As long as Oli remains in power, there will be conflict inside the NCP and uproar against him. Once he goes, there may be a celebration for some time but another series of power games will follow.
Until April 20, when the government issued two infamous ordinances to change the existing laws regarding political parties and the constitutional council, before the alleged “abduction” of a lawmaker to break a fringe party apart became public, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli still had something to fall back on. Because he has had a critical kidney transplant surgery recently, there was some sympathy for him. The Covid-19 pandemic, which is ravaging the world, was overshadowing the issues of government accountability. There was a space for him to rethink the way he is governing.
He shattered this on April 20.
Rise and fall
Like his contemporaries, Oli had his share of virtues, flaws, weaknesses and even stupidity. Yet he emerged as a powerful leader to rule the country for five years, not because of communist slogan, not just by playing nationalism card but because of one single stand he took during the constitution making process and the blockade that followed in 2015. People at the time craved for someone who could reassure them. He appeared to fulfill that role and he has been amply rewarded for that. On the foundation of this single role, he built his election promises, however untenable, for stability, development and corruption-free Nepal. Vast majority of people cheered him.
In other words, he created the ground for his reemergence as a strong leader in 2017 in 2015 itself. The agenda he pushed—diversification of trade and transit, ‘enmity with none, amity with all’ foreign policy, laying the groundwork for connectivity with south and north among other things—will bear great relevance for the future, if not now.
But with a single blunder on April 20, he destroyed everything.
So today’s judgment and impression of Prime Minister Oli across the country and among the people is he is the most incompetent, most corrupt, most inept and most regressive leader the country has ever had in history. It is another thing that we have described almost all the PMs post-1990 with at least some of these words, at one time or other, except for Krishna Prasad Bhattari and Mana Mohan Adhikari.
The anger with which Oli is being reviled is justified to some extent. He jeered at every sensible suggestion made to him by well-meaning people, he allowed the members of his clique to abuse powers with abandon, and he ran the government like he was running his party (no, like he was running his faction within his party). After widespread criticism, the government withdrew both ordinances on April 24. But he still stands accused of directing his cadres to kidnap a lawmaker, bringing the law to destabilize political order. It’s hard to see whether and how he will be able to compensate for this willful act of damage. The impression is being created that once Oli goes, everything will fall back in shape. No other leader is as arrogant and as corruption-friendly as him, we are being told. With Omni scandal fresh in public memory, that sounds so true.
The red catch
But will we have better times once Oli goes? To figure out where we will end up after Oli’s ouster, we have to look into some probable scenes.
First, only Nepal Communist Party (NCP) can remove him from power. But for that at least Madhav Kumar Nepal and Pushpa Kamal Dahal should stand together against Oli.
When that happens, Oli will stand as their arch enemy from the day he will be ousted. NCP is a house with the legacy of its leader standing to remove another leader from the post of PM. Jhalanath Khanal had openly stood with Maoists to topple Madhav Nepal government in 2011.
Later, Oli and Nepal stood together against Khanal’s government. With around 100 lawmakers on his side, Oli will start building alliance against whoever might succeed him. Out of vengeance against those who will displace him, he will be instigated to take more unpopular decisions to protect his followers.
Supposing that, together, Nepal and Dahal will be able to displace Oli, the next question will be who will become the PM. Former Maoist faction will surely root for Dahal, who will be opposed by Nepal camp and former UML faction will naturally advocate for Madav Nepal, who will be opposed by Maoist camp.
So here is a catch. As long as Oli remains in power, there will be conflict inside the NCP and uproar against him. Once he goes or is removed, there may be celebration for his detractors for some time but soon another series of power games will follow. Only intensity may be different.
Many tend to think Madhav Nepal can be a better performer than Oli. There is no guarantee. NCP is a coalition of former UML and Maoist parties. The compromises Oli is said to be making to appease Dahal, for example on transitional justice issue and allocation of ministries, Nepal will have to make too.
Meanwhile, those who want to redraw the provincial boundaries again, who want to pit one ethnicity against other and who once thrived by sowing the discord between the hills and Tarai plains are rising up. And the man to lead this front is the person who bears the stigma of betraying the people in the name of bloody insurgency which resulted in deaths of around 17000 people, letting the Constituent Assembly dissolve under his watch without promulgating the constitution in 2012 and disowning the constitution that he himself contributed in making, to join anti-constitution agitation in 2015. Baburam Bhattarai is giving the impression he is the person to rely on more than anybody else.
Another worrying part is the crisis related to media. Nepali media is facing a huge crisis because of the Covid-19 pandemic and financial crunch. There is a risk of one certain publication becoming an agenda-setter and others becoming too weak to question that dominant narrative.
I have always been arguing for unity among rationalists. Granted that we cannot excuse Oli for every blunder. Granted that he should go. But who next? Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Sher Bahadur Deuba, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhalanath Khanal, Bamdev Gautam, Baburam Bhattarai? Which of these names does not make you cringe?
Politicians always have to care about how people are responding to their actions and how they are being perceived by larger masses. They also need to remain prepared to stave off the worst situations. Oli did not do that. He is facing the consequences.
The rest has to ensure what comes next is better or at least not more dangerous than the situation we are in now.