End of the Oli showOli’s departure from the scene will not and should not be lamented.
It was a show that had lasted for a bit too long. I am referring, of course, to the nightmare that was KP Sharma Oli’s tenure as prime minister. For, a nightmare it was, featuring him as the perennial joker-in-chief, and, later, as the grim reaper incarnate. To remind us of the latter, his ouster coincided with the daily national death toll from Covid-19 crossing 100, the one factor likely to be Oli’s most lasting legacy. With an eye on history, Oli might have wished otherwise but he has no one to blame apart from himself for having dragged the country into the current morass.
Enough has been written about the idiocy that was Oli’s tenure, including many of my own columns devoted to deriding the comrade who spent almost all his time playing prime minister rather than actually working as one. The Kathmandu Post editorial on Wednesday provided a succinct summation of all of Oli’s misdeeds, and there is no need to belabour those for now. Many more words will indubitably be spent for decades to come trying to parse how this most conservative of ethno-nationalists was allowed to run riot at that most crucial juncture in history when Nepal was being promised to be common to all Nepalis.
With the tragedy unfolding south of our border, Indian writers have been using a variety of platforms to write poignantly on the causes and consequences of the magical thinking that permeated the Narendra Modi-led government. The one common factor in practically all the essays I have read is how they end: expressing the fear that all of this will be shunted into the deep recesses of memory when national elections are held in a few years’ time. All Modi has to do is whip Hindus into yet another anti-Muslim (and anti-Christian) frenzy and everything will be forgotten and forgiven.
All the writers could have been waxing pessimism since such a platform has served Modi very well for two decades, and every time he has been written off, he has bounced back stronger by spewing even more hatred. Similar appeals have worked to buttress ethno-nationalists around the world. The most prominent scare was Donald Trump’s having garnered 74 million votes (47% of the total) even after four years of playing truant from any actual governance and nearly a year of presiding over the disastrous response to the Covid-19 pandemic. I hope we are not in a similar situation when the time comes in hoping against hope that Oli will not return to power. Were that to happen, we might as well say good-bye to all the institutional structures crafted to make Nepal truly democratic and achieve its true potential.
The obvious question is, what next? The cast of characters strutting the stage looks hopelessly uninspiring. Lest people have a lapse of memory, let me list them, in no particular order: Sher Bahadur Deuba, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Jhalanath Khanal and Baburam Bhattarai. All former prime ministers and all who have been tested and found wanting. Perhaps sensing that general mood, Bhattarai has now proposed that someone who has never become prime minister be installed at the head of a national government that would conduct national elections a year hence.
Sensible as it may sound, I doubt any of the worthies mentioned above, or Oli himself, would be open to such a proposition. Not that either of the presumed alternatives, Mahantha Thakur or Upendra Yadav, inspire any more confidence either. What Bhattarai has managed to do, in the meantime, is articulate what we all know is the most logical way forward—a fresh mandate, as and when the pandemic situation allows it. Anyone uttering the word ‘election’ while opposing it under Oli’s stewardship is likely to be castigated by his minions. They should understand that the opposition was precisely to rid the state of Oli’s increasingly unhinged grip. Hence, unless we are ready for two more years of jockeying for power by a motley bunch forced together by the fear of Oli’s shenanigans that was beginning to border on the paranoid, to say the least, we have to hear the people speak yet again.
It is also true that none of those mentioned above has singly demonstrated traits that distinguish Oli from the rest. They have not vehemently resisted the change that would lessen the power of co-ethnics although Deuba, Nepal and Khanal have all indulged in it as well. Opportunism and backstabbing has been Oli’s hallmark, a charge one could level at Dahal as well as Thakur or Yadav while Bhattarai can certainly be accused of an affected omniscience that made Oli the laughingstock of the nation. They also have something that is the most important characteristic at present: They are not Oli with all his unfounded insecurities that have played havoc with our country and our political system.
They are not the ‘antiOli’ either in the sense that we would find the country headed in any noticeably different direction should any of them come to power. Unfortunately, that has never been our lot; no matter how many changes of government, we see the ship of state moving on some predetermined course as if on autopilot. All that the prime ministers have been able to do is sit at the helm and pretend they are steering us somewhere. Even the most powerful prime minister in modern Nepali history, the selfsame KP Sharma Oli, failed to influence the course of our country, notwithstanding his claims to having achieved much much more than he actually did. The one actual achievement Oli can be credited with is single-mindedly pursuing the erection of the Dharahara even though that speaks more to misplaced nationalism than what the country actually needed.
There was a brief period though, after 2006, when the state underwent massive transformations, enacting numerous legislations that turned Nepal into a more inclusive country. Oli’s rapid rise in the period thereafter was on the back of standing against everything those progressive changes symbolised. Nepal’s tragedy was that there was no other leader who could successfully challenge Oli’s highly effective theatrical display of demagoguery that led people to go against their own interests. And we were saddled with a leader who repeatedly and openly thumbed his nose at everything the country had achieved until his advent to complete power as the head of the CPN-UML and thereafter as prime minister. His departure from the scene, when it finally happens, will not and should not be lamented.