Five years of relentless 'Oli-fication'No tears need to be shed for the controversial constitution; the worry is that the societal and political changes have become almost irreversible.
When a situation is too complex to comprehend, the temptation to insert the first-person singular in the narrative is impossible to resist. A day before the winter solstice, I was re-reading The Works of Oscar Wilde in the afternoon sun. Once again I had found The Ballad of Reading Gaol particularly striking.
In the closing section of the six-part poem, Wilde bemoans: 'Yet each man kills the thing he loves, / By each let this be heard, / Some do it with a bitter look, / Some with a flattering word, / The coward does it with a kiss, / The brave man with a sword!' I was trying to contemplate the way Supremo KP Oli will kill the contested constitution which he had used so far with so much loving care. Then the postprandial sluggishness took over and I dozed off on the terrace floor.
The reverie was broken by the shrill of the cell-phone, which had been playing relaxing jazz in the background. The caller was Bimal Acharya, an energetic journalist with a Nepali language news portal. He politely asked if I was abreast of the latest political development. Upon my denial, he informed me that the Parliament had just been dissolved.
Perhaps the journalist needed a Madhesi voice to add some colour to his reportage. I told him that the power that be had gently pushed the charter down the precipice. I might as well have used Wilde's allusion and said that the coward has killed the constitution with a last kiss.
Success has a proverbial number of fathers and every signatory of the 16-point conspiracy can claim to have sired the charter that was fast-tracked through the second constituent assembly in the middle of Gorkha earthquake aftershocks. But there is little doubt that Oli was its principal builder as well as the biggest beneficiary.
The contentious process of adopting the statute turned him into the ethnonational chieftain of the Khas-Arya community. It ensured his enthronement in Singha Durbar as the second-most nationalist Prime Minister since the passing of lately lamented Marich Man Singh Shrestha of the Panchayat era.
The charter became even more important for him to establish his political credentials. The statute had mentioned the Maoist armed struggle but disowned its agenda except for the acceptance of an oligarchic republic. It had completely rejected aspirations of all the three Madhes uprisings. Federalism had been added as an afterthought with as little authority for provincial governments as the stem of a wineglass where all potent power is poured into the bowl at the top.
The charter, however, lost its utility once Supremo Sharma Oli managed to get hold of the ownership of the lapsed Maoists through a hurried political acquisition. The amalgamation was rumoured to have been facilitated by the interlocutors of a friendly neighbourhood country from across the Himalayas. With the near-complete loss of its support base in the Tarai-Madhes, the Nepali Congress had already become a politically malnourished entity.
When he moved into the official residence of the Prime Minister at Baluwatar for the second time in early-2018, the Supremo was determined not to vacate it again—come what may. He needed to establish his indispensability through the manipulation of beliefs in society. He set out to do that with the 'oliological' exhortations of chauvinism, demagoguery, jingoism, populism and xenophobia. After 'Modi-fication' and 'Trumpification', the process of such a legitimacy formation can best be termed as the 'Oli-fication' of society and polity.
Oli invested his first year in consolidating all authority in the office of the Prime Minister. Hand-picked permanent secretaries were posted in key ministries who reported and took instructions directly from the prime minister's secretariat. Once coercive instruments of the state were brought under his control, the prime minister began to exercise his ethnonational influence and political authority to manufacture consent. Through the plausible mobilisation of public opinion, the incumbent chief justice was defamed and was made to bow out of office.
Businesses were told in no uncertain terms to shift their loyalty from the office of the ruling party to the personal secretariat of the prime minister. The egos of media-persons that had helped raise his stature in public were massaged with fulsome praise.
The palanquin press has been dutifully carrying his glittering litter with nationalist gusto anyway. The phalanx began to sway in admiration once the Supremo made the six-day trip to Beijing and brought back prospects of trans-Himalayan railways and the promises of Chinese investment as the economic elevator necessary to lift the carriage of prosperity from the basement to the higher floors.
Opinion pages of print publications in 2018 were awash with deliberations about metro tracks, railroads, waterways, international airports, hydroelectric power stations and trans-border transmission lines being built in a jiffy by the genie materialising out of the magical lamp called the Belt and Road Initiative. Nobody cared to consider something as elementary in development planning as the limited absorption capacity of transitional societies.
Along with a strongman image, Oli began to cultivate the persona of an affable grandfather who cracked silly jokes and delivered witty repartees. The millennium generation loved his rustic utterances and laughed at his irrational outbursts such as the call to name rhinos 'Gaida in any language'. Unlike his political contemporaries, the buffoonery of 'Olba' made him look humane and likeable. The image makeover of the hidebound player of realpolitik was complete by early 2019.
Absolute power can only be tested through its misuse. The prime minister spent his second year in office by repeatedly pushing the envelope of his authority. Krishna Bahadur Mahara was disparaged and defanged through a thinly-veiled political intrigue. Cabinet colleagues were turned into attendants of his political antechamber. Madhesi politicos were brought to their knees by the skilful parading of the Trojan Horse named CK Raut.
Premier Oli marshalled the court of propaganda to destroy lawmaker Resham Chaudhary in every possible way. When Chinese President Xi Jinping came visiting, he was in top form and ready to rededicate himself to Xi Jinping Thought to the applause of Ximians in Nepal.
Writer Stephen King has extended the popular saying, 'Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me' by adding, 'Fool me three times, shame on both of us'. Supremo Sharma Oli's trickery has added one more dimension—'Fool me four times, shame on our friends and facilitators'. By the time such a realisation dawned on Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the pandemic had already begun to rage. He spent an entire year imploring the Supremo to show some mercy and accommodate him in a role commensurate with his aspirations. Oli has responded with an autogolpe.
Dutiful Oliars of the media and intelligentsia have assiduously cultivated the lie that Supremo Sharma Oli has no equal in contemporary politics and his removal from office will invite instability. Shameful as it may seem, Kathmandu’s social celebrities came out twice openly in defence of the indefensible occupant of Baluwatar.
No tears need be shed for the controversial constitution. The chief worry is that the 'Oli-fication' of society and polity has become almost irreversible. The court may or may not reinstate the Pratinidhi Sabha and a sudden state of emergency may prolong the long night, but only political mobilisation can restore the faith in the democratic governance. The year is about to end, the travails of another democratic struggle has once again begun. Happy New Year 2021 anyway!