Daily newspapers in Nepal often treat national politics as the only hard news. This week, though, the politicking has been mostly back stage, and other stories have led the news.
This week Nepal’s seven parties that form the current government have been in fierce negotiations among themselves and with the Maoists to divide up ministerial berths in an interim power-sharing government. Most of that is happening behind the scenes, and with only the occasional leak from the talks to report, other news has filled newspaper front pages.
Most disturbing was an investigative report in a prominent English-language weekly on the eve of an international conference on child adoption in Kathmandu. The story alleged that orphanages are literally selling babies for adoption. Despite a legal cap of $500 on fees for an international adoption in Nepal, the magazine’s undercover team was quoted a $1,500 fee plus a substantial “donation.” The magazine’s inquiries to adoption brokers found the going rate to adopt a child to be about $5,000; child-rights organizations and researchers say the final cost to prospective parents is often twice that.
The article alleges that corruption permeates the system, with government offices that are charged with regulating adoption extracting huge fees and asking few if any questions. Follow-up reports in other media say that government officers are actively working with fake orphanages that buy children from poor parents and promote their adoption for profit.
But one Nepali child, at least, seems in charge of his own destiny. Nepal’s “little Buddha,” Ram Bahadur Bomjon, has again withdrawn from public meditation and gone into seclusion. The 16-year-old boy has drawn at least 100,000 visitors since 2005 to the tree under which he sat in deep meditation. His followers say that the boy, dressed in a loincloth and white shawl, has meditated without food or water for up to six months at a time.
Bomjon, who visitors believe is an incarnation of Buddha, does not speak. His attendants keep visitors 50 yards from the boy but say that all the attention disturbs him. Bomjon disappeared into the forest for nine months last year to escape attention and has apparently done the same thing again.
American diplomats in Nepal have been at the center of attention too. Maoist Supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known also by his nom-de-guerre of Prachanda, said last week that supporters of the king were plotting to assassinate US officials and place the blame on Maoists. The US embassy immediately released a statement calling on Prachanda to make public any evidence he had of a plot. All in good time, replied Prachanda, as royalists called the allegation ridiculous and the prime minister offered security to US officials.
The Maoist leader’s comment reflects the deep distrust between left and right that drives Nepal today, but the amount of attention it received this week shows how little hard news was available about the biggest issue of the moment, formation of a joint government with Maoist participation to keep the peace process on track.
Once that government is announced, Nepal’s media will be back to all-politics, all the time.