Absolute power numbs absolutely

Dr. Govinda KC when he was brought to Kathmandu from Jumla, in the midst of his 15th hunger strike. Photo: BIKRAM RAI

Usually, politicians of all hues everywhere tend to suffer from short-term memory loss. It is a coping mechanism to wiggle out of their past pronouncements.

In Nepal, the leaders, ministers, cadres and apologists for the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) have viciously targeted Govinda KC, who has been fighting for much-needed reforms in Nepal’s medical sector.

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They have questioned KC’s motives for his latest indefinite hunger strike, his 15th which began more than 23 days ago. The frequency and intensity of attacks have increased as the government has come under attack in the mainstream and social media. The frustration of the comrades is palpable, as seen in the indecent comments by Bishnu Rimal, chief adviser to Prime Minister Oli and the blatantly derogatory remarks by the Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Sher Bahadur Tamang.

Prime Minister Oli, himself known for his sharp tongue, has led the charge in vilifying KC. He is behaving more like a politician on the verge of losing power than a leader who commands an effective two-thirds majority in the Parliament. He and his henchmen complain of an opposition gherabandi (siege) – the common recourse of Nepal’s communists when they have to defend the indefensible.

Instead of using its super majority in the House to honor the promises made while in opposition or just before the elections, Oli and his comrades display their cluelessness and expose an obsession for protecting special interest groups, and their own egos.

NCP’s middling politicians run bad private hospitals, so they naturally incurred losses. They now want to cover up for those losses by being allowed to run lucrative medical colleges that will fleece medical students who will go on to fleece patients when they become physicians.

Social media has exposed the hypocrisy of it all – how Oli, his party colleague and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal as well as leaders of other parties fly to Thailand or Singapore for their own treatment.

The Mathema Committee Report, prepared by credible experts, suggested ways to improve the country’s ailing healthcare system, and KC wants the recommendations to be implemented in letter and spirit. None of the Communist leaders and their apologists have come up with an argument against the recommendations. So they resort to character assassination.

KC has had to resort to serial hunger strikes during the tenures of all the main parties in the past decade. Ironically the NC, which did nothing to address KC’s demands when it was in power, has joined the pro-KC protests. Therefore, it’s a bit rich for the likes of Sher Bahadur Deuba and Baburam Bhattarai to now cry crocodile tears as they pose for selfies by KC’s bedside.  Gentlemen, why didn’t you implement the agreement you signed with KC when you were prime ministers?

Then there is Narayan Kaji Shrestha pointing out that since the ‘neo-liberal’ Nepali Congress is supporting KC’s protest, the movement is questionable. How many times has his own party, before dissolving into the UML, formed coalition governments with the self-same neo-liberals? Shamelessness is part of a politician’s job description, but this takes hypocrisy to a whole new level.

The NCP’s latest argument is that by fasting for three weeks, KC is ‘interfering’ with a sovereign parliament’s rights to enact laws. Really? When hospital tycoons like Durga Prasai control your party, the talk of sovereignty rings pretty hollow. Why don’t Oli and Dahal trust their own party’s Manmohan Hospital, and instead rush off to Bangkok and Singapore for treatment?  KC’s crusade is precisely to make Nepal’s hospitals good enough to treat Oli and Dahal.

Citizens, the true sovereign in any functioning democracy, have the right to resort to any kind of peaceful protest. Remember, it is they who elect you and can boot you out. The NC and RPP (N) should not try to hijack KC’s satyagraha for their political ends – this will undermine KC’s sacrifice and give ammo to the government.

The NCP is right in accusing the NC of politicisation of KC’s struggle. So what is stopping it from implementing its own past agreements with KC? Why give the NC the opportunity to weaponise the KC hunger strike?

The Communists have shown that with their two-thirds, they want to throw their weight around. But they would do well to remember that a party’s goodwill and capital could vanish in no time if they show signs of authoritarianism. Remember the Karki vs Karki episode in 2016. The Nepali Congress wanted to protect Lokman Singh Karki, the man who was running his own unaccountable fiefdom as CIAA head. But the party had no qualms about attempting to impeach Chief Justice Sushila Karki.

No wonder the NC was whacked so badly in last year’s elections. And that is a lesson also for the Communists.

Twitter: @damakant