No gaslighting, pleaseIntra-party feud, rather than foreign conspiracy, is a more likely nemesis of the Oli government.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is not known to mince his words when making public statements. He is adept at giving small bits of masala for the media to keep them engaged in one issue even as he ups the ante in another one. For quite some time, he has even been providing a copious amount of masala to the nationalist Indian media as well. That a single reference to turmeric in Parliament was enough for the humble spice to get a near-celebrity status is testimony to Oli’s rhetorical power. But a great power of rhetorics must be accompanied by a great sense of responsibility.
On Sunday, Oli claimed that an underground plot was underway to unseat him, raising many an eyebrow in Nepal and India. He alleged that India's state mechanism, as well as the media and the intellectuals, had been conniving with Nepali political leaders to dislodge him because Nepal had recently updated its political map by including the contested territories of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura. If Oli's sources are right, Nepal's democracy is at a crossroads. The people of Nepal need to know who exactly is working hand in glove with a foreign power to topple the government and the prime minister they elected.
But geopolitical matters demand diligence and nuance in speech and in action. Even if he was aware of a ploy to unseat him, Oli could have handled the crisis diplomatically rather than spilling the beans in public. Never shy of harking back to nationalism to bolster his image, Oli is now trying to cash in on the support of the public owing to the cartographic update. Even as he claimed he was not interested in clinging to the seat, he postured himself as the only nationalist leader around since there was no other leader that could speak on behalf of Nepal. Considering how he has been facing severe criticism for poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the series of incidences of corruption, Oli is left with little option than to put his money on nationalism.
One would think that Oli has all the right cards in his hand. Oli leads a government that has a near two-thirds majority. The opposition is at its weakest ebb. Even the youths who came out on the streets to ask the government to increase the number of polymerase chain reaction tests against Covid-19 backed off upon realising that their protests had been infiltrated by opposition party cadre. However, despite having the right cards, Oli is losing the plot. He may have avoided mentioning it on Sunday, but he is all too aware that his nemesis is his own party rather than an external force. He has done little to fill the cracks within the party, even skipping the Standing Committee meeting to avoid criticism. Going by the discord with his comrades, an intra-party implosion is more likely to eject him from Baluwatar rather than a subterranean plot by a foreign government.
That a conspiracy is being hatched to unseat Oli may not be untrue altogether. After all, he won't be the first in Nepal's history to be shown the exit door power due to foreign interference. In this regard, Oli certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt. So he would like to hold on to the twin cards he likes the most—victimhood and nationalism. They may come handy at any time in the future. But rather than expending his cards right away, Oli should know, two and a half years into his term, that it is his work rather than his words that should do the talking.