DANG / ROLPA, July 31: Dang district's Babai Rural Municipality-4 used to have a village named 'Maskidar'. The small settlement managed to retain its name for many generations. But after the recent local elections, its name was changed to 'Surya Nagar'.The elected local representatives had arbitrarily decided to rename the village. The name 'Surya Nagar' was chosen because majority voters in the local unit are supporters of the then CPN-UML, whose election and party symbol is 'Surya', or sun in English.
Both the chief and deputy chief of the Rural Municipality are from the UML, the present day Nepal Communist Party (NCP). They also changed the name of a stadium in the rural municipality. For many years, the stadium's name was Purandhara Rangashala. Now it has been renamed to pay tribute to the late communist leader Madan Bhandari.
Over three dozen names of the public places in Babai rural municipality have been renamed with the names of the past UML leaders and Maoists have followed suit.
Over three dozen names of the public places in the rural municipality have been changed in the same fashion. Many of the places were renamed with the names of the past UML leaders. It outraged some residents, leading to protests.“The party has arbitrarily renamed many public places and infrastructure structures after their past and present leaders. Therefore we are compelled to protest against the such decision,” said Jhupu Khatri, a local resident. Initially, leaders of the main opposition Nepali Congress (NC) and then CPN (Maoist Center) led the protests. However, the Maoist Center discontinued the protests after their party unified with then UML to form the NCP, the ruling party. As the NC is in minority in the local unit, the protest had little effect.Babai Rural Municipality is not the only local unit where this has happened. Many of the district's public places have suffered the same fate. The crossroads, waiting areas, roads, villages, canal and stadium among other public structures have been renamed after communist leaders.
The elected local representatives have adopted the same strategy thinking it would help them maintain the party's influence in the communities. There are also cases of intra-party conflict in the renaming places. A rural road of Tulsipur Sub-metropolis was named 'Abhaya Marga' a few years ago by then Maoist Center-led government. The government had named it after a deceased cadre of the party. But after the local elections, debate started over renaming the road. Then UML wanted to rename it as 'Shreemani Marga' after Shreemani Acharya, the deceased husband of the sub-metropolis's deputy mayor Maya Acharya. However, then Maoist Center rejected the idea. In order to resolve the conflict, they decided to split the road's name. A section of the road retained its name of 'Abhaya Marga' while the other half was renamed 'Shreemani Marga'.“They are renaming public places after their election symbols and leaders. The two-thirds majority they currently enjoy is being misused to solidify the party's influence. They should be focusing on meaningful development instead,” said Gehendra Giri, former member of the parliament.
Not just the public places, there are also cases where the whole rural municipalities have been renamed after party leaders and cadres. In Rolpa district, it has been proposed that the Suwarnawati Rural Municipality be renamed to 'Sahid Sunil Memorial' Rural Municipality. Kim Bahadur Thapa 'Sunil', was a Maoist commander who was killed during the insurgency.The proposal submitted by the rural municipality chairman Gugendra Gharti Magar generated a big debate for a long time after four ward chairmen objected. Many protested stating that the name Suwarnawati holds a historic significance and should not be changed.
Rural Municipality chief Gharti Magar argued that 'Suwarnawati' is difficult to pronounce and the name itself is not 'meaningful'. He argued that Suwarnawati was difficult to pronounce so the name should be changed to pay respects to a martyr. Sukidaha Rural Municipality of the district also saw a similar debate. The chief of the local unit Bir Bahadur Khatri, who was elected from the then Maoist Center, had decided to rename the rural municipality in memory of his wife Gangawali and another deceased Dev Bahadur Oli, both of whom were killed during the conflict era. His proposal was to rename the local unit to 'Gangadev Rural Municipality'. As his party enjoys comfortable two-thirds majority, the proposal was passed easily, but it generated lots of protests. The dispute has reached the Supreme Court and final verdict is awaited.
“The decision was passed by a two-thirds majority of the council of the rural municipality. It was done in honor of our martyr,” said the rural municipality chief Khatri. “Since it was a decision of the two-thirds majority, we won't change it.”Likewise, name of Duikholi Rural Municipality was changed to Paribartan Rural Municipality by the first village council meeting. It was done so in memory of the late Maoist leader Nep Bahadur KC 'Paribartan'. Unlike in other places, this decision has not been challenged.