BY SHASHI MALLA
Communists & Corruption
Nepal is without doubt one of the most corrupt countries in the Third or Developing World, but lately the ruling Communists and their Nepal Communist Party (NCP) have taken dishonest, dishonourable, unscrupulous, unethical and nefarious activities to ‘lofty’ heights.
So much so, that even the Co-Chairman of the NCP, Pushpa Kamal Dahal-Prachanda has seen fit to comment on the entire comrades’ despicable behavior. Whether one believes it or not, the Great & Dear Leader himself openly commented last Friday:
“When they are not in power, the [Communist] leaders
are usually ready for any sort of sacrifice, they join
movements and campaigns, mingle with commoners,
adopt a simple life style, but when they come to power,
most of them deviate from their political ideology. The
world is full of such instances and a similar thing is
happening in Nepal also.”
(Republica/ February 22, 2020)
Since the great German political economist and philosopher Karl Marx proclaimed his famous “Communist Manifesto”, some Communists have been prone to ‘self-criticism’, but in the annals of Communist history, no Communist leader – especially one like Dahal-Prachanda who has shaped recent Nepali history like no other – has made such a damning comment not only on his own national comrades, but on the Communist movement in general.
Furthermore, Dahal-Prachanda said that whatever is happening with the Nepali Communists is not a good indication for the country. He pointed out that Communist rule collapsed in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe because the Communist parties failed to realize their weaknesses and make necessary corrections. He predicted that if the Nepali Communists made the same mistake, a similar fate was in store for them!
Whatever one may think of Dahal-Prachanda, one must give the Devil his due! The point is that the Communists have deviated from their lofty principles, and poor Marx must be turning in his grave at the High-gate cemetery in London.
Dahal-Prachanda also pointed out the great irony that Nepali Communists despite having the political background of contributing to revolutionary changes in the country, have a tendency of turning corrupt once they attain political power. But as Lord Acton so aptly noted:
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Another Major Communist Corruption Scandal
The Great & Dear Leader Dahal-Prachanda may have been ruminating and philosophizing [to himself] about ‘Communism, Political Power & Corruption’, but it is indeed remarkable that his remarks came only one day after the news broke that the ruling Communist government’s minister for communication & information technology, Gokul Prasad Baskota was caught red-handed on a leaked audio tape soliciting the astronomical amount of Rs 700 million in ‘commission’/kickback/bribe from the local agent of a Swiss company over the planned procurement of a security printing press.
Baskota had no option but to tender his resignation after the notorious “Baskota Tape” went viral on social media. However, Baskota is one of Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s closest confidantes and the general public is agog with the possible ramifications.
There are voices from within the Nepali Communist Party (NCP) and a broad swathe of society who believe that Oli must have been aware of Baskota’s evil intent. The tape makes it clear that Baskota had been making his calculations and permutations for some time already.
The NCP-Standing Committee member Asta Laxmi Shakya demanded that all those involved in the scandal be identified and prosecuted. More to the point, she noted: “Baskota alone cannot make a deal on such an unimaginable amount of money. There must be other actors behind the scene and they must be revealed” (The Kathmandu Post, February 22, 2020).
In fact, the local agent of the Swiss company, Bijaya Prakash Mishra has already let the cat out of the bag. He conceded to “Kantipur” vernacular daily, that he had provided Oli with the audiotape as long back as two months, but no action was forthcoming. Now, Oli is just lying low and silence is golden’.
This, notwithstanding that public criticism about the sudden scandal has been scathingly immediate and widespread. There is now an expectation that further investigation and persecution will follow.
As Yubaraj Chaulagain, a NCP-Central Committee member bluntly but incisively opined: “Any failure to take further action, as expressed by the people, will certainly take [Oli], the party and the nation to a very difficult situation. This comes as a huge blow to the prime minister.” The scandal and Bakota’s immediate resignation has not only weakened Oli’s position within the party but has also damaged his image, especially given his frequent pronouncements on controlling corruption.
NCP’s Ongoing MCC Scandal
The ongoing MCC scandal is augmenting the Communists’ internal and external travails. They are virtually between the devil and the deep blue sea. The US and Nepal had signed the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) agreement whereby the US had pledged to grant outright US Dollar $ 500 million for installing cross-border electricity transmission lines and for upgrading roads, i.e. for vitally needed infrastructure projects.
The MCC-agreement had no strings attached and since it was an outright grant and not a loan, it needn’t be paid back. But still the NCP found something fishy about it and have been dilly-dallying about taking a final decision.
A task force formed by the ruling NCP has now recommended to the government not to endorse the MCC agreement in its existing form. The committee headed by former prime minister Jhalanath Khanal has recommended to the government not to accept the US Dollar $ 500 million without changes to the grant agreement. It has suggested the government revise some “objectionable provisions” of the agreement if it is to be endorsed by parliament (Republica/February 22, 2020).
Khanal claimed that if the agreement was accepted in its present form, it would undermine the sovereignty of the country, and, therefore, the necessity for improvements or revisions. Khanal did not elucidate, but it is clear that the MCC agreement has become a plaything between factions of the NCP, ignoring national interests to the hilt. In the 3-member panel, Khanal was opposed from the start, as was Bhim Rawal. Only Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, belonging to the Oli faction has been fully supportive. Is the MCC agreement to become a victim of personal and factional rivalry within the NCP?
Thus the task force under Khanal’s leadership that was supposed to find a way out of the unnecessary MCC squabble, has now only complicated matters. Thanks to Khanal, Nepal – which is in dire need of development aid — may now lose the grant offer if parliament fails to endorse it. The Communists are definitely looking a gift horse in the mouth and should be held responsible for their anti-national stance.
Considering the longstanding bilateral cordial relations, senior US officials have been visiting Nepal back to back in support of the agreement which would highly benefit the country.
U.S. Election Watch: Senator Bernie Sanders Ascendant
Nevada & After
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont solidified his front-runner status for the Democratic presidential nomination with a decisive victory in the Nevada caucuses [meeting/gathering for selection/nominating process] last Saturday (Reuters). He had a commanding 47 percent of the county convention delegates with 50 percent of the precincts reported.
Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist” was supported by a very diverse coalition of young and middle-aged voters, Latinos, union members and white college-educated women for his decisive win. This was a sure sign of expanding support for his surging campaign beyond his longstanding core of loyalists. As he himself stated: “We have put together a multi-generational, multi-racial coalition that is going to win not only in Nevada, it’s going to sweep the country.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden [under Barack Obama] was a distant second to Sanders with 19 percent, but ahead of former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, in third place with 15 percent. However, since Biden was on track for a second-place finish [after the huge disappointments in Iowa and New Hampshire], this would give his struggling campaign new hope. Biden was still upbeat to his supporters: “The press is ready to declare people dead quickly, but we’re alive and we’re coming back and we’re gonna win.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts [who had surged last summer and autumn] had been looking to jump-start her campaign after poor finishes in the first two states, was again trailing in a disappointing 10 percent in Nevada. Still, the former Harvard law professor maintained that she received a boost in fundraising and support from a robust debate performance last Wednesday: “We have a lot of states to go, and right now I can feel the momentum.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar and activist billionaire Tom Steyer were well back at around 4 percent.
The Race Now Broadens
The race now begins to broaden across the country with the next primary on February 29 in South Carolina [which will be vital for Joe Biden], followed by the “Super Tuesday” contests in 14 states on March 3 which simultaneously will choose more than one-third of the pledged delegates who will help select the Democratic nominee at the National convention.
Biden is counting on a strong showing in South Carolina, which has a large bloc of Afro-American voters.
The “Super Tuesday” states voting will bring multi-billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who did not compete in the four early voting states [but took part in the debate last week where he made a very poor showing] but has been rising steadily in opinion polls, into the nominating race.
Sanders Too Far Left?
There is growing fear among many Democrats that Sanders, the democratic socialist ideologue promising radical change to the US health care and higher education systems, does not stand a chance against incumbent Donald Trump, whose Republican and right-wing base is rock solid.
First, with his revolutionary vision, Sanders is promising wide-ranging changes that many know will be impossible to pass through a Senate that requires super majorities to get much done.
Second, Sanders does have the most energized base of support. But if he becomes the Democratic candidate, he will not be a viable option for moderates and independents in the middle of the political spectrum. It will be akin to presenting Trump with a second term on a silver platter!
The Democratic debate on Tuesday in South Carolina could provide an opportunity for the rest of the Democratic field to attack Sanders in a way it has not yet done. Last time in the Nevada debate, they were bashing the wrong man – Michael Bloomberg. The fragmented field is putting Sanders on pace to amass an insurmountable delegate lead.
The writer can be reached at: [email protected]