Cost of clownismFor someone at the helm of affairs of the country, careless flippancy is not an option
Nepali politics got rid of the conspiracies of the ‘crown’ when the monarchy was abolished a decade ago. Instead, a huge horde of ‘clowns’ entered into the country’s political stage. Needless to mention, the usefulness of clowns lies in imitating the real actors, on top of their peculiar gait and clumsy jokes, to make the audience laugh. The ‘clownism’ (even akin to its medical meaning) has pervaded into Nepali political parties across all ideologies which now effectively captures the show. Prime Minister KP Oli is trying to emulate the essence of nationalism from the deposed monarchy, tenets of democracy from the Nepali Congress (NC), socialist ideals from Marxian theories and prosperity model from Xi Jinping. It is, however, not to suggest that other political parties, including the main opposition party in Parliament, the NC, are free of such clownish contagion, but there is no match to Oli’s tongue-in-cheek humour. And, incidentally, he now happens to be at the helm of state affairs, thus the concern.
After the unification of two communist forces, the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre), to form a gigantic Nepal Communist Party (NCP), Oli has become, perhaps, one of the most powerful rulers in the country’s history. The united NCP commands a near two-thirds majority in Parliament, along with similar strengths in six out of the seven Provincial Assemblies. This almost unprecedented numerical, let’s say, physical, force rallied behind Oli as the prime minister and one of two co-presidents of the ruling party should have been a source of decisiveness for him in both realms—philosophical and practical. Only with this clarity of vision will he be able to lead the country in the right direction. Unfortunately though, this has not been the case.
Let’s first take the example of the shaky philosophical or ideological stance of the ruling party, the NCP, and Oli’s one-upmanship. If someone complemented Oli on his success for being able to preserve the communist ‘heritage’ by leading an elected majority communist government and creating one among a few dominant communist parties in the world, his instant, invariable rebukes have been, “We are not communist by any means. We are more democratic than the NC. We are defenders of liberal values and proponents of open competitive market and foreign direct investment, based on global economic interdependence.”
In stark contrast, if anyone accuses him of forsaking communist ideals, his ready retorts are, “We are one of the saviours of Marxism and Leninism in the world. The global communist movement should be proud of us for our survival skills against the tide of electoral democracy. Our official policies still advocate community farming and a state-managed economy.” They are not exaggerations but formally recorded and often repeated statements by none other than Oli himself. The other co-chairman of the NCP, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, has cautiously refrained from making such ideological debates these days, ostensibly to save himself from controversy inherent in such confusion.
The sphinx-like enigma of such magnitude that engulfs, putatively, such a powerful prime minister comes with a huge cost for the country, both in the long and short terms. The ramifications of a diabolic shadow of such ideological confusion at the highest decision-making circle will severely affect the developmental and policy outcomes, regardless of the ambitious policies and programmes announced or the amount of budget earmarked for the same. The overarching impact of this confusion will be on the credibility quotient of the government, particularly among the international community, during its first hundred days in office. If the finance minister’s whitepaper itself is anything to go by, the government coffers are empty and the revenue outlook is bleak. This means, financing for all, largely flimsy and the rest ambitious, policies and programmes officially laid out by the government have to mainly come from our international development partners. This, in turn, will be straightly contingent on the government’s overall credibility that is fast eroding.
At the functional level too, the government has failed to desist from crowding out all rational eco-political discourse in the nation by ultra-nationalistic demagogy. The government machinery trumpeted the closing of the Indian Embassy camp office in Biratnagar as ‘another’ triumph of Oli’s nationalist politics. But the government’s diplomatic failure in obtaining adequate assurance from the Indian side that the closing of the office would not adversely impact Nepal’s other vital interests was completely overshadowed by the euphoria.
As an immediate aftermath, establishing Nepal’s camp office in Vishakhapatnam to facilitate Nepal-bound cargo transit in this deep-sea port city seen as an alternative to Kolkata port, and Nepal’s proposal to set up a consular office in Mumbai, seemingly, has hit a snag. The closure itself was perhaps less an issue than the hue of publicity the government chose. Contrary to the claims of the prime ministers of both Nepal and India that bilateral relations had improved, actual undercurrents, as in this example, are turning rather nasty. The trust deficit coupled with the ulterior motive of exploiting the routine exchange of diplomatic pleasantries as achievements by both prime ministers for personal political interests have, in reality, compromised the spirit of bilateralism and reciprocity. In the larger context, Nepal’s economic diplomacy has failed to be impactful beyond often counterproductive neighbourly obsessions. This is risky.
Even in choosing and articulating the economic agenda, the government’s callousness and temptation to repeat the same old platitudes are evident. Like several earlier governments, the current government has also vowed to bring back millions of migrant youths by creating ample employment opportunities within the country. Frequent repetition of such rhetoric has started to sound natural to our ears. But this is clearly an example of how superficially our governments look at gravely serious issues like this one. Why on earth should we prioritise bringing back these workers who are now earning and remitting money back home? Wouldn’t it be more than enough for now if the national economy could generate gainful employment for half a million youths who enter the labour market every year? In either case, neither has the government identified the sectors where new employment opportunities en masse can be created nor has it any clue where the resources would flow in the manufacturing sector without which generating employment is impossible.
These nuances have been ignored in government functioning as it has found it easier to play a copycat clown than an actual actor in every field, from politics and diplomacy to the economy. The cost of such clownism will be mammoth.