How Maoists manipulate Nepal’s labor unions

West Lafayette, IN, United States, — The Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Free Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union forced 24 outlets of four restaurant chains to close last week. Union workers went on strike demanding a 40 percent pay raise and 100 percent “dearness allowance” increase (similar to cost-of-living increase), along with other demands.

Following negotiations, the closed restaurants will reopen on Wednesday. Shyam Sundarlal Kakshapati, the president of the Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal who led negotiations with the union leaders, has hinted that there is no possibility of fulfilling the workers’ demands on salary and dearness allowance raise. The four restaurant chains reportedly suffered about 800,000 rupees (nearly US$11,000) in losses per day due to the forced shutdowns.

From the facts, this looks like just another dispute between labor and management, of the kind that is common around the world. But the actors behind the scenes make this labor dispute part of a larger strategy of the Maoists to slowly derail the economy and establish their version of a socialist Nepal.

In their 2008 Constituent Assembly election manifesto, the Maoists declared that they aim to establish “socialism-oriented national industrial capitalism” by promoting the private sector, initiating revolutionary land reforms and encouraging foreign direct investment. The Maoists actions, however, tell a different story.

In late 2008, a Maoist-affiliated trade union attacked Himal Media, the publisher of the Nepali Times and Himal, after the two newspapers published reports criticizing union leader Salikram Jamarkattle for essentially extorting funds from businesses that refused to accept his demands. Jamarkattle is also a Constituent Assembly member and is involved in coordinating the restaurant strike.

The attack on Himal Media prompted widespread condemnation and brought huge media attention to the Maoists and their trade unions’ actions. Unfortunately the disturbances in the restaurants have been virtually ignored by the Nepalese media. The Maoists are getting a free pass, even after causing long-term damage to the country’s already battered economy.

No one disputes the fact that workers should be paid fair wages and have bargaining rights with the management. But demanding a 40 percent pay raise all of a sudden is not the way. It is irresponsible, as it is not possible for a business to make money if it takes such a big hike in overhead without an opportunity to arrange funds to cover the gap.

What benefit is it then to shut down a business, thereby taking away

employment opportunities from so many? That too in a country where unemployment is 46 percent and has grown 4 percent in the last four years.

The only way to explain this contradiction is to see labor rights as a tool for the Maoists to gain greater control over the economy. Maoist-affiliated unions are mushrooming in business establishments across the country. They are run with just one goal in mind — to further the party’s long-term goals.

One by one, the party conducts strikes to test the waters, using unreasonable demands. As businesses are forced to settle to save themselves, the Maoists move ahead with their plan.

The closed restaurants will open on Wednesday, but there is no guarantee that they will be able to operate in a business-friendly environment. What the union has forced the management to concede is not public yet; but it is amply clear who runs the show in Nepal.

During their decade-long armed conflict, guns and weapons were the tools for the Maoists. Now they have unions and Constituent Asembly members.

Previously published at UPI Asia

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Rohingyas: Bangladesh’s dilemma and a humanitarian disaster

BBC is reporting that a humanitarian disaster is unfolding in Bangladesh.Refugees from neighboring Burma (or Myanmar)-the Rohingyas are being targeted by the government .

The Rohingyas are one of the most desperate people, if you look at their situation closely. Burma does not want them, they are Muslims and speak a Bengali dialect. You say-so they seem closer to Bangladesh, why can’t the country provide a better environment for them? Well, it is not that easy.

Bangladesh is not a rich country with financial and social means to accept the desperate Rohingyas. They have constraints, yes the UN is helping them take care of about 30,000 Rohingyas registered as refugees but the ever-growing number of refugees entering the country illegally is straining the local economy. Local people are concerned that the refugees are taking away meagre opportunities.

So what do you do if you are Bangladesh? Just reading BBC’s report it is easy to blame Dhaka but let us keep the finger-pointing aside. Where is Burma’s responsibility? Rohingyas are Burmese and Burma is their country. If they are being disenfranchised and discriminated in their homeland, than that issue has to be addressed first-before blaming Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi dancer

Image via Wikipedia.

Burma is a rouge regime, and everyone in South Asia is putting up with that because China is still not convinced that the tyrants need to be held accountable.But for how long?

Let us call Bangladesh to be more humane but let us not forget Burma’s responsibility when it comes to the Rohingyas.

For more on the Rohingyas, here is a Wikipedia entry.More on Bangladesh and its economy.

Indo-Sino relations: Nepal is also a factor

Read a very interesting, informative piece at Huffington Post on Indo-Sino relations. The authors list three major reasons for friction between the two neighbours:

1) The disputed border: Having never formally resolved their lingering border dispute, both countries will continue to find the absence of a resolution an irritant that will underlay and influence the health of bilateral relations;

2) Naval rivalry in the Indian Ocean: As China seeks to project its power regionally, India’s navy will continue to be the only regional impediment to China’s blue water ambitions. Other countries in the region may object to China’s projection of sea power, but only India has the ability to challenge it; and

3) Pakistan: China’s continuing support of Pakistan’s military, and by extension its ability to remain an irritant on the subject of Kashmir, will remain a point of contention for India.”

Nepal's flag

Image via Wikipedia

They have missed out a very small but important part-Nepal.

Nepal may be insignificant economy, and military wise but the country’s geographic location,long shared history with India and China, and current political changes in the country makes it a very important part of the puzzle.

Nepal is nestled between India and China, and shares long wide open border with India. The open border has long been consider a curse and boon for the neighbours. Because of lack of proper management and policing, criminals, terrorists have abused the open borders-smuggling counterfeit currency and drugs, human trafficking and evading justice.

After Mumbai terrorist attacks, the open border issues is getting lot more attention. And rightly so, it is a security hole that needs to be fixed.

Open border is one of the many sore subjects in Indo-Nepal relations. There is also a huge cultural and historic baggage. Media frenzy over India’s alleged “underground activities against Nepal” is not helping either.Recent political changes in Nepal have also affected Indo-Nepal relations.

With centuries old monarchy replaced by a republic system, and a communist party(the Maoists) as leaders in the constituent assembly; India’s view of Nepal has changed. Nepal is no longer the ever trustworthy friend but a country in transition with very suspicious people in leadership role. Present Indian government is not comfortable with  Nepal’s Maoists-there have been many accusations(not proven) of Nepali Maoists aiding their Indian counterparts in their anti-government activities.

In midst of changing Indo-Nepal relations, enter China. After the country was declared a republic, the Chinese and Nepal are getting closer. And India is not so sure about this friendship which got a shot of vigour following Maoist victory in constituent assembly elections. Is Nepal turning into a Red Zone, with China behind the scence?-India is concerned.

Issue of Nepal , not be as big as how to deal with Pakistan or the border dispute, but it is for sure on the list of Indian and Chinese diplomats.

Shiv Sena Vs ShahRukh Khan:May be ShahRukh did misspoke

In my last post about Shiv Sen’s reign of terror in Mumbai, I did not discuss a statement made by ShahRukh-not the one supporting inclusion of Pakistani players in the Indian Premier League (IPL)(India’s cricket league) but the one where he supports Pakistan as a “great neighbour”.

Shiv Sena's Flag

Image via Wikipedia

The Australian has quoted Khan as saying

“Pakistan is a great neighbour to have. We are great neighbours. They are good neighbours. Let us love each other,”

Now, Shah Rukh did a good job by asking for inclusion of Pakistani  players in the IPL. It is a good thing for the sports and could also help improve relations between he two feuding neighbors at the people’s level. But it is difficult to make sense of his latter statement where is says that Pakistan is a good neighbour to have-for India.

Mumbai attacks were coordinated by terrorists in Pakistan, Pakistan is also involved in creating problems in Kashmir-aiding separatist movement there. Looking back to the years since Pakistan was created after the British left India, it is safe to say that no year has gone by where the two countries co-existed peacefully. There has always been this air of bitterness. It is not the Pakistan is the only bad guy here, but compared to India’s activities-Pakistan is clearly the one with most negatives.

So then why is ShahRukh Khan, loved by millions of Indians is choosing to ignore the pain inflicted upon his homeland by Pakistan and is calling them “great neighbors”??

I do not buy that he is doing so because he is a Muslim and has a soft spot for Pakistan-a Muslim nation; or that he has some ulterior motive related to his religion and Hindu majority India.

ShahRukh Khan sees no purpose in stocking the feud between two neighbors and wants the feud to end. Also, since his family is originally from Pakistan it is understandable that he wants better relations between the two countries. So his statement, from what I see, is a call for harmony, understanding and peace.

But it was a bad PR move making such statement. It just added to the fire of communalism and fear started by Shiv Sena. Also, it was a bit insensitive to say that Pakistan is a good neighbour when the memory of Mumbai attacks still fresh in people’s mind.

So what is the verdict? Shahrukh is guilty of being a little insensitive and bit PR  challenged.It makes no sense calling him anti-India. Give him a break!

Shiv Sena reign of terror

Shiv Sena’s reign of terror in Mumbai-India’s financial hub is on full display. According to the Hindustan Times, cinema halls in the city will not screen ShahRukh Khan’s movie “My Name is Khan” because Shiv Sena has threatened them not to do so.

“A section of cinema hall and multiplex owners have decided not to screen the movie on grounds of security in view of the threats from the Shiv Sena, according to industry sources.

However, other independent theater owners where the movie is scheduled for release have adopted a “wait and watch” policy before taking a final decision on the issue by late Thursday.

As per latest indications, at least three major chains of multiplexes, Fun Cinemas, Fame, and INOX have decided against releasing the movie, while other major cinemas like G-7, Maratha Mandir and some other single-screen cinemas have stopped advance bookings for MNIK, the sources told IANS.”

Why is Shiv Sena against ShahRukh Khan? Bollywood’s leading actor, loved by millions-not only in India but in South Asia, North America and Europe? Khan is a Muslim who dared to speak honestly when the Indian Premier League(Indian version of cricket league, similar to soccer leagues in Europe) failed to sign any Pakistani players. He expressed sadness over the incident.

Shiv Sena, a Hindu radical outfit with very narrow view on Muslims and neighboring Pakistan could not stand Khan’s honestly. Now they are determined do anything they can to hurt Khan.

But is Shiv Sena’s radicalism and hate mongering hurting Khan? It seems that because of Sena’s threat Khan is getting more attention from the media-national and international, and he is also gathering support. Meanwhile, Sena is receiving lot of negative attention and criticism. So, Sena is the loser here.But this loss does not bother Shiv Sena because those who are rational and see this

ShahRukh Khan

Image via Wikipedia,

incident as blatant terrorism are not Sena’s audience.

Shiv Sena’a antics are targeted towards those who are already fearful of Muslims and Pakistan. No matter how many analysts say that threatening ShahRukh Khan is a bad PR, Shiv Sena could care less. For them, gains have been made.

Nepali film industry: Ignoring a gold mine

Nepali actor Rajesh Hamal

Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

It has been a while since I enjoyed a Nepali movie, so it may seem a bit odd to hear about the industry from me. The reason is not that I have lost interest in Nepali movies or that I am finally not willing to spend time watching a Bollywood movie remade in Nepali language. It is because I can’t relate to them anymore.

For example, the last Nepali movie I watched was “Numafung”, excellent storyline, great location and good actors-a rare combination by Kathmandu standards! It is about a girl trapped in tradition surrounding marriage and dating in here village. A storyline based in rural Nepal, Numafung’s appeal (in my case) was sadly limited to enjoying the location.

As urbanization grows in Nepal, large number of movie goers are experiencing changes in lifestyle and surroundings. They are exposed to international music, culture and ideas. It is not fair to expect them to fall for same old storyline where a village belle is wooed by a city slicker or where a widowed mother raises her sons to be no nonsense crime fighters. Nepali movies-when they try to present an “original” storyline are stuck in the old routine, but most of the time they are shamelessly copying Bollywood movies.

Not surprisingly more and more Nepalese gravitate towards Bollywood movies and the few who are comfortable with English choose Hollywood flicks. At least they are made better and have (even though limited sometimes) original and interesting storyline.

If Nepali movie industry is to survive and thrive, here is what needs to happen-increased production value, better storyline that reflect changing nature of the country and also better marketing.

On marketing, let me deviate a little here. A week or so back, I had an opportunity to participate in live chat with Bollywood actor ShahRukh Khan and Kajol, who were in the US to promote their upcoming movie My Name is Khan. Thats what need to happen with Nepali movies too. Every year Nepali population in the US and Europe is growing, why not utilize the growing diaspora?

Wikipedia has a comprehensive entry on Nepali movie industry.

And I will surely continue on this conversation about Nepali movie industry..

Update on the restaurant closing

Republica reports that the closed restaurants will open starting Wednesday.

“Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal (REBAN), the umbrella organization of restaurants, Tuesday decided to open all 24 outlets of four restaurant chains that had remained closed from Friday.

REBAN took the decision following the meeting with management of the restaurants and workers at New Baneshwar on Tuesday evening.”

A positive development but still there is enough space to doubt the real motive behind the move to reconcile.

“Yam Bahadur Karki, president of the ANHRWU´(Maoist Union) Bakery Café unit, said they would continue with their protest if agreement was not made on their demands. “Our demands are not that big. We just want a win-win situation for both the management and the workers,” he added.”

So there is still a possibility that the workers will create problems later on; because the union is not undertaking the protest for the workers. This is part of larger picture for the Maoists. Control all industries one by one and create disturbance to impede growth. As the country slowly grinds to a halt, then take over. Workers rights is just a smoke screen.