Nepal PM is his own worst enemy

Thousands of people from Kathmandu Valley took to the streets on Wednesday calling for the controversial Guth Bill to be scrapped altogether. Photo: MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA

The Nepal Communist Party does not need enemies. It is doing its best to undermine itself. It is squandering its two-thirds mandate with every act of omission, every speech by Prime Minister K P Oli, and by every bill he tries to ram through Parliament.

The hubris comes out of its mistaken belief that a majority government can get away with anything. Even since it came to power 18 months ago, the Oli administration has centralised power not just in Singha Darbar, but at Baluwatar Darbar. Irony of ironies: under a federal system that has theoretically devolved power to local governments, we have a government that is nearly as centralised as the Rana oligarchy. And it is displaying similar autocratic tendencies.

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From the very beginning, Oli brought various agencies of the state under his own office. One after another, he has stirred the hornet’s nest by interfering in academia, the education sector, citizenship, and pushing through a complicit Parliament measures like the Media Council Bill, the Commission on Human Rights Bill, or the National Security Agency Bill. The latest Guthi Bill sought to nationalise community trusts.

The bills were not supposed to streamline or reform those sectors, but to extend political control, restrict information, or to usurp real estate. The measures were greeted with sporadic protests, but none has been as sustained and intense as the outrage over the Guthi Bill. Besides being a travesty of the democratic process, the bill threatens to undermine ethnic harmony. For Kathmandu Valley’s Newa community, already outraged by the erosion of its heritage and civilisation through rampant urbanisation, the Guthi Bill was the last straw.

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After the opposition Nepali Congress obstructed Parliament as Prime Minister Oli tried to speak on Tuesday, the government backed down. Protesters were not mollified, and staged a mass rally at Maitighar on Wednesday calling for the bill to be scrapped altogether. Although the NC acted shabbily in trying to stop Oli from addressing the House, it may be just as well because with this abrasive and rude repartee the prime minister would probably have shot himself in the foot.

Indeed, Oli does not need enemies. He has himself. By making statements like the one recently in which he said that local government should be under the purview of the federal state, he rubbed everyone the wrong way. Instead of trying to allay fears that he is centralising power, prime minister does not seem to care what anyone thinks.

To be sure, Oli comes with a huge mandate which itself was a reward for his handling of immediate post-earthquake response, promulgation of the Constitution and the Indian Blockade in 2015. If the election victory of the UML-Maoist combine and the ensuing unification of the party made the NCP a strong political force, why then is it behaving like it is weak and thin-skinned?

Governance failure, a corruption pandemic, internal strife within the NCP, and the threat from the Biplav radicals would require full time attention from the government. But the prime minister has been too busy making one foreign trip after another to pay any attention to these urgent crises. Instead, his government brings down the entire wrath of the state by jailing a hapless movie reviewer for panning a bad movie. Instead of being magnanimous and visionary, what we have is a petty leadership that is intolerant and populist. All this has undermined the Oli government’s few accomplishments in the past year.

Oli’s other headache is internal — there are factions within factions that have prevented practical unification of the two parties. Pushpa Kamal Dahal is getting impatient to take his turn at the helm, and seems to suspect that Oli is never going to quit. Oli, in turn, appears to have lost touch with what the public is thinking, and has lashed out at intellectuals, civil society and media for criticism, when his real enemies are those who wish to dismantle the secular republican constitution, undermine federalism and return the country to violence.

Yet, all is not yet lost. There is still a chance for the NCP to redeem itself and win back the people’s trust, even if it is with token high-visibility projects. There are some young doers in the Cabinet who can deliver if given the chance. Oli has no alternative but to take the people along with him for his own sake, for the sake of his party and the nation.

10 years ago this week

A New Delhi datelined report by Kunda Dixit in Nepali Times issue #456 of 19-26 June 2009 analysed the defeat of the BJP in elections that year and the implications of a ban on India's Maoist insurgents. Things change but a lot remains the same. Excerpt:

‘The rout of both the BJP and the CPI-M in April's election represented setbacks for the Hindu-right and the Maoist-left in Nepal. In India itself, post-election politics has been dominated by a surge in the activity of India's restless Maoists, prompting the federal government on Monday to ban the party.

How India's state governments now deal with their Maoist insurgencies will have a bearing on Nepal because the Indian revolutionaries have often said they want to "liberate everything from Tirupathi to Pashupati". Similarly, the future political trajectory of the Maoists in Nepal will be keenly watched by both India's ultra-left as well as the central government.’

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