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Our leading comedians

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It’s strange how things work in our country these days. We have comedians doing the job of our politicians and bureaucrats whilst our leaders and administrators have been busy trying to give the public a few laughs instead doubling up as unintentional comedians. The ‘Dhurmus Suntali’ Foundation – the eponymous initiative of the comedy duo recently handed over a fully reconstructed, integrated settlement of over 65 homes to the residents of Giranchaur, Sindhupalchowk who were severely affected by the earthquake last year.

Remember the earthquake? It seems that our politicians and administrators have all but forgotten about it because of the more recent earthquakes and upheavals (of the political kind) but I suspect more importantly because there is not a lot of scope to profit from it anymore – politically or materially. There are no more relief materials to appropriate and sell, no political bartering to be done for the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), no more ‘bogus’ quake survivors to be registered or lobbying to go abroad for ‘technical’ studies.

We’ve had three different governments since the earthquake struck last year under the leadership of the usual suspects, the Nepali Congress, CPN – UML, and now the Maoists but nothing has really changed in terms of the status of earthquake survivors. Around this time last year, while the country was reeling under the economic blockade, there was collective worry, even from some factions of the political establishment about how the earthquake survivors would cope during the harsh winter. Well, one winter has come and gone and we are now on the cusp of another but things still remain the same. It says a lot that over the years we have become accustomed to government indifference to pressing issues, choosing instead to rely on our own collective efforts and the leadership of civil society leaders of the likes of Sitaram Kattel and Kunjana Ghimire.

The homes handed over by the comedy duo were ‘model’ settlements in more ways than one – not just a model of the types of houses that could be constructed but also a model of the way things should actually be done. It’s not about just the donations and monetary contributions but also the implementation and willingness of the people involved in it. The comedy duo have not only collected donations for the reconstruction drive but have, more importantly, mobilized people from all walks of life to complete the works and hand it over to the residents. This is in stark contrast to our governments who have all been preoccupied with trying to unseat each other during this same time.

We have also held donor ‘pledging’ conferences, bickered over the formation and posts of the NRA, and disbursed monetary relief that would struggle to compensate for a few blankets never mind kick start ‘reconstruction’ efforts. In this particular endeavor at Giranchaur, our National Reconstruction Authority and Ministry of Local Development ‘collaborated’ with them for the construction of this settlement as opposed to taking the lead. The key word is ‘collaboration’ because it pretty much sums up the government’s attitude in a nutshell. We won’t do our jobs but we will cooperate with all the folks (NGO’s, INGO’s, civil society leaders) who will do it for us – if we feel so inclined. All you have to do is just reserve for them a couple of seats at the handover ceremony because there’s nothing like adding a bit of official gloss to the government’s failings.

It would be a stretch to call this ‘collaboration’ a PPP (public- private partnership) as some people have because all credit must go largely to the two leaders of this initiative. But the idea is not misplaced and reconstruction drive would be ripe to test its feasibility in Nepal’s context.

I’m not saying that the government cannot do any work, it’s just a case of priorities and our priorities since the earthquake have been elsewhere. Our government units certainly can, if they are made to. If you saw the roads leading up to the Hyatt Hotel in preparation for the president of India Pranab Mukherjee’s arrival you would get my point. That work – albeit cosmetic – was done by government agencies. All of it. Overnight. On a national holiday!

The success of these artistes work in Giranchaur should ideally shame the government into action but in between their game of thrones I doubt if they have any time to reflect on concepts such as shame. We will probably be in the same place next year in terms of reconstruction efforts. The only thing that will change is the government, with the Maoists giving way to the Nepali Congress but sadly it won’t make any difference to the survivors. It’s the same endless carousel of jokers who are not particularly good at being comedians but on the other spectrum of the role reversal, the prospect of having our comedians as leaders instead is something I would gladly vote for any day.

By Gunjan Upadhyay

The writer loves traveling, writing, and good food when he is afforded an escape from the rat race. He can be reached at gunjan.u@gmail.com