Oli the dreamerExcited and carried away by the flattery of his blind followers, Oli keeps generating fresh controversies
Oli is a straightforward and outspoken person who loves to pass sarcastic remarks, especially about his opponents….His sharp words have bred more enemies than friends…moreover, he makes public his stand on sensitive issues and sticks to his position. Though his viewpoint may be correct, this stubbornness either causes damage (to him) or creates political deadlocks.” These were my words in the article ‘Challenges for Oli’ in this daily back in 2014 when he had just won the election for party president. Now that he is the prime minister, the same observation stands true. This means he has learnt little during these two years.
The other day, a group of college students were gossiping in a cafe when one of them said—‘‘Yo Trump pani America ko Oli nai rahechha hagi (Oh, this Trump is the Oli of America). All laughed, although the comparison has serious overtones. The remarks made by both of them spark controversies and protests, which neither of them seems to mind. Both disregard and dismiss criticism, whether constructive or otherwise. But Trump is different from Oli in the sense that he speaks the voice of his constituency that includes the neo-conservatives and isolationists of America. Oli lacks such an objective or strategy.
Though not always unmerited, Oli’s remarks are mostly ill-timed, and thus unwarranted. For example, he publicly states, time and again, that he will never allow the Tarai to be separated from the hills while federalising the country. The danger he is hinting at by saying so is, of course, real and serious. But such a statement, when made in public, fuels discontent among the Madhesi communities and provides the Madhesi parties new pretexts to agitate and decline dialogue. As the head of government, Oli is supposed to be accommodative and flexible, at least in public and especially during a political transition that is full of dangerous pitfalls.
As prime minister, Oli has made too many impossible promises. For instance, he promised that within two years, people will receive unlimited cooking gas right in their kitchen though directly connected pipelines. Being a standard distribution practice in developed nations, there is nothing funny about it. But the ground reality in Nepal is such that one has to wait for months to get a cylinder of cooking gas, or buy it in the black market if one needs it earlier. Given this backdrop and our resource constraints and institutional capacities, it will take decades to initiate such an arrangement even in the Capital.
Nepali people know that the nation does not produce petro products of any kind and that it has to import them from or via India, a country which time and again blockades or disrupts supplies for political reasons. Therefore, instead of setting new unattainable goals, Oli first should have tried to resume existing arrangements and deal with black marketeering. Then, he could have worked out a viable, long-term plan to minimise Nepal’s dependence on petro products, explore its local production and search for alternative sources of supply, like China.
Oli’s imagination knows no bounds—from extraction of petroleum deposits (irrespective of their availability and viability) to generation of 10,000 MW of hydro power to export the surplus (to China), all within two years. Certainly, after their long suffering, Nepali people now covet an optimistic, development-oriented and, if possible, visionary leader, who can liberate them from poverty, under-development and misrule. And, Oli does seem to have some vision, though not of a higher intellectual order. The problem, therefore, is not with his vision and plans but with such plans being announced casually—without credible action plans. Instead of promising everything, he should have seriously focused on, and acted upon, a few pressing issues and started preliminary works on other important areas that need to be reformed.
Oli’s track record as prime minister has been dismal. Nepotism, cronyism and partisanship are his known weaknesses. For months he could not appoint a chief for the National Reconstruction Authority, which only added to the plight of the quake victims. And when he finally appointed one, he chose a party sympathiser with poor credentials for the job. Had he picked a retired Chief Secretary having enough integrity, ability and experience and no party affiliations, both the people in general and the intellectual classes would have faith in him.
Besides Oli’s personal shortcomings, several other factors also adversely affect the health and life of his government. His party is not even the largest party in a hung parliament. So to secure a majority, he has formed an excessively bloated government of unreliable coalition partners, who may desert him any time. An attempt to topple his government, from which he narrowly survived, has already taken place. He is the ultimate villain for the ever agitating Madhesi parties, partly because of his sharp tongue, which a small section of people mistake for wit and wisdom. And last but not least, the powerful southern neighbour, often known as this country’s kingmaker, is not happy with him and is quietly working to get him out of Singha Durbar.
Though people like me appreciated him for not giving in to Delhi’s hegemony and interference, and for courageously strengthening ties with China, he is not entirely without blame even on this front. He cancelled the President’s visit to India and recalled Nepal’s ambassador to Delhi who was doing a very good job there, just because he was appointed on the quota of the main opposition party, the Nepali Congress. Such impulse-driven and ego-charged decisions will backfire sooner or later.
Yes, his party men, especially those who belong to his faction, his cronies, sycophants, followers and members of his inner coteries have all praise for his idiomatic expressions that have become his trademark. He does not seem to realise that while the general people dismiss those expressions as twaddle, his opponents are provoked by those expressions. Excited and carried away by the flattery of his blind followers, every now and then he keeps generating fresh controversies. Nonetheless, it is not the controversies but the aggravation of serious problems his observations cause that is dangerous. If he wants to make up for the loss before he leaves Baluwatar, he has to watch his tongue and, of course, walk the talk.
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