Not quite a case of one for all and all for oneThe ethnonational government with almost complete control over the instruments of the state and institutions of society has proved to one of the most ineffective in recent history.
Marcus Tullius Cicero—justly celebrated for his unparalleled powers of speech—made the lament of despair ‘o tempora! o mores!’ famous. When there is doom and gloom all around and no one that can be directly blamed for the state of affairs, the Ciceronian device of emotional exclamation almost automatically comes to mind.
Despite his multiple honorary doctorates, supremo Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli isn’t a patch on the Roman statesman. Cicero, the ancient philosopher, espoused the idea of human equality. But Oli, the clownish politician, revels in spluttering xenophobic, chauvinistic and anti-Madhesi ‘rants’. But a big cat and cats of the garden variety belong to the same feline family.
Cicero justified extrajudicial measures to save the republic. Oli is hell-bent upon taming the National Human Rights Commission through a bill for the amendment of laws that will make the constitutional body toothless. On the other hand, it’s the same supremo that wants to turn the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) into a ‘super government’ with wide-ranging state authority without legislative accountability. If the proposed bill becomes an act, the CIAA will be able to scrutinise everything from civil society to the private sector. Supremo Oli, like Cicero, seems to be under the impression that nationalists don’t need democratic protection anymore once in power.
In contravention of constitutional provisions, and with a creative interpretation of existing laws and citing the much-misused doctrine of necessity, the government has gone ahead with a massive recruitment drive without adequate positive discrimination through the Public Service Commission. But times and customs of Nepal being what they are, Oli has been allowed to go unchallenged on all counts.
The anti-reservation brigade is backing the Khas Arya chieftain with great force to protect and promote privileges of the ‘super community’. It bears repetition that Khas Arya is the only community to get a statutory category in the constitution itself. This begs the question: Why are the supposed conscience-keepers of the nation—the commentariat and opinionators as a class—treating supremo Oli with kid gloves? Thus, there hangs a tale of ethnonational solidarity between the Khas Arya elite that dominates all organs of the state, media and civil society.
Creative accountancy is an established practice where professionals with expertise exploit loopholes in financial regulation to present actual figures in a misleadingly favourable light. Perhaps taking a cue from a more established profession, creative reporting has emerged as a process in which journalists habitually give their subjects the benefit of the doubt instead of doubting their benefits.
There was something fishy with the wide-body aircraft deal worth billions of rupees of taxpayers’ money. It’s unconvincing that the Oli had nothing to do with such a large purchase. The Late Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari had to take all the flak before dying in a mysterious helicopter crash. First burdening Nepal Airlines Corporation with massive debt and almost non-functional Chinese aeroplanes, and then packing the management with his handpicked favourites, the supremo went on to blame them to escape all responsibility. The commentariat failed to ask the all-important question: Where does the buck stop when a communist party is in power?
It’s said that the Godi media—a title given to pro-government media houses in India—freely criticises the opposition and is complacent in protecting the government and promoting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mercifully, the Nepali media hasn’t gone that far yet, but the palanquin press of Kathmandu with its cheerleaders and feel-good advocates is fast catching up. The irony is that the ardent supporters of Oli still feel that the media isn’t behaving like the propagandist of the government.
Defending the government’s flip-flop over pesticide residual test requirements on the import of fruit and vegetables from India, the supremo claimed that he was kept in the dark about the letter from the Indian Embassy that had earlier been leaked to the press. Oli’s defenders were more interested in proving his innocence rather than probing it any further. Nobody resigned. Nobody was dismissed. It is business as usual in the land of the Buddha and Never Ending Peace and Love—as celebrated through tourism brochures.
When the choice is framed as being between bad and worse, creative ambiguity is a useful tool to delay the decision. There is no love lost between Nepali media and the prime minister-in-anticipation Pushpa Kamal Dahal. The political character of the opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba is far from trustworthy. In the majoritarian ochlocracy that the constitution has institutionalised, it’s easy for politicos to fall for demagogic impulses. Opinion makers then must point out that some pied pipers can lead the flock to their doom.
In addition to animosity with Dahal and disdain for Deuba, perhaps it’s willful ignorance that makes influential commenters feel that the alternative to Oli’s leadership is none other than the man himself.
In the ethnonational upsurge of 2015, many commentators failed to realise that their fluid emotions were being skillfully manipulated to drum up a discriminatory statute. Misconceived in design, haphazardly organised, clumsily executed and thoughtlessly withdrawn obstructions at major supply points along the Indo-Nepal border brought the entire spectrum of Khas Arya intelligentsia on a single platform.
Couched in time-tested anti-India rhetoric, the tone and tenor of commenters have ever since been viscerally anti-Madhesi. Flavoured with patriotic slogans, the commentariat has been spewing venom against substantive federalism and proportionate inclusion that would have helped mainstream Janjatis and Dalits. Even though the fiction of meritocracy has been repeatedly questioned, commenters of all hues continue to wallow in the same ethnocentric cesspool that they have swum in for centuries. The question of class belongs to political economy; in the realm of governance, it’s a transparent divertissement.
The paradox is impossible to miss. The ethnonational government with almost complete control over the instruments of the state and institutions of society has proved to be one of the most ineffective in recent history. Even though it could have benefited from its association with competing concepts of the Indo-Pacific Strategy and Belt and Road Initiative, Nepal’s preparation so far in either direction appears to be next to nil.
It’s not difficult to pinpoint the person responsible for most of such perplexities. A demagogic populist, Oli has little interest in implementing federalism and inclusion. He wasn’t very enthusiastic about the republican system and his suspicion of participatory decision-making is suspect at best.
There was a feeling that the ethnonational chieftain wasn’t the right person to be the prime minister of a multinational state. Supremo Sharma Oli has strengthened such impressions with his blathers. It’s about time the conscience keepers of the nation began to contemplate an alternative to the person, failing which the system itself could end up being in some danger.
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