When we lose control of a situation, we tend to make hasty decisions that can cast a lasting shadow on our legacy. I have an innate belief that human beings, in general, act on good intentions, and that, nobody purposely jeopardises their state of being even if they are acting in self interest. But I have failed to understand why our government has not relinquished its selfish behaviour for the good of the country even during these difficult times.
All of us are information hungry. In this day and age, information is power. Having accurate information helps us to be in control: in control of our lives, in control of situations, and most of all, in control of our emotions.
Nepal has been in lockdown since March 24, and we are yet to see anything substantial from the government. We are all glued to the TV and newsportals, counting the number of COVID-19 cases and eagerly awaiting for a vaccine to arrive so that we can get back to our normal life. During this new normal, you start to notice a pattern. A short-lived episode where issues are identified, talked about, heavily criticised, if the PM chooses to listen, some action may come of it, or else it just goes away.
A ‘wave,’ as I like to call this.
The first wave was the nationwide lockdown with no certainty. A few tests were performed with limited resources, some random sampling was done at the borders and in few cities. Some have been quarantined, few treated, few still recovering. The inability to even assess the risks and communicate efficiently has only created speculation and distrust in the people leading the government.
The second wave was the expectation of relief to the poor. Many heart wrenching stories were written, pictures of people walking on foot for days to reach their homes were plastered all over the media. People were forced to ponder whether their lives would end by the COVID-19 or by hunger. Failure to design an economic stimulus and inform the citizens about the way forward created frustration and confusion all around.
The third wave was the corruption wave, a perfect example of cronyism. No Nepali will forget the Omni saga.
Furthermore, a businessman was put behind bars on charges of blackmarketing. While I condemn both actions, how can the government not take stringent action against the likes of the Omni group. This reeks of cronyism and institutionalised corruption.
The fifth wave was introducing the two ordinances. And they were repealed within 48 hours. This was an action in the direction of consolidating absolute power and the decision was made by the prime minister, for the fear of losing his grip on power.
Cronyism has been the hallmark of PM Oli’s legacy in office. He has often compromised national interest for the interest of a select few around him. His leadership has come under scrutiny in the last two and a half years for blatant abuse of power and complete disregard to the rule of law. A leader is no longer serving the public if he cannot distinguish between the needs of the nation and the needs of a few privileged.
Power corrupts leaders, or in this case, should we say power exposes leaders. Being in a position of power only accentuates your pre-existing traits and biases. In his last address to the nation, PM Oli was more interested in refuting what was being reported about him in the media than addressing the problems facing the country in the wake of the COVID-19. His disdain for criticism aimed at his government, and him in particular, shows his undemocratic DNA. If a leader openly shows such traits of intolerance, it only makes him appear clumsy, distracted, and insecure.
This brings me back to my point about accurate information, and how it can be used to control the narrative. The way PM Oli has conducted himself during this pandemic shows that he is on a path of self-destruction. Instead of taking corrective measures, he has resorted to openly allow corrupt practices and cronyism to continue while the nation is on a virtual standstill.
Nepal is not privy to self-serving leaders. Many thought leaders continue to warn us about selfish leaders who use disasters as an opportunity to seize more control. Russia’s Vladimir Putin consolidated more power after a school siege by terrorists in Beslan. Turkey’s president imposed a state of emergency after a failed coup in 2016. Or a “coronavirus law” in Hungary gave absolute power to its president.
When our politicians cite other country’s examples and get inspired to validate their self serving notion, they often choose to ignore that we are a democratic republic. And unlike other mature democracies, we struggle with checks and balances.
I feel embarrassed to remind our nation’s leaders that Nepal is not anybody’s private company to run political experiments. The decisions they take, based on whims and fancies, cost lives and livelihoods. We face many uncertainties, be it our healthcare system or our preparedness for pandemics, our economic system and its ability to recover from the recession that may follow, or our educational system with millions of children losing precious months of school. But all that leaders care about is who called some a Bhasmasur on a national radio.
We gave him a two-thirds majority, and the only thing we are getting in return is a series of ‘waves’.