They fail, we fall

Illustration: SUBASH RAI

At first glance it may look like the infighting within Nepal’s main political parties are internal matters, but the lack of a national purpose is adding to the people’s hardships at a time of national crisis. 

It was because of leadership clashes that the NCP split vertically down the middle into the ominous sounding Unified Marxist-Leninists (UML) and the Maoist Centre (MC). The emasculated MC is now in dalliance with former sworn enemies, and the UML is not just in the opposition but is itself far from unified.

Former prime minister K P Oil has sidelined Madhav Kumar Nepal, and it now looks like not even a miracle will save the party. Nepal is now setting up a parallel party with its own cadre base.

The Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) is split in two. Technically, Mahanta Thakur and Rajendra Mahato may still be in the party, but they have been evicted from the Central Committee, sacked from the leadership, and along with 16 others are demoted to ordinary membership.

The Nepali Congress (NC) had greatness thrust upon it when Sher Bahadur Deuba became ‘accidental prime minister’ last month. But his feud with Ram Chandra Poudel goes back at least two decades. The Koirala clan could still have some heft within the party if only the family could speak in one voice.

NC infighting has prevented the party from conducting its 14th general assembly, which raises questions about internal democracy. The NC is not on the verge of a split like the UML or the JSP, but it is getting there.

Till press time on Thursday, Prime Minister Deuba has not been able to expand his Cabinet beyond the three ministers he currently has. This is for no other reason than the need to offer lollipops to his own colleagues, reward the Maoists for carrying him on their shoulders, give the JSP its pound of flesh, and find a place for the pro-Nepal UML dissidents who cast the decisive vote. 

All this is nothing new. Ever since the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990, Nepal’s personality-driven politics has split because of personality clashes. The need to buy loyalty to divide and rule, or to keep parties together, contributed to the rot.

Successive elected governments have failed to deliver despite enormous mandates, and the same feckless faces have populated the political stage for the past two decades. This is the fifth time Deuba is prime minister — that says it all.

Nepalis have long given up expecting anything good to come out of Singha Darbar. Except for party cadres, the ordinary citizen is least bothered about who said, or did, what to whom today.

However, such toxic and perpetual discord does not just hurt the parties, but keeps the country down, its self-esteem, governance, service delivery, long-term planning, crisis and disaster management.

It was K P Oli’s inability to appease Dahal and Nepal that drove the NCP and later the UML to a dead end. The winner takes all zero-sum game held the country hostage for three full years. 

Oli considered himself duly elected party chair and prime minister, and saw no reason why he had to give up either just because his rivals found him “autocratic”. But it was Oli’s failure as a supposedly astute politician to propitiate them.

Oli’s advisers now tell us that they were able to work properly for only half the time he was in power, the rest of the time was wasted on dealing with the political fallout of the power struggle at the top. As the pandemic spread, the rival factions spent millions on staging rented rallies as shows of force.

The instability allowed outside powers, and especially Nepal’s neighbours, to meddle in Nepal’s domestic politics. Those opposed to the hammer and sickle flag waving over Nepal appeared to be most active behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, the government forgot all about the people reeling under a health and economic emergency. No one expected much from the five-party coalition in government, and no one is surprised that we do not even have a fully functional government yet.

The five parties did manage to agree on a Common Minimum Program, which was just that: the bare minimum. Deuba and Dahal have so many mouths to feed within their parties that they haven’t been able to agree on ministerial portfolios. They are also waiting for Nepal to finally and formally leave the UML so his loyalists can also be offered positions in government. 

Not even the rise of the Hindu right, monarchists, or the call to scrap federalism and secularism has united Nepal’s politicians. 

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