By Maila Baje
As his government advances toward its six-month milestone, Prime Minister K.P. Oli must be busy wondering what has gone so wrong.
Backed by a two-thirds majority in parliament, Oli expected to lead New Nepal on its first real steps toward peace, progress and prudence. Three tiers of elections under the new popularly drafted constitution had set the country firmly on the path of republicanism, secularism and federalism.
By uniting the country’s two major communist parties, Oli had at least provided the theoretical basis to end the factionalism and instability emanating from that end of the ideological spectrum.
The early signs were impressive. Oli ended the transport syndicate that was fleecing the people, often in connivance with officialdom. His government began regulating foreign volunteer organizations to ensure what they were doing was in fact what Nepal needed.
The government stopped construction activities on cultivable land and began holding contractors accountable to their schedules. Governance may not have suddenly improved. There was the promise that it could become better.
On the vital external front, Oli succeeded in winning the confidence of Nepal’s two powerful neighbors, raising the prospect of ending a divergence of north-south expectations that had long constrained our politics. Braving opposition from countries farther afield, he forced the United Nations to close its political affairs office, deeming it an irrelevant hangover of the UN Mission to Nepal.
When some began describing him as Nepal’s most powerful leader since King Mahendra, Oli seemed to like the comparison. After all, he understood that the more politically apt B.P. Koirala analogy was practically futile, considering that a two-thirds majority eventually meant little for Nepal’s first elected premier.
And yet, our prime minister is being roundly castigated as an autocrat, if not already then certainly an aspiring one. Opposition parties are organizing protests in the defense of democracy with the decibels rising in the media echo chamber. The prime minister, struggling to regain the initiative, imparts an image of sheer helplessness.
When Oli even begins to reiterate his promise of achieving an eight percent economic growth rate and a per capita income of US$5,000 by the end of his five-year term, he provokes howls of derision. The train from China and boat rides to India entered the compendium of ‘Oli-isms’ – entertaining but empty exhortations.
It is tempting to argue that this opposition is contrived by the very domestic and external quarters Oli has alienated the most. That would only ignore the assistance the prime minister and his party are providing his opponents.
In the recent imbroglio involving Dr. Govinda KC and his hunger strike, the government’s eventual conciliation was weighed against its initial callousness. The parliamentary public hearing committee’s rejection of Deepak Raj Joshee’s nomination as chief justice may have been the inevitable outcome of broader systemic and political vagaries. Yet it is being portrayed as Oli’s egregious assault on the independence of the judiciary and democracy.
When Oli continues to speak in parables and proverbs, it can be digested as an enduring personality trait. When ministers try aping their boss – in candor and caginess alike – it creates the kind of unfortunateness the law minister found himself in vis-à-vis Nepali female students in Bangladesh.
Oli’s counterpart as leader of the unified Communist Party of Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, has invoked a vow of silence of sorts when it comes to the prime minister. When Dahal does speak, he does so in platitudes that can be hardly comforting to the prime minister.
Oli, moreover, is discovering the downside of personal preponderance. With little role or relevance on things that really matter, men like Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhal Nath Khanal and Bam Dev Gautam can’t be too enthused about defending the prime minister.
All said and done, a ruthless and relentless learning process wasn’t what Oli – or the rest of us – thought these first six months would be.