On Friday, President Bidya Devi Bhandari unveiled the government’s policies and programs for this fiscal year at the Federal Parliament. The focus was on completing construction of long-stalled national pride projects on time, human resource development and maintaining rule of law in the country. She announced that the government will generate 500,000 employment opportunities in the upcoming fiscal year, Mid-Hill Highway will be constructed within four years, Gautam Buddha Airport and Pokhara International Airport will come into operation by 2019 and 2021 respectively and 300 suspension bridges will be constructed in the upcoming fiscal year. Economists and experts have criticized the policies and programs for its lack of focus. While the current debate should have been on how these much-needed goals can be realized, use of the words “my government” in the speech has become the matter of controversy. Members of ruling Nepal Communist Party and main opposition Nepali Congress, intellectuals and social media users have sharply criticized the president for using this phrase. Congress and some ruling party lawmakers have demanded that ‘my government’ be replaced with ‘Nepal government’ saying that ‘my government’ reeks of monarchy. However, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli has strongly defended the use of such language in the president’s speech. He argues that use of ‘my government’ is not the issue of public debate. Those defending president have cited the examples of India and other countries where heads of state address the government as ‘my government.’ That may be true. But the real issue here is different.
One reason why ‘my government’ remark drew flak is because it comes in the wake of events when president’s mobility—called sabaris (the term used for the mobility of former kings and queens)—has caused a great inconvenience to the public. Our president has been criticized for failing to live a modest life and becoming the representative of the common people. Disappointingly, neither the office of the president nor the president seems to have taken the public criticism seriously. Instead, there is a tendency to dismiss such criticism. If the office of the president had set an example through at least some good deeds such remarks would probably have gone without much criticism. Besides, this is not the first address to the parliament by the president in our republican set up. Her predecessor always used ‘Nepal government’ instead of ‘my government.’ Additionally, it has emerged that the draft of the address had not included the phrase ‘my government’ and leaders like Pushpa Kamal Dahal have expressed surprise over how this phrase ever came to be included in the address.
Another reason behind the public outrage over the use of ‘my government’ is growing disappointment with the government for its failure to uphold rule of law and good governance and curbing large scale corruption, including 33 kg gold smuggling and cases of public land grab. Increasingly, people have started to feel that the most powerful government of the country is least competent in addressing the pressing concerns of people. Government’s absence is conspicuous in corruption control. It is seen more as enriching ministers, party leaders and cadres while turning blind eye to demands for fairness, justice and development. Rather than reacting to public criticism of the government and activities of head of state, both Prime Minister and President need to lead by example. Unless they become sensitive toward people and conduct themselves in a true republican spirit, people will keep asking ‘whose government is it anyway?’