Five months in power, the initial euphoria and optimism of the government of K P Sharma Oli is waning because of its own doing. The government had come up with some promising agendas—ending deeply entrenched cartel and syndicate in public transport sector, and commitment to taking action against contractors sitting on projects of vital importance among others. Prime Minister, including other ministers, spoke of zero-tolerance against corruption, fundamental freedom granted by the constitution, zero-impunity and so on. These sound hollow now for the government has not been able to do much on destroying transportation syndicates in practice nor has there been any progress on punishing fraudulent contractors. Basic works like minimizing pollution in the valley remains unattended so far. Instead, it is reneging on those promises and is increasingly showing signs of soon-to-be authoritarian regime.
Two incidents that happened on Saturday are deeply troubling. First, the decision to ban demonstrations at Maitighar Mandala was flawed. Maiti Ghar has remained the place for political as well as civil society leaders to gather and make their voice heard. Leaders in the current government had used this space to voice their concerns in the past. On Saturday, the government arrested dozens of individuals including the activists of Bibeksheel Sajha Party who staged a demonstration to express solidarity with Dr Govinda KC. Nine members of Bibeksheel Sajha Party, including its coordinator Ujwal Thapa, were arrested and detained at Metropolitan Police Circle Singha Durbar. In another reprehensible move, the police arrested crusader for medical education reform and senior orthopedic surgeon Dr Govinda KC, who was in his 15th fast-unto-death, from Jumla. This is not what is expected of Oli government. Dr KC has been demanding that Medical Education Ordinance Replacement Bill should be endorsed by the parliament without making any changes. But the government looks bent on changing the provisions of this ordinance to provide affiliation to some of the dubious medical colleges in which leaders of the ruling party have had considerable stake. It must be recalled that Dr KC has been asking the government to implement the agreements various governments in the past had signed with his team. His demand that the government should open medical college in each of the provinces is equally just. Use of force against Dr KC and Bibeksheel Sajha’s demonstration raises question about government’s intention.
Why does a demand for broader medical reform and transparency and accountably by a saintly figure trouble the government? Why is the government bent on banning peaceful demonstrations in Maiti Ghar? Despite its flaws on other fronts, we have remained steadfast supporter of government’s moves on ending transport syndicates and ‘action’ against non-performing contractors. But of late there is little progress on these fronts. Instead, the prime minister and his ministers have been seen to favor medical mafias, pushing Nepal’s health and education sector reform to the backburner. Even Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari has reportedly doled out Rs 60 million to his loyalists. The ruling party should realize that people voted for it because it promised rule of law, civil liberties, fairness, transparency and development. Deviating from these goals will invite huge public backlash. Prime Minister Oli, read the writing on the wall.