Nepal’s new pathA real transformation is possible in Nepal, and this will be a true nationalist act.
Democracy in Nepal is achieved, not ascribed. Through the enormous efforts and endless sacrifices by the common Nepali and leaders, the country could make a transition successfully and emerge as a democratic republic. No one can deny this, not even the souls who have never known to be loyal to a system or the sets of expectations from the ground. Another side of the story is equally important but has been left in the lurch. This is about the forgotten Nepalis who are marginalised to the core and have no privilege to shed tears on the imminent fall of the new constitution and the divisive political culture that started way back in 2015.
Through imposed processes, Prime Minister KP Oli succeeded in making himself a bigger institution than the constitution and Parliament. Deeply opiated through a wrong interpretation of nationalism and priorities, a section of the people, leadership and media helped Oli to grow beyond a permissible size in a democracy. He briskly dissolved the Lower House of the federal Parliament lately; prior to that, he did everything possible to undermine the democratic spirit and dampened the prospects of stability and equitable growth in the country.
Sense of alienation
Considering the recently held pro-monarchy demonstrations across the country and the general sentiments among the people, a sense of alienation can be noticed. The detachment is not with democracy, but the people are in a mood to reject the version of arrangement that came into force in the last few years, and made one-upmanship the only working virtue. Besides pursuing organised brinkmanship for the last five years and finally letting Nepal go into another avoidable round of political struggle, Oli should also be credited for misusing the presidential system and making it redundant. For showing no uprightness in her role as the President, history should not be kinder to Bidya Devi Bhandari either. As an institution, now it would be difficult for the presidential system to justify its existence.
The possibility of a cultural monarchy can’t be underestimated as a replacement to the presidential system. Oli-Bhandari knew it well, and their hasty decision to score against friends and foes alike gave a clear indication of a major shift. The Nepal Communist Party has been rearranged, and at centre stage, the party now has Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and Madhav Kumar Nepal as chairmen. This is another unexpected development for Oli and Bhandari. With further consolidation of the party ranks and other democratic forces, the scenario will be much more difficult for them.
While weighing what lies ahead, the latest fiasco should also be understood in ideological terms. First and foremost, one can wonder whether ideology indeed exists any more in Nepali politics. Oli—who always denounced Prachanda and his fellow Maoists in the heady times of the decade-long people’s war—thought not even twice in merging his party with the Maoists, and entering into an understanding where he was supposed to pass the mantle to Prachanda upon completing half of the five-year term. He didn’t keep his word, and he allowed China’s overt interference to keep the divided house in order, but to no avail. He could see the split in the party coming, and he exercised the choice—giving an archaic jolt to the country amid the pandemic and unprecedented losses in lives and livelihoods.
With unresolved constitutional amendments, it is impossible for any democracy to attain its full potential. The wasted years are testimony to the fact that the ‘nationalism project’ of Oli was unswervingly self-serving, and at the cost of weakening the equal entitlement of all citizens. A sane system can’t allow it. He strategically bargained with the regional parties in Madhes by ushering in federalism, and created another layer of the system without an accountability and oversight mechanism. The provincial governments that were supposed to strengthen the decentralisation of power and development are only serving the decision-makers. In the history of Nepal, corruption and misuse of power has never reached the level one can witness now under these new governments.
Janakpur, the capital of Province 2, has ceased to be the political laboratory of Nepal; and is now a comfortable den for lapsed idealists who once promised the moon and the stars to the people. The concept of development is misunderstood, people are suffering from the government’s misplaced priorities and are destined to see their survival beyond the borders. Surprisingly, those who are misusing authority are still prospering. The crumbling edifices of the institutions, weaker trust factor in public life, an economy in tatters and a divided polity should be counted among the legacies of the Oli era in Nepal politics.
When economic reforms were most needed and industry looked for hand holding, Oli and his dangerously tall ambition put the country at a crossroads. As a recipe for economic possibilities, he always relied on imagination rather than facts, and wasted time portraying China as an altruistic development assistance partner. The poor show exposes the tall and undeserving promises. Irrespective of the highs and lows in bilateral ties, India has continued with its resolve in development partnership.
More than 4 million Nepalis live in India—and most of them are not part of the Nepal government’s ‘cocktail circle’ or schemes of things. They were forgotten during the harshest phases of the pandemic, and neither outreach nor any assistance for a dignified return to the country was thought out for them. In fact, in the most shocking decision, the Oli government kept air services with India suspended citing boundary issues between the two countries. He mistimed his harsh humour to term the ‘Indian virus is deadlier than the Chinese’—and now, even he will understand that India produces a vaccine and gives hope, and doesn’t force humanity at grave risk like China did with its home-grown virus that caught everyone unawares except the perpetrators.
At a critical juncture like now, it is wishful that the plans, policies and actions of the last five years be revisited. It is also the time for making clear distinctions between domestic and foreign policies, and not allowing the individualistic approach to be glorified. Nepal deserves much better than where it is placed now, with a systemic re-set and clearly outlined priorities, it can claim its real potential. Fortune lies in one’s own act—whosoever helms ahead should do all possible to use natural and human resources, and systemic prowess to redefine the paradigms of governance and development. A real transformation is possible in Nepal, and this will be a true nationalist act. Instead of looking back, Nepal has all the reasons to look ahead.