The ‘Oli-garchy’ gets a booster doseThere was some hope, before the pandemic, that good sense will somehow emerge in the ruling dispensation.
Sometimes the popularity of certain slangs succeeds in catching the mood of the times more successfully than reams of punditry. Unidentifiable persons posting under pseudonyms threw the #Trumpard jibe at supporters of the billionaire developer. Followers of the reality television star ignored the colloquialism and made their hero the most powerful politician in the world.
Even though the argot #Modiot entered Twittersphere at least four years earlier than #Covidiot, a legion of #ModiBhakts continue to believe that drinking cow urine, wallowing in bovine poop, banging on pots and pans or lighting diyas at the designated hour will help ward off the novel coronavirus.
Homologous coinage for over-enthusiastic supporters of their icon such as Ximians and Oliars never really took off in Nepal. In addition to Ximians, Nepal has its own crowd of Hindutva proponents who lit lamps in an attempt to express cross-border solidarity of the dubious kind.
The herd of asocial media users that deify their shepherd forms a category for whom a new term has been coined—Covidients. The neologism is a derivative of obedient and has a similar meaning. True Covidients, in addition to being obedient, are also fearful and ready to ‘obey the directives and orders, appeals and advice dispensed by authorities these days with varying degrees of urgency’.
The blame game over the Covid-19 outbreak is pointless, if not outright counter-productive. Quoting Chinese authorities, the World Health Organisation claimed in mid-January that there was no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and the international organisation lost some of its prestige and trustworthiness.
Two of the most powerful men in the world continued to play down the pandemic. There is a reason the venerable media of the United States chose to designate President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump as ‘Grim Reapers’.
The powerful duo was in august company. The Hindutva outfit Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its political arm the Bharatiya Janata Party in the supposedly largest democracy of the world was too busy in toppling non-compliant governments in provinces to worry too much about the threat of a pandemic. Even when the Hindutva demagogue of India took a break from his preoccupations, he clamped a lockdown without preparation, precipitating an exodus of rural migrants from metropolitan cities never seen since the partition of British India.
Ignoring all warnings about the looming catastrophe, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey ordained that cogs of production had to be kept turning. Reasons of state don’t have to be logical or compassionate as long as the purpose of the strongman is served.
In a crude display of political acrobatics that only authoritarian politicos seem to be capable of, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines went from playing down social distancing to ordering the concerned to ‘shoot the violators of lockdown dead’ within a short period. The severity of the situation finally dawned upon the Brexit mover Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but much damage had already been done by then.
It has taken a while for President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil to realise that his dismissal of the pandemic as a ‘little flu’ was irresponsible to the point of being criminal, but insouciance comes naturally to authoritarian rulers everywhere.
In a premonitory piece, Joshua Keating of Slate questions if democracy can survive the coronavirus crisis and finds that ground condition in countries as far apart as the Philippines, Turkmenistan, Hungary, Thailand, Israel, Iran, Turkey, Russia, and Bolivia has shifted towards the acceptance of an authoritarian order.
Depressing as it may seem, crisis for the many is always an opportunity for the few who are willing and capable of manipulating reality to suit their ambitions. The financial meltdown of 2008 led to massive cuts in social spending, a flood of debt ensued that drowned the middle-class and the resulting cap on wages pauperised the poor. Economics doesn’t always explain politics, but there are reasons to believe that the worldwide emergence of demagogic populists accelerated after the global financial crisis.
If a date has to be put when the Washington Consensus began to make way for the Beijing Consensus in the political economy of the world, it has to be 2008 that showed the desirability of politics of stability and prosperity rather than liberty and justice. Conclusions about erosion in acceptability of the Chinese model of political economy are more wishful than realistic.
The idea of the deep state dates back to ancient times when a plutocracy of high priests, praetorian guards and resourceful merchants actually ruled while reins of the government stayed in the hands of a nominal ruler. I began to use the PEON acronym for the permanent establishment of Nepal when Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi concurrently became the Chief Executive of the extra-constitutional government under the pretext of conducting a free and fair election.
It had taken a while to prepare the ground for the fall of the Maoist-Madhesi government (2011-13) that had been resisted tooth and nail by the deep state ever since its formation. The White Shirts of the urban bourgeoisie had begun to stage astroturf movements to weaken the system. The Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Regmi, had relied upon the ‘voice of the street’ to fix an expiry date upon the duly elected first Constituent Assembly. The rest turned out to be a history of the restoration of the old order, minus the monarchy.
The 16-Point Conspiracy in the middle of the Gorkha Earthquake aftershocks paved the way for a hastily drafted constitution, fast-tracked with party whips without even a pretence of public consultation. Hungry for a mention in the footnotes of history, the then Prime Minister and the chair of Nepali Congress Sushil Koirala failed to realise that he was signing the death warrant of his party by ignoring the aspirations of Madhesis. The day of the ‘Oli-garchy’ had arrived.
In the version of the palanquin press, KP Sharma Oli became the most nationalist Prime Minister since Marich Man Singh Shrestha when he succeeded in crushing the Madhes agitation through a combination of bullet, bombast and chicanery. What he had actually done was to add fuel to the fire of smouldering jingoism.
Despite all his shortcomings, the Nepali Congress strongman Girija Prasad Koirala had rightly intuited early on that addiction to xenophobic jingoism had kept the country a prisoner of its geography and a victim of autocratic history for centuries. The anger induced by the withdrawal symptom had turned the population against him in his last days. Prime Minister Sharma Oli had no compunction in administering fresh doses of the nationalist opiate to give the people a new high. The Oli-garchy triumphed as the country kneeled to the ground.
Premier Sharma Oli’s second term has been decidedly underwhelming. Social fissures continue to deepen. Politics have become a sham with all authority concentrated in the Prime Minister’s office. The economy is in shambles. There was some hope that good sense will somehow emerge in the ruling dispensation. The calamity brought about by the novel coronavirus, however, will probably work as a booster dose to prolong the immunity of the current regime.
Meanwhile, all ye nationalists, sing the national anthem to ward off the novel coronavirus and bear the physical and emotional pain of a prolonged lockdown. On that uplifting note Happy New BS Year!
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of June 2, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 had spread to 213 countries and infected more than 6,321,836 people with 375,657 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 198,140 with 5,608 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 72,460 confirmed cases with 1,543 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 1,811 cases with eight deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.
What do you think?
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