The treason of KP Oli and civil society leadersIs political stability really worth keeping Oli in power, even after his mafia-like manoeuvres?
Fishing in troubled waters is a cliché that applied to the fast-track process of making Nepal’s constitution—a result of the 16-point agreement between the Maoists, the UML and Congress in 2015—in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake. And the same cliché applies to Prime Minister KP Oli’s two (now withdrawn) ordinances, in the midst of a pandemic, that would have opened up a Pandora’s box of political issues—a potential party split, horse-trading and the killing of a check-and-balance system envisioned (even in the flawed constitution) for appointments to constitutional bodies.
Moreover, Mr Oli found the waters so turbid that he even deployed mafia-style coercion through his henchmen (the boundary between coercion and kidnapping blurs here; I’ll show how in a bit) to finish off his twin goals: to split parties (his own included if need be) and serve his hunger for power, both inside his party and in state affairs. All this was engineered at the expense of democracy, pandemic management and development. The knee-jerk reaction to India’s economic blockade in 2015 has proven costly to the Nepali people.
I usually avoid bringing in high theorists in my columns but the way some of Nepal’s ‘leading members of civil society’ signed a petition to pull Oli out of hot waters that he had himself deliberately waded, I am reminded of the Martiniquan psychiatrist and thinker Frantz Fanon’s commentary on the national bourgeoisie whose narrowed mental path in reaction to external forces and loose links with the masses diminishes the country’s prosperity. Fanon says in the third chapter, ‘The Pitfalls of National Consciousness’, of his book The Wretched of the Earth that such an educated class within a developing country becomes completely ‘canalised into activities of the intermediary type. Its innermost vocation seems . . . to be part of the racket’. Such an educated bourgeoisie helps lead the country from nationalism to ‘ultra-nationalism, to chauvinism, and finally to racism’. Fanon was quite prescient about how quickly nationalism and hyper national consciousness in Africa from Algeria, where he lived and worked, to the sub-Saharan countries, was changing into a self-destructive monster in the hands of its educated bourgeoisie who had inherited the postcolonial state. This class of educated, secular, dynamic nationalists has put the people’s interest on the back burner and put its own ethnic interest and accumulation of capital at the forefront, giving the ‘nation minimum prosperity’.
In Nepal, this is precisely what has happened since 2008. Instead of offering its measured but firm response to the blockade (which was as much an internal event as external), it swallowed hook, line and sinker Mr Oli’s witticisms and clever manipulation of the China card and propped him up as the saviour of their version of Nepal. The treason of this educated class didn’t stop just there. After multiple scandals of corruption and failed promises of building castles in the air, Mr Oli issued two constitutionally destabilising ordinances and committed mafia-style operations to break the Samajbadi Party, eventually getting into trouble. Yet, these civil society leaders rose to formally defend Mr Oli in the name of stability. A failed, corrupt and impeachable Oli to them remained a superior bet over any competent leader of the Nepal Communist Party.
Why was his issuing of ordinances to break an opposition party and monopolise power in the constitutional bodies a political crime? Further, why was the sending of three men—one a recently retired Inspector General of Police and the other two members of Parliament—to bring back another lawmaker an outright felony? Let me explain. Nepal has long suffered from tyrants and autocrats until even the constitutional monarchists turned into republicans—fed up with repeated deceptions, imprisonments and suspensions of liberty. The flawed constitution of 2015 failed to do full justice to the marginalised, but it did address some flaws of the past quarter century.
But Mr Oli violated people’s faith and blood and sweat poured into the constitution by his ordinances. Moreover, as Surendra Yadav himself said in his interviews, he was scared of the men—an ex-IGP and a former leader of the Youth Force (which was known for its member’s high-handed activities, amounting to hooliganism, and which was born to counter the Maoist Young Communist League). On the other hand, Mr Yadav is a Madhesi who, like many Madhesis, has lived in fear of the Nepali state’s officialdom for reasons of ethnic and linguistic prejudice and alienation. And, when he saw the three at his door, coming unannounced, he was out of his wits and felt coerced. Alarmingly, the ex-IGP had gotten Mr Yadav’s address from his own personal police guard.
For all the reasons that still make the Nepali state an alien entity to the majority of the people, this coercion was nothing but force; Mr Yadav had no choice but to go along with the three men. If this is not a felonious act of the prime minister, what is? And if it is a felony, and Mr Oli was clearly the mastermind, as much of the ordinances as of this operation, then why shouldn’t he be dismissed from his post?
But dismissing Mr Oli can create instability. So, the argument goes. But why is stability necessary? If the country’s economy and the measures against the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic were managed properly, and if Mr Oli’s party members were merely trying to topple him for reasons of envy and personal ambitions, reminiscent of the post-1990 Nepal, you could say that instability would disrupt the momentum of development. But the country’s failed development, Mr Oli’s continued bad health (we should remember that he is not a monarch entitled to remain in the throne until he is dead) and the thousands who have had to march hundreds of kilometres—starving—to get home due to mismanagement of lockdown measures, all amply demonstrate the need to hasten Mr Oli’s retirement from office.
Someone capable (there is more than one) from his party can easily replace him. Nepalis voted the ruling party to a majority in Parliament, not Prime Minister Oli alone. Fanon made his observations about half a century ago. There is no reason for the national bourgeoisie to continue to fall in the pitfalls of hyper national consciousness. The time for change 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 [email protected] 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.