'They listen to you only when you burn tires'
Thakur Gaire is president of the ANFSU, a UML-affiliated student organization, which is leading the students' protest against the transport fare hike. Gaire has been involved in student politics for the last 20 years. The students are adamant that unless their demands, which include a 50 percent discount on transport fares, are fulfilled, they will not stop their agitation. Gaire spoke to Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post about the protest program, their demands and a possible solution.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: For the last two days, students have been staging fierce protests burning tires, vandalizing government and private vehicles and disrupting the valley's traffic. Why this rage?
Thakur Gaire: We are protesting against the sudden hike in transport fares. Right after the government jacked up petro prices, transport entrepreneurs hiked transport fares unilaterally. This is not acceptable.
Q: What are your demands then?
Gaire: We have demanded a 50 percent discount for students. Earlier, we had agreed to a 33 percent discount, but that was rarely implemented as the transport entrepreneurs denied students that facility by creating a quota system. So we are also calling for scrapping the quota system, which means that all students with a valid ID should be provided the stated discount. Similarly, we have also asked for creating a system to deter the misuse of student ID cards as we have seen non-students exploiting the facility. We have submitted an eight-point demand including the above to the government.
Q: Do you think your demand for a 50 percent discount is justifiable? Can entrepreneurs afford that?
Gaire: Yes, that is justifiable because transport entrepreneurs are not going to lose anything. They will be exempted from government taxes in proportion to the discount they provide.
Q: How long will this go on? You must find a solution.
Gaire: The ANFSU has no intention of creating problems only; we have proposed a solution also.
Q: What will you do if your demands are not fulfilled?
Gaire: We've planned a phase-wise protest program including a
bandh. But I wish that we won't have to go to that extent. I don't think our demands will be rejected. Nepal
Q: What if they don't agree?
Gaire: We will not stop until our demands are met. But there are no demands which cannot be fulfilled. Some government officials had whispered to me that we should have asked for a 60 to 65 percent discount, and then bargained them down to 50 percent. But I don't like bargaining because it is a genuine demand. Besides, it's not a new one. The government should not hesitate to give us this facility.
Let me state clearly that my role in bringing the country to this stage is many times greater than any minister in the government today. Besides me personally, our organization also contributed much to making the April movement a success. But we have not asked for any ministerial positions or any personal benefits. We are doing this for the welfare of the students. The students were the ones who braved bullets, batons and tear gas to catapult these leaders to the ministerial posts they are enjoying today. So I don't think the government will dither over fulfilling the students' demands.
Q: But the students never tried to change their behavior. They seem to believe that they can do anything they like. Why do student unions like yours back them and provoke them to go wild?
Gaire: It is because the dictators of the past have irritated them and made them very aggressive. But let us also not forget that it is the same ministers and leaders who pat us on our backs for what we did while fighting against the monarchy. So they cannot vilify us today when the same students are protesting against the present government for their rights.
It is sad that a bad precedent has been set. Without burning tires and staging violent street protests, the government does not listen to anyone's demands.
Q: Do you justify the acts of vandalism committed by students, for example, the smashing up of the Chief Justice's car at Putali Sadak the other day?
Gaire: While I don't say that violence is good and also don't commend the students for wrecking the Chief Justice's car, I also don't criticize them because the Chief Justice should not have taken the road where he knew that ANFSU students were holding a demonstration.
Q: Are there other students' unions in this protest?
Gaire: No, the ANFSU is the only organization doing the protesting.
Q: Why are you not coordinating with other student unions?
Gaire: This is purely an ANFSU program. There is no environment for coordination because the Maoist-affiliated student union has been continuing with its atrocities, intimidation and criminal activities. You can read about their violent acts in the newspapers everyday.
The other day at RR Campus, Maoist-affiliated students beat up our friends over a minor reason. What is more disgusting is that when our injured friends were being treated at
, Matrika Yadav arrived all of a sudden and misbehaved with them. He manhandled one of our members Sobhiet Dhakal. He even threatened to blow up the hospital. He was in a bad temper when he got there as he had come right after locking up the LDO in the toilet. So I don't see any environment for coordination. Even then, I am inviting them to join us. Model Hospital
Q: There are other more distressing issues facing the country today. The nation has been held hostage by political parties wrangling over power. Why are you keeping mum about all this?
Gaire: This is really a genuine concern. We agree that the leaders are wasting precious time because of their greed for power. Regarding this subject, we have presented our stand through our seven-point memorandum which includes our clear views on major items on the agenda. What we are saying is that we must have a common understanding on major issues, such as state restructuring, among the student groups at least. This will help us exert pressure on the parties.