The Pulse

The Asia-Pacific Summit 2018 and Civic Dissent in Nepal

Nepal’s communist government grapples with civic dissent.

The Asia-Pacific Summit 2018 and Civic Dissent in Nepal
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ MShades / Chris Gladis

The recently concluded Asia-Pacific Summit 2018 held in Kathmandu not only raised eyebrows among Nepalis, but also invited varied concerns and opinions from the international community. The reason was simple: how can a country with a Hindu majority population invite an organization known for cultism and corporate corruption?

The conference was funded by a controversial South Korea-based organization named the Universal Peace Federation (UPF). The Nepal government initially said it wasn’t involved in the conference, but the state was clearly supporting the event, which was attended by 1,500-plus guests, including Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Even though the event drew international figures from around the world, it landed into controversy immediately as it troubled the general public.

Kathmandu denizens found themselves in trouble when the government announced that the three-day event would restrict vehicle movement, and the odd-even license plate rule would be imposed for cars. Local people had to face the brunt of it on the first day since it was difficult to get public vehicles around, and traffic came to a halt immediately. After much uproar on social media and criticism by the press, the government recanted from its original position. But the damage was done already. The current prime minister’s “development poster” was plastered everywhere on the lightposts of Kathmandu roads. The people couldn’t fathom why the communist government wasn’t delivering, but was instead busy promoting itself. Critics and analysts have termed this behavior as nothing but a marketing stunt in line with populist politics.

Although the current prime minister won the last election using the means of post-truth politics, people now do not like its continuity. In a country where the majority are Hindus and the rise of Christianity isn’t seen positively, the move by the Nepal Communist Government (NCP) has certainly decreased their popularity. In the past, the Nepal branch of UPF has been accused of converting people to Christianity forcibly. It is no secret that the founder of UPF was born in North Korea and eventually came to possess of a multi-billion dollar empire.

The church’s business clout extends from the United States to South Korea, and a poor and weak state like Nepal could definitely not handle its aggressive approach. The government has come under a sharp scrutiny for hosting a Christian group, which has no place in a secular state like Nepal. Nepali Prime Minister K. P. Oli has summed up the hosting of the conference to Nepal being a hospitable country and the need for boosting the tourism sector. But was he the only prime minister to host the controversial Christian group?

While many wondered how this could happen, it was a known fact that other former prime ministers were already involved in this conference in the past: Sushil Koirala, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, and Girija Prasad Koirala. Interestingly, most mainstream media were silent about the UPF conferences held in Kathmandu and had given a positive coverage to the duo. However, this time, they were quite vocal and critical about the government’s stand. Critics also believe that this reaction might have come at a time when there are high expectations of the NCP government. After the conference was over, Oli expressed his disdain against those who reacted negatively.

Oli, in a state television interview, has firmly denied that the conference was designed to spread Christianity in Nepal, but that it was purely for business purposes. He argued that the $100,000 award he received was also due to the country’s recent progress on the world stage. Moreover, he received a blessing from the head of the group, which hasn’t  been taken positively by the country’s citizens. He also criticized the so-called intellectuals and said that they would literally faint if they tried to argue with him.

Surya Raj Acharya, the spokesperson of Bibeksheel Sajha Party, says, “It is not about which government comes but since the last three years this conference has come to the forefront due to the failure of the national policy.”

“Since the last three years, the nation’s prestige and identity have been declining past three years. No matter which government comes they should be careful whom they invite and not be reckless in the name of promoting tourism. The question here is: an Ingo that promotes Christianity found a facilitator in Nepal since the government agencies were actively participating beforehand. This has raised the credibility of the current government.”

The message that the current Nepal government is sending out both nationally and internationally is a major concern for those who value human rights, social justice, and religious freedom. The present government seems to be failing in all these three frontiers, and what it does in the next four years is yet to be seen. It still has the two-thirds majority, and there’s always a rumor in the market that the communist government is preparing to amend the constitution and establish a single party rule in the Himalayan nation. This could be just another rumor, but the fact that it exists amid questions of government performance is itself worrying.

“The current government’s skill on the art of statecraft is a total failure. This unfortunate event is an eye-opener for the present and the future government, and for the party leaders of Nepal. These kinds of events which tarnish the nation’s identity and dignity should never happen,” Acharya added.

The NCP government is clearly looking to bolster its position before the next election. Its obsession with rapid development and increasing tourist visitors to the country is laudable, but the message it is sending out is dangerous. Is Nepal backing away from supporting human rights, religious freedom, and democracy? The signs are ominous today.