By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Sep 1, As 18 young women wait for the curtain to go up and the Miss Nepal 2010 pageant to start at the Tribhuvan Army Officers’ Club in Kathmandu Wednesday evening, it’s a tense time for all concerned – the participants, the organisers and the main sponsor, Dabur Nepal.
Nepal’s oldest and most popular beauty pageant is under siege.
Since 2006, when the Maoist guerrillas signed a peace accord and returned from their bunkers in the jungles, the contest has been facing opposition by the women’s organisation of the former rebels.
In 2008, when the Maoists came to power after winning the elections, Miss Nepal was the first casualty with the All Nepal Women’s Federation (Revolutionary) lobbying the council of ministers and preventing the pageant from being held.
Though the women MPs from the party say they are opposing the contest because it reduces women to commodities and is a blind aping of western cultures, the fact remains that they have allowed dozens of other beauty contests to be held without any fuss.
Also, ironically, the country that inspired the Maoist movement in Nepal – northern neighbour China – is today one of the biggest promoters of beauty pageants.
The Miss World 2010 show returns to China in December after Vietnam backed out of an agreement to host the event.
The Maoists’ main opposition to Miss Nepal stems from the fact that its chief sponsor is Indian ayurvedic company Dabur India’s Nepal venture, Dabur Nepal.
In the course of their 10-year war, the Maoists have frequently targeted Indian ventures and joint ventures in Nepal. Despite the peace pact pledging not to target industries, the Maoist trade union has been arm-twisting Indian companies into hiking pay and perks.
This year, besides the Maoist animosity, Dabur Nepal also faces a media campaign against it, begun several weeks ago by a section of the media that has not been receiving any advertisements from the company.
From Tuesday, the campaign has also spread to Miss Nepal, highlighting an interaction in the capital where Maoists spoke out against Miss Nepal.
The 16-year-old pageant was floundering seven years ago when Indian companies came forward to sponsor it and gave it a fresh lease of life.
Since then, the winners have been able to represent Nepal in contests abroad, like Miss World and Miss Earth.
Dabur Nepal says the pageant is an appropriate vehicle to project its cosmetic products. However, it also says that if the opposition becomes shrill, it is ready to withdraw as the main sponsor.
The Hidden Treasure, the event management company that is also the franchisee of Miss Nepal, remains tense about the future.
Should Dabur Nepal dissociate itself from Miss Nepal, it would be an uphill task for them to keep the pageant going.
(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)