Upcoming UML-Durga Prasai showdown puts government on security alert

Binod Ghimire

Kathmandu, Nov. 19: CPN-UML leaders and controversial businessman Durga Prasai, who for months have clashed verbally, are coming face to face on the streets of Kathmandu on Thursday.

For a few years, Prasai had a close relationship with the UML and its Chairperson KP Sharma Oli but that didn’t last long. Bitterness in their relationship that started at the beginning of this year has reached new heights. Prasai has been targeting the UML and its supremo Oli, claiming that the party chief has stacked property worth billions of rupees abroad and has investments in Cambodia.

Oli, in response, dared him to present the proof while rubbishing the claim. Going a step further, Youth Association Nepal (YAN), a wing of the UML, on October 9 smeared black soot on Prasai.

Now the UML and Prasai are holding separate Kathmandu-centric demonstrations on Thursday. The main opposition has said it is beginning protests to let the government know that it had only given bad governance and the country and the people are suffering as a result.

Prasai, who is organising the people under his ‘Nation, Nationality, Religion-Culture and Citizen Rescue Campaign,’ says Thursday’s protest would be historic and a push towards overthrowing the present system (of governance) and a change in the plight of the people. This has given the government and security agencies a headache.

“We are aware of the two protests slated for Thursday. There will be proper security arrangements by the local authority,” Narayan Prasad Bhattarai, spokesperson for the Ministry of Home Affairs, told the Post.

Earlier, the YAN and the All Nepal National Free Students Union, also aligned with the UML, had announced the protest. However, on Saturday the mother party itself came forward to own up the protest to make it “grand”. Sister Wings Coordination Mechanism of the party has decided to mobilise all party bodies on the day. “Yes, the party has decided to back up the protest by the sister wings,” Rajendra Gautam, chief of the UML’s publicity department, told the Post.

The second largest party, however, has said the protest will be peaceful and fully within the measures enforced by the government. Addressing the meeting of the coordination mechanism, Oli directed party cadres and supporters to demonstrate patience, avoid entering the restricted area and follow the routes the authorities might fix.

“It is just a symbolic protest to warn the government that it is not on the right track. It is not a mass demonstration. We are not ferrying people into Kathmandu from outside,” Oli said. “Only students and youths available in Kathmandu will join the protest.”

Prasai, on the other hand, claims that his demonstration would be the largest ever staged from the public level. In addition to strong campaigning on social media, Prasai and his supporters are already holding rehearsals in different parts of the country including in Jhapa and Janakpur.

After getting detached from the UML, Prasai is campaigning to reinstate monarchy and Nepal as a Hindu state. He is organising the people “victimised” by the banks and microfinance companies and targeting the businesspeople from Marwari communities claiming that they are syphoning money off from Nepal. While he also says the demonstrations will be peaceful, he is known for provocative speeches and statements which can flare up and trigger unwanted incidents.

“Nepal Police is sensitive about the protests and has remained vigilant,” Kuber Kadayat, the Nepal Police spokesperson, told the Post. “It is committed to averting every unwanted incident.” On Friday, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal took a briefing from the chiefs of Nepal Army, Armed Police Force and the Nepal Police and discussed possible security challenges posed by the showdown, according to Kadayat.

The government is closely watching the build-up to the demonstration. “There are still a few days until the demonstrations. We will take necessary measures depending on how the situation unfolds,” a minister in the Dahal Cabinet told the Post. “We are thinking of banning protests at Maitighar on that day. There are possibilities that the UML and the Prasai-led group will be allotted different places for demonstrations. If necessary, some other restrictions could be imposed too.”

The Kathmandu Post

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