How did the Prime Minister who at one time appeared like a deliverer transform into the subject of hate? Why is he becoming the butt of jokes? Why is he losing public trust?
These are the bad times for Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, for the country and for us all because his government is increasingly failing on many fronts, has not been able to defend its position, communicate to the public and fast losing credibility. This raises the risks of complete failure of the PM, which raises the risk of failing the nation too. We, however, must not allow this to happen.
The protest against Guthil Bill is one example of how hate and anger is accumulating against the government. Even if the protest was instigated by ‘various elements,’ that huge mass of people should gather to protest the government elected with overwhelming majority less than two years ago means complete shift of public perception on the government.
One bad thing about Guthi Bill was the idea of forming a Guthi Authority and empowering it to manage, operate and conduct Guthi related activities. Though the bill nowhere mentions, even implies, that the traditions, cultures and customs observed for centuries will be ‘annihilated,’ the government could not communicate this message clearly. When Information and Communication Minister tried, he made the situation worse. He fuelled the protest when he called Guthi the remnant of feudalism and protestors, by implication, bunch of samantas (feudal lords). Soon a strong and credible-sounding story emerged: ‘The government of K P Oli is bent on destroying culture and tradition of Newar community.’ It is this story that agitated the people and brought them to the streets.
On June 19, the day of the biggest protest in Maitighar Mandala I met a group of Newars returning home from the protest. “Is it over?” I asked. “It’s not, we will come tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and the day after tomorrow,” one of them said, fuming with rage. “Why?” “These leaders, whom we voted to power, whom we gave shelter in Kathmandu, are trying to destroy our culture and tradition. Now they are telling us you cannot observe Gai Jatra, you cannot conduct Machhindra Nath Jatra,” the other rejoined. Yes, they had been misinformed on this. But this misinformation had emanated from ‘samanta’ remarks of information minister.
Oli was to address the Parliament apparently to allay concerns on Guthi Bill on June 18. Nepali Congress did not allow him to and he lamented the house obstruction in Twitter in an imploring note: “Due to parliament obstruction by main opposition Nepali Congress, I could not inform the parliament about the issues of public concern such as my recent visit to Europe and Guthi related issues. This incident has saddened me.” But the comments were laden with hate. “Sorry to know! I was quite excited to listen to more funny jokes! People are in despair.PM is just cracking jokes!” one commented. “Throw Oli out to Jhapa,” another wrote. Some of the comments are too offensive to translate and mention. Everyone is raging against him. He is being called a joker, a buffoon.
How did the person who at one time appeared like a deliverer transform into the subject of hate? Why is he becoming the butt of jokes? Why is he losing public trust?
One main reason is Oli, like his predecessors, is running the government like he is running his own party—appointing ‘yes men’ to key posts, surrounding himself with cronies, intimidating and offending the opponents. When you run the government like you are running a party, when you apply the method to rule the party to rule the country, you end up failing.
What ails Nepali media, how fair and independent they are is the subject of a separate study. Granted that a large section of Nepali media is biased against the government but by overreacting to media, most often in intimidating tone, and with flawed clauses in media related bills, the government has given fodder for story of authoritarianism, which is why the Prime Minister is losing support of media commentators and well-wishers. I think of columnist Sri Krishna Anirudra Gautam. Gautam has basically been appreciative of Oli. In his recent rather exaggerated column, however, Gautam called K P Oli another name of authoritarianism—the labeling the government must disprove with actions—because it will have consequences.
Reason to worry
The reason to worry is, of course, that the government elected with huge mandate is thus becoming unpopular, the subject of widespread criticisms and failing to deliver.
Even more serious reason to worry, for the prime minister as well as for free-thinking Nepalis, is that the inefficiency and failings of the government have not become the matters of only public outrage and frustration. Government’s failure is being celebrated. When the incompetence of the head of government is celebrated, not worried upon, we need to fear, the prime minister needs to fear even more.
Our need today is to criticize the government vigorously in good faith, expose its failings and appreciate the good moves but with the intention of making it accountable, with the intention of disciplining the ministers. This does not seem to be happening.
The cost of failure of this government will be huge. Once the current order collapses, it will lead to another phase of instability and transition. For Nepalis, who have suffered long transition, accompanied by instability, the very thought must be intimidating.
When rage overpowers, you cannot think clearly. You tend to become reactive. So I suggest that Prime Minister cancel all party-related programs for a week or so. Do not meet any one, retrospect and introspect, and just look back where you faulted, concentrate on your work, evaluate the works of each minister, read the newspapers or follow your own social media page to find what people are saying about you and what they want from your government. Consult experts affiliated with opposition party too to get alternative perspectives. I say this for a good reason.
Once they become ministers and prime ministers, our leaders often become completely detached from reality on the ground. From the moment they wake up to the time they go to bed, they are surrounded by cadres and supporters, who have nothing good to say to them except what they want to hear. A minister hardly gets to know what is happening within and outside the country. How many ministers may have read all the controversial bills clause-by-clause, for example?
Prime Minister does not need to speak to the media, unless he really has to. Do not talk big of rail, prosperity and development (they are vital but they cannot be realized overnight, and therefore you sound like fooling the people to hide your incompetence). Instead, take the update of Melamchi project, tell your ministers to complete blacktopping and filling of potholes of the valley. Kathmandu stinks, it chokes, it nauseates. Start with Kathmandu. Every time you speak to the media, you have to be able to come up with progress report or fact-sheet of what your government accomplished.
Certain things have always remained beyond the control of Nepali prime ministers. A prime minister alone, or his team, cannot do much by themselves. But they should at least be seen to be working tirelessly to deliver on their promises. People should see that something, that directly concerns their livelihood, is being done. Or at least they should guard against becoming the cause of failing the country.
I fear that if Oli does not significantly change his way of governing, time will come when he will be hounded from all sides, he will have little or nothing to show for achievement and there will not be a single person left to speak in his favor, not even sympathize. Trust me. Many in history have suffered such fate.