti-constitutional stance by embracing the anti-republican campaign, ‘solely to avenge the leaders and parties of which he was formerly a member.’ It demonstrates that his current viewpoint is motivated only by personal convenience. As a result, he is less likely to be successful in his campaign.
(Upadhyay is a former managing editor of this newspaper.)