Fellow Nepalis, fear the government, fear as much for the country

Published On: October 31, 2020 01:40 PM NPT By: Mahabir Paudyal  | @mahabirpaudyal

Situation today is even if a glaring foreign intervention happens to remove Oli from power, there is going to be a celebration, it is going to be interpreted as done for the sake of the country.

That such a warning note (but this is in a good faith) would be written about the government formed with a sweeping mandate to rule the country for five years was unimaginable in 2017—the unprecedented moment in Nepal’s modern history when the country embarked on federal set up despite the fears, anxieties, uncertainties and ominous predictions to the contrary.  In three years, ‘the government is against the people, for the rulers and somehow against the country too’ is getting established. The government, not the state (and there is a world of difference between the two) is what we have come to consider as a burden, even fear, in recent times. 

Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli has nearly completely proved my worst fears come true: He would go down in history as a leader who wasted the unprecedented opportunity of building the system, correcting the deep rooted traditions of misrule and leaving some precedents for his successors. The strong-man image that he exuded is fast eroding.  In fact, he has left no space for the supporters of stability and good governance to stand for him.

 Two and half years  of his premiership is riddled with multiple scams, charges of corruption at the time of worst crisis, flagrant apathy toward the people,  personality cult and ‘whatever I do is right and all else is wrong, whatever I think is good all else is evil, I am what matters and rest of others are ignoramus’ syndrome.

Personally, Prime Minister Oli may not have to suffer the consequences of this. He does not even seem to care about how the people will remember him but if he ever looks back to his times, and in good sense, he will probably rue.

Come to think of it. PM Oli faced the weakest opposition in history, and he had a critical intelligentsia, despite him being so uncouth and insulting toward them, standing by him fearing that his removal from power would herald another era of instability. He always had people to applaud him for whatever good things that happened during his rule—the mainstreaming of CK Raut, for example, containing the violence, to whatever extent, unleashed by the underground outfit led by Netra Bikram Chand, expanding trade and transit networks through another neighbor, apart from India, asserting sovereignty over a good stretch of land that Nepal had almost lost over the decades, so on.  But the baggage of bad governance is so heavy that all these gains pale in comparison.

Unpardonable sins

I, however, do not blame the Oli government for every bad outcome. For example, it is unwise to blame the government for failing to institutionalize federalism, for federalism is still a work in progress.

I do not blame him for failing to combat the Covid-19 pandemic either. Even the countries said to be equipped with the best health care systems have failed to save their people from this pestilence.  A mess it has been in for so long, Nepal would not be an exception.

The unpardonable mistake Oli government made is it undermined the people, it allowed billions of rupees of tax payers’ money to be misused under its nose in the name of combating Covid-19.  And the Prime Minister openly stood in favor of the corrupt, without the slightest compunction.

The Covid-19 period was probably the best time to show the government is committed to saving lives and impressing the people with some tangible deeds, some genuine reassurances that the government is there for the people. There would be some consolation for the government.

Now as things stand, the government has spectacularly failed to manage health care system. On education, it has done nothing to reassure the students of public schools, while paying salaries to the teachers of these institutions for eight long months they did not have teach, that they won’t have to lose this year to Covid-19. Without clear directives and guidelines for the private schools and colleges, teaching and learning in these institutions has not been effective enough, though they are trying their best to sustain teaching and learning during these tough times.

Now there is no room to hope things will improve.

Fear the government

There are other reasons to fear this government and the government that will follow.

First, the pandemic is not likely to go away anytime soon, which means that the government will get more time to commit more excesses.  Pandemic has also meant that we, the people, cannot come out in the streets to rage—sadly the only method through which have been able to hold the government to account, to some extent.  ‘Enough is enough’ street movement had at least forced the government to make its Covid-19 expenses public, and Maitighar protests had at least forced the government to acknowledge the mistakes in some of the bills it had introduced which it, at last, said would correct.  We do not have that liberty now because of rampant rise of Covid cases and the fear of more deaths it will result in.

Second, our silence out of Covid fears could also be used by the government to continue with business as usual. 

Third, by the time Covid will have gone, this government will also have served around three years and we will be faced with the next rounds of elections in local, provincial and federal spheres.

We know what the ruling party does on the election eve:  Misuse the funds, allow more and more of its leaders and cadres to milk the state dry and misappropriate the resources. A party successful at governing the country does not have to resort to malfeasance because people trust it and vote it to power again but we know what the party in power threatened by insecurity does. Spooked by the fear of being voted out, its leaders will resort to resource grabbing tactics.

The biggest advantage, or the bane, this government enjoys is that almost nothing else can challenge it other than the governing Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Anti-Oli camp inside the NCP is reportedly considering registering vote of no-confidence against Oli. If Nepali Congress, Janata Samajbadi Party and Maoist faction inside NCP stand to dethrone Oli, Oli will be removed from power. But then what? We will have a new coalition at the helm which will have to hold the elections and hand over power to the party that will emerge victorious. Whether we have the current administration or another coalition at the helm, their sole aim will be to, as the traditions have been, to concentrate powers in hands, meddle with bureaucracy and security agencies and distribute the largesse to the party loyalists, all so that the election outcomes can be ensured in favor of the party ruling the country.

And once the elections are thus won, by Oli’s camp or whosoever, it will go for entrenching the current state of misrule for the convenience of select few at the expense of huge majority.

This is the reason I argue if there is one thing we need to fear for the next three to four years or even more, it will be the government.

Why fear for the country?

As discerning minds may have discovered, the resentment against the current regime is slowly turning into apathy toward the country’s future.  People are least bothered about the consequences of ‘felling’ this government or even the system. It is at such times that the shenanigans orchestrated by the foreign players, basically to serve their interests, go unnoticed or will look just and natural. 

Situation today is such that even if a glaring foreign intervention happens to remove Oli from power, there is going to be a celebration, it is going to be interpreted as done for the sake of the country.

Look at the celebratory tone with which Oli administration is being vilified for meeting an Indian intelligence chief. Perhaps the much-vilified meeting will prove to be beneficial in improving the relations between India and Nepal, including paving the way for resolving longstanding border issues but there is already a suppressed celebration in the press and among the commentariat that India-Nepal relations have fallen back into the hands of the spies from the political level it had once been assumed it had reached.

Then there is a great geopolitical game going on—with China on one side, and the US, India and the West on the other side—for global supremacy. There will be a great geopolitical pressure on Nepal to choose sides, which Nepal cannot afford to do.

This is happening when Nepali media as a whole is suffering the biggest crisis, including that of credibility—part of it inflicted by the Covid-19 and part of it the outcome of self-lacerated mismanagement of media owners—of our times.  Some online outlets seem to be in the mission to spread misinformation about the sensitive geopolitical questions. We will know its costs only when we face the consequences.

As I type these words on October 31, 2020, I see no signs of hope.  I only wish these worries would prove false.    

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