That sinking feeling


Picture: Bikram Rai

W hen PM KP Oli assumed office in February, he was blessed with almost everything he would need to deliver on his promise of rapid economic growth: he swiftly cemented his grip on power by unifying his UML party with the Maoists, inducting one of the two Madhesi parties into government, restoring ties with India and winning Chinese support for large infrastructure projects.

But the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) government now seems to be sinking into a quagmire, like the submerged streets of Bhaktapur on Thursday (pictured, above).

Read also: Bhaktapur inundated, Om Astha Rai and Bikram Rai

His own ministers, especially ex-Maoist ones, are making things worse for the prime minister. PM-in-waiting Pushpa Kamal Dahal keeps a low profile, letting Oli stew in his own gravy as his ex-Maoist ministers mishandle hunger strikes by Govinda KC and Gangamaya Adhikari, whose separate fasts entered the 13th and the 44th days respectively on Thursday.

Despite leading Nepal’s strongest government since 1990, Oli doesn’t have the flexibility to address KC’s demand to roll back a regressive medical education bill. Oli ordered police to arrest one of the accused in the murder of Adhikari’s son in 2004, but ex-Maoist ministers are firmly against the extradition of another accused, Rudra Acharya, from Northern Ireland to face trial.

Read also : Red Rice, Editorial

Interpol has issued a red-corner notice against Acharya, believed to be the shooter. Sources say the UK is ready to extradite Acharya if the government assures in writing that he will not face capital punishment and torture. But ex-Maoists in the government are stalling, and Adhikari doesn’t want to call off her hunger strike.

As other political problems fester, hope is fading that Oli can expedite economic growth. The private sector was cautiously optimistic about a Communist government, now it is nervous.

Shekhar Golchha of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), told us: “The way this government is dealing with the private sector is very frustrating.”

Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa is on a selective crackdown. He ordered the arrest of four sugar mill owners for not paying farmers. He detained contractors for not completing construction in time, but NCP co-Chair Dahal’s landlord Sharada Adhikari enjoys impunity even though his firm is reportedly responsible for massive delays in high profile projects.

When a delegation of businessmen protested the high-handedness, ex-Maoist Industry Minister Matrika Yadav warned: “Be careful. This is a people’s government, it is not for businessmen.”

Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada, the architect of Oli’s economic vision, is raising taxes, but doing little to win the private sector’s confidence on investment.

Ex-banker Anal Raj Bhattarai says: “The hope that the investment climate would improve is fading fast, and this government is squandering a golden chance to set things right.”

Read also:

Oli reassures India before China visit

A Modi-fied Oli, Om Astha Rai

Lethal politics of a sick nation, Kunda Dixit

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