A bunch of hogwashThe Oli government is known for bullshit. But even it could have supported citizens better against Covid-19.
Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel must have known that he was doling out a lot of hogwash when he announced that the world’s top 10 electric vehicle manufacturers would be invited to begin making cars in Nepal. It really beats rational thinking how anyone could come up with such a harebrained idea, and expect us to accept it with any degree of sincerity. Nepal does not have a single automobile factory (yes, we do have Hulas Motors but with no output for years). That is so for the simple reason that it is too small a market to be of interest to anyone. Hence, to even assume that someone like Elon Musk along with nine of his peers would be attracted by the idea of setting up shop in Nepal is no more than a pipe dream that does no one any credit, not Poudel nor the current government.
We all know it is the lot of politicians to make fantastic statements and most times they get away with it because such is expected of them. We have heard enough from Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and the wild claims he makes about himself and the ‘achievements’ of his government to stop taking whatever he says with any modicum of seriousness. Harry Frankfurt, a philosopher at Princeton University, captured such a trait very well in his 1986 paper, ‘On Bullshit’. He writes: ‘It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.’
Perhaps nothing stands out so starkly on this front than the fraudulent promise made to the people of Nepal by Oli’s party during the last parliamentary elections. The slogan of a prosperous Nepal was too enticing for people not to be taken in. But CPN-UML should have stopped at that somewhat vague proposition and not get caught up with peddling the impossible dream of raising the per capita income of Nepalis to $5,000 within 10 years. Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has intervened to provide the government with the fig-leaf to excuse its failure to make any substantive progress towards a goal that would have required sustained growth of nearly 20 percent in each of those 10 years.
The unfortunate fact is that for nearly half the time this government has been in power, Oli has simply taken the backseat in terms of actual governance and been obsessed with staying in power. No matter how adept anyone is, and Oli certainly thinks he is, it is clearly impossible to be both preoccupied in political skullduggery and governing a country. Hence, we are treated to gratuitous spells of Oli’s supposed encyclopaedic knowledge about any and everything under the sun. Since it is pertinent to this discussion here, we can go back to Frankfurt again as he writes further with the likes of Oli in mind: ‘Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled — whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others—to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant.’
All the while the plight of common Nepalis continues to be heart-rending. Two recent news reports suffice to demonstrate how things are far away from the realm of politics. One is the haphazard vaccine rollout which saw elderly folks forced to stand for hours under the July sun for their second dose, but without any certainty that they would get the jabs. Having made a hash of vaccine distribution the first time around and been roundly criticised then, one would have expected the government to have found a more effective way of ensuring that getting vaccinated would not turn out to be a dreaded ordeal. But that would assume a government looking out for all the people.
As Nepal’s migrant workers are finding out, the absence of such a government is going to cost them dearly. The title of one news report said it all: ‘Have to slog for one year to pay for the ticket and quarantine.’ Not having received vaccinations in Nepal, our workers are being forced to quarantine themselves in expensive hotels in destination countries. Taken together with the steep ticket prices due to the limited number of flights, their migration sojourn now begins with a huge loan burden that will take them months to pay off. The same is true for those returning home with a mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine. Despite Oli’s repeated promises on the matter and one such was made just last week, we know it is not entirely the government’s fault that the vaccination drive could not take off in Nepal. But surely the government could have subsidised the quarantine costs of those outbound labour migrants while also setting up free quarantine facilities for the incoming ones. That is the least the country could do for this highly vulnerable and desperate group who have propped up the national economy for nearly two decades. Again, that would assume we have a government that cares—cares beyond clinging on to power at all costs.