Paradoxical powerlessness of the SupremoThe anti-Maoist elements of civil society have made Oli an icon of Khas-Arya ethnonationalism.
After every crisis, Supremo KP Sharma Oli appeared to have come out stronger and ready to wage another battle at a time and place of his choosing. When he lost the trust vote in the reinstated House, it seemed for a while that his downward spiral had begun. But he looks to have weathered the storm. The Pratinidhi Sabha stands dissolved once again and the fate of the House hangs in balance at the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court.
Confident of his longevity as the caretaker prime minister, the Supremo came up with a full-fledged budget through finance ordinance and reshuffled his cabinet to suit his convenience. By keeping the charge of seven important ministries with himself, he may be looking forward to luring some more of his critics.
In his capacity as the chairperson of the ruling party, he recently dangled a carrot to the dissidents with the promise of accommodating them in their previous positions. The rider of the proposition is a tough one—Messrs Madhav Nepal and his comrades have to eat crow and withdraw the support that they had extended to the rival claimant.
By all accounts, it would appear as if the Supremo is in full control of the situation. Appearances, however, can sometimes be deceiving. Unsure of the fate of the House, he needed to cobble a discordant coalition in advance by inducting Madhesh-based politicos into the cabinet.
No debate on the finance ordinance is possible due to the absence of Parliament, but it has kicked up so much controversy that its implementation is not going to be easy even for a deal-maker of Finance Minister Bishnu Paudel's calibre.
Oli was idolised as the ethnonational chieftain of Khas-Arya largely because of his strident anti-Madhesi rhetoric. It must not have been easy for a populist demagogue to ignore xenophobia, swallow his jingoistic pride and accept Rajendra Mahato as the Deputy Prime Minister.
Legitimate authority is the power to give orders and enforce obedience. If power is defined as the ability to do something or act in a particular way without facing much resistance, Supremo Sharma Oli seems to have lost much of it since the days he acted as the de facto chief executive during the premiership of the late Sushil Koirala. He spends much of his time these days running between his official residence and the presidential palace even for the resolution of internal conflicts of the ruling party.
Socio-political power is also described as the capacity of influencing the emotions of the masses and directing their behaviour towards the desired direction. Soon after his election as the de jure prime minister, the palanquin press had paraded him as the saviour of national honour. Former admirers of the ethnonational chieftain routinely deride him nowadays.
The third and perhaps the most important dimension of power is the competence of creating a lasting legacy. His spectacular failure in living up to the modest expectations of the population will probably rank him as one of the most uninspiring occupants of Baluwatar.
Oli has failed on every front of governance. The perception of corruption during his regime has reached an all-time high. Even according to official figures, the economy has gone into a tailspin under his watch. The constitution that he was instrumental in promulgating through the fast-track lies in tatters. His handling of the pandemic has been disgraceful.
The diplomatic disaster of oscillating between Xi Jinping Thought and the Hindutva doctrine has turned Nepal into an untrustworthy state. The implementation of MCC, as well as the BRI, has been unnecessarily delayed. The foreign and health ministers had to go in the recent reshuffle due to their inability to benefit from the vaccine diplomacy race, but the failure was that of Oli’s leadership rather than his cabinet colleagues.
The opposition alliance has gone to the extent of asking state organs not to implement his supposedly 'unconstitutional' directives. It's difficult to imagine a greater ignominy for an elected head of government.
The determination and deviousness to remain in the chair forever has been widely debated in the public sphere. Oli is a pragmatic politician and is completely free of any ideological conviction. He can swing from left to right in a jiffy—or remain at the centre of the ideological spectrum to establish his democratic credentials.
But there must be some compulsion that makes the Supremo swallow all self-respect to retain his shaky position. Could it be that he is so indebted to the forces that helped him be what he is that he has no courage left to think of his legacy? The spectre of being recorded as the prime minister who did maximum damage to the national interest is too stark to ignore even for someone as vainglorious as Oli.
The Supremo has come a long way since spending a 14-year jail term as a murder convict. He was catapulted to the centre stage after the accidental death of charismatic UML ideologue Madan Bhandari, who had come up with the nebulous concept of janata ko bahudaliya janabad (meaning people's multiparty communism).
Multiparty communism is an oxymoron, but it looked revolutionary in the 1990s and became a convenient smokescreen to hide the crony capitalism of the UML for which the party would become justly 'famous' within a few decades.
First as home minister and then as foreign minister, Oli succeeded in cultivating an internal as well external support base independent of the party. Now that their man is in control of the country, it's logical that they wouldn't let him leave the chair at his own sweet will.
The anti-Maoist elements of the White Shirt variety in civil society have made Sharma Oli an icon of Khas-Arya ethnonationalism. They equate political stability with the continuation of their ethnonational chieftain in office and are his most ardent apologists. The Supremo can ill-afford to leave his nationalistic proponents in the lurch.
Paradoxical as it may seem at first glance, a section of the Indian establishment would perhaps like to see Oli at the helms until he is so discredited that he would have to fall under the cumulative weight of his own failures. The progenitor of the goat-tailed map and simhaev jayate taunt has suddenly become indispensable for New Delhi.
The radical right-wingers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh variety perhaps want Oli to build that Ram Temple at Madi and turn Nepal into a theocratic Hindu state. There is no other reason for the glee that they display at every failure of the combined opposition in ousting the current occupant of Baluwatar.
For the permanent establishment of Nepal, Oli’s utility isn't yet over. He will be prompted to further fragment the communist party and destroy the leftwing politics from within before being put out to pasture. Strange as it may seem, the Supremo is stuck in the quagmire of his own making and there is no escape in sight for him—and from him.