Oli’s reckless adventurismAlmost without exception, the prime minister has long staked a position that went against social and political liberalism.
Marxists have this expression to castigate comrades they believe are in a hurry to take revolutionary action before the masses are ready: ultra-left adventurism. In our own context, the term was most recently used by that grand old man of the extreme left, Mohan Bikram Singh, to describe the ‘People’s War’ led by his one-time protégé, Pushpa Kamal Dahal. It has been years since the latter was tamed and reduced to strutting the national stage like any other bourgeois politician he so loved to denigrate. But even for someone so adept at the perennial game of one-upmanship, it must have come as quite a surprise when his fellow co-chair of the ruling party and the country’s Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli, forayed into a short-lived bout of adventurism of his own.
For, adventurism seems to be the only way to describe Oli’s rather rash and wholly unexpected decision to introduce two ordinances and then swiftly retract them when faced with strong opposition from all quarters. By then, of course, he had managed not only to further sully his own reputation and that of his party but also that of the office of the president. As alarming as Oli’s attempt to arrogate the right to legislate from a parliament only in recess was, his recklessness has plunged the country into political turmoil in the midst of the Covid-19 scare.
People around the world are ruing the calibre of the people in charge of their fate during this global emergency. But even by those low standards, Oli has managed to stand out for creating a crisis where none existed. For a government that was being rightfully criticised for its botched response to the coronavirus, most tellingly in its mismanagement of the procurement of medical supplies and also by how it has dealt with migrant workers in-country and at the border with India, an intra-party power struggle was not something the nation expected to be foisted with instead.
If, as some would like to believe, this was Oli at his best: finding a way to deflect attention from his own and the government’s shortcomings, it appears to have backfired. On the other hand, it is hardly surprising that this is where the country should find itself two years into Oli’s prime ministership. The surprise is that there were actually enough people who believed he was some sort of messiah who would lead Nepal out of our state of chronic underdevelopment.
Oli has lurked in the corridors of power long enough for us not to have noticed any spark of brilliance or vision that had the potential to make him stand out from those who went before him. All he had going for him were the ability to spout witticisms, and even these are beginning to sound unseemly coming from the country’s prime minister. Actually, one can go so far as to argue that Oli is the wrong man in the wrong job and at the wrong time.
Wrong man, wrong job, wrong time
The story of Nepal’s political evolution since the People’s Movement in 2006 has been one of social and political liberalism compared to the past. And, almost without exception, Oli has staked a position that went against that stream, beginning with his pooh-poohing of the anti-monarchist civic unrest of April 2006 as being a fanciful proposition doomed to failure. The irony was that it was the same Oli who had no compunctions taking office as Deputy Prime Minister a month later following the success of the movement.
Following his defeat in the first Constituent Assembly (CA) elections, it was almost as if his single-point agenda was to ensure the failure of the CA and its main task of writing a new constitution. Without a doubt, he played a major role in the first CA’s uneventful demise. He then rode the anti-incumbency tide against the feckless Prachanda-led Maoists into the second CA. And, there, he personified all the currents floating around in reaction to the most liberal period in Nepal’s political history, post-2006 popular movement to the end of the first CA, when unprecedented gains were made by those marginalised by the weight of history.
After the 2015 earthquake, with the help of a like-minded coalition of the willing, Oli outdid himself by cynically taking advantage of a population still coming to terms with the shock of the natural calamity to push through a constitution sans any meaningful consultation but with the use of violence against those opposed to it. He followed that up with what has been called a nationalist stand against the Indian blockade. The mantle of an anti-India politician is one he has been loathe to doff since it has proved highly advantageous to him even though it should be clear to anyone that his brand of anti-Indianism is only a convenient cover for his strong aversion to granting greater political rights to Madhesis.
It has been the country’s biggest misfortune that the man granted the mandate to devolve Nepal into a federal state is one who has no faith in the principles of federalism. Federalism is, after all, a liberal project and Oli is anything but a liberal with his record on that score speaking for itself. Through a series of actions as well as what appears to be deliberate inaction he has been able to gradually chip away at the core principles of federalism and managed to craft a Nepal that is looking like a pale shadow of the federal one envisaged.
Oli’s ongoing quest to centralise all authority in his office, with the ordinance on the Constitutional Council being the latest manifestation of that tendency; the various laws proposed and introduced that undermine some of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitutions; and his unnaturally thin skin for a politician, unable to stand any criticism, make for a very worrisome combination. Given his penchant for claiming with a straight face to be unaware of any and every irregularity his government has been accused of—such as most recently the medical supplies procurement fiasco—and we have a prime minister who believes he is never wrong. What is most frightening though is that he is not even aware of his own ignorance, vividly on display in his impromptu lecture to the seven chief ministers on how to avoid being infected by the Covid-19 virus, all the while providing false and potentially dangerous information. Only someone with a delusional sense of his own genius would have the gall to pull off such stunts—and then blame the backlash on the media.
One of the best characterisations of Oli’s folly vis-à-vis the present crisis was one that compared him to a novice chess player: caught up in planning his many moves ahead but without realising that after every one of his it is the turn of his opponent to make a counter move. In the next few days Oli will either find himself checkmated or he will conceive of a way to turn the tables on his rivals although indications are that the endgame is headed towards an inconclusive stalemate. None of these outcomes will leave him unbruised though. Unfortunately, neither will the country emerge unscathed since it will mean another blow to the misplaced hopes people had of prosperity and stability—misplaced then, as it is now.
What do you think?
Dear reader, we’d like to hear from you. We regularly publish letters to the editor on contemporary issues or direct responses to something the Post has recently published. Please send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org with "Letter to the Editor" in the subject line. Please include your name, location, and a contact address so one of our editors can reach out to you.