If the news is about new happenings, peaceful general strikes should make no news these days. They are happening all too often. The far west shutdown has been there for weeks. In the southern plains, one or the other group is calling and enforcing strikes, disturbing the normalcy. Kathmandu has been no exception. Several bandh calls over the week have affected the routines of residents here. Obviously, a variety of groups, and a variety of their combines, from among the more than 100 ethnic communities of the country, are using the bandh as a tool to press for their right, identity and state in the new constitution. Most of the peaceful demonstrations are understandable because the tenure of the Constituent Assembly, which came into being with the sole purpose of writing the new republic’s constitution, is ending in less than a week. There are doubts about the ability of the political parties to come to terms and resolve the issues of the constitution once and for all. The 12th amendment of the interim constitution has shortened the CA procedures for promulgating the new constitution. Yet, several uncertainties continue to surround it.
At this critical juncture, however, when every moment is a time to act, bandhs have brought the nation to a virtual standstill. They have made life hard for all, women and children, natives and foreigners, the weak and elderly. Commuting to hotels, homes and hospitals has been tough and risky. But these are all old stories featuring the common people’s hardships. The loss of opportunities for wage earners, businesses and industries has also lost its appeal as a selling angle. Except for the new figures of losses running into millions and billions of rupees, there is nothing new and immediate in the ‘lost opportunity’ stories. Closed schools and factories, deserted roads and shuttered shops might have caused an immediate impact to many, a major news criteria, but they are also mundane features of any bandh. Now, when demonstrators, sometimes with diametrically opposite demands, such as ‘one province versus many provinces,’ cross paths and clash, the media pepper the same stories with conflict perspectives. For, conflict and drama, as they come to the fore, interest the people. The video of the verbal diatribe, and the near fisticuff, involving the bandh organisers and news workers at the Reporter’s Club, was one such interesting news.
The first day of the three-day general strike by the indigenous nationalities and janajati sponsors, protesting against the political plan to create 11 federal provinces for the country, drew more media attention than the previous bandhs as it started with the damage to dozens of vehicles and burning of newspapers. Manhandling media people and vandalising their equipment are surer ways to receive greater media attention. They bring the principle of proximity into play with conflict in the news. The sense of solidarity among journalists as a fraternity adds to the possibility of such news being picked up by many news outlets. Paradoxically, this publicises the event of the organisers. The Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities and the Broader Madhesi Front, the sponsors of Sunday’s bandh, may not have planned to use this particular tactic, but the attacks on the media people and their institutions precisely worked that way. As the event unfolded with protests by journalists, it tarnished the image of the bandh organisers as trying to weaken the democratic functions of a free media. Sweeping allegations about media bias and loaded communal discourses alone will not clear the blemish soon.