Orchestrations and ostentationsThe inherent temptation to enforce absolute rule is the result of an ideological crisis
Both Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and his government suffer from an identity and ideological crisis. Oli was recently seen mingling with seasoned ‘left’ litterateurs and composing a poem as ‘poet extempore’, and on another occasion, striking a broad acrylic stroke on a canvas while inaugurating an art exhibition.
Last week, he was, rather surprisingly, seen sobbing on television as he watched a video clip of the plight of common Nepalis cursed to cross dangerous rivers by clinging to a tuin (wire bridge) which became emotionally unbearable to him. These desperate orchestrations carefully calculated to project the image of a highly learned ‘man of letters’, an accomplished artist or a sensitive leader who instantly identifies with the pain of the common people are, in fact, turning out to be clumsy manifestations of his deepening identity crisis.
Rhetoric fizzling out
It was not difficult to see that his creative pieces of poetry and art barely match middle school intellect. His tears in the pre-recorded and highly choreographed television talk show, specifically designed to boost his public image and aired in coordination with none other than the Prime Minister’s Office itself, are more obvious theatrics than spontaneities. Ironically enough, the show was aired on the day before his government began charting out a brutal raid plan into Jumla hospital to ‘abduct’ Dr Govinda KC holding an indefinite hunger strike there demanding reform in medical education.
Moreover, Oli’s implicit and repeated suggestions that he would be least bothered even if Dr KC died during his fast-unto-death, and his determination, come what may, to award licences to medical college to someone like Durga Prasai whose plainly barbaric and extremely despicable public rhapsodies have now become the talk of the town, adequately unmask his true ‘insensitive’ face.
It is unfortunate for the country that the government elected for five years with a thumping majority has become so defaced due to its own actions within five months after coming to power. The people had expected that their struggle for basic rights and democracy was over, once and for all, after Nepal as a nation-state got (supposedly) institutionalised as a ‘federal, democratic republic’ through the new constitution and elected a majority government under it. But the overarching modus operandi of the government is proving to be something completely opposite.
The government’s prosperity rhetoric is gradually fizzling out, primarily because its immediate priority seems to be neither to achieve economic growth or development but to effect absolute control over key institutions of the state. The federal government’s true intentions appear quietly but unequivocally directed at making federalism a failure, as rightly said by the provincial governments who are now protesting against ‘absolute’ federal hegemony. It is not a trivial matter that such protests are emerging despite the fact that six out of the seven chief minsters in the state are Oli’s handpicked henchmen.
The government is taking sweeping decisions on all fronts: legislative, institutional and operational. Besides the Medical Education Bill against which Dr KC is protesting, the government is working on more than two dozen major acts to introduce or amend them with undiluted focus to ensure perceivably totalitarian control over the state. They include laws or rules related to civil society, the media, civil service and foreign investment to education and the health sector. For instance, as per the grapevine, it won’t be surprising if half of the FM radio stations deemed ‘unfriendly’ by the government are closed within a year or so under one pretext or the other. A six-month ban on their relocation has already been imposed.
Another striking example: The government dissolved all public entities instituted under the Development Board Act 1956 by a Cabinet decision dated July 4. It will impact, as per a moderate estimate, about 500 boards, committees and a range of public enterprises now under the jurisdiction of both the federal and provincial governments. No government official has information about the exact number of institutions to be impacted. They range from the Bir Hospital Development Committee at the centre to zonal level hospital management committees, Tea and Coffee Development Board, Radio Broadcast Service Development Board, Nepal Intermodal Transport Development Board, Trade and Export Promotion Centre, Forest Products Development Board and other state level multi-stakeholder committees.
The decision will have a direct impact on at least 15,000 employees working in them. What is most striking about the decision is that the ministries and state governments were not asked for their input if they wanted to retain some of them before this blanket decision was taken. On the contrary, it was not only kept a secret unlike other Cabinet decisions which are made routinely public by the government spokesperson, the ministries were given 15 days to furnish a rationale if they wanted to keep any of them. The state governments were not even informed.
The intention and modus operandi were clear. First, all of them were dissolved which saved the government the hassle of sacking the existing executives and appointing new ones and ensuing court cases related to reinstatement. Second, those thought necessary by the government could be reconstituted afresh, if the government could stand the decision given the potential backlash owing to the magnitude of its ramifications.
These ad hoc policy experimentations of the government and its inherent temptation to enforce absolute rule, fundamentally, are the outcome of its ideological crisis. For Prime Minister Oli, his comrade-in-arms Pushpa Kamal Dahal and the entire Nepal Communist Party brigade, democracy, federalism and civic freedom are antithetic to their thorough indoctrination in the so-called ‘democratic centralism’ and, therefore, are more of a compulsion for them than ideals to cherish.
Evidently, they were never exposed to the strength and practicability of comparable paradigms of competitive politics. Federalism and communism are, theoretically, two extreme poles. The conflict between the prime minister and his party’s ambition to replicate a one-party communist rule and, at the same time, being responsive to the voice of a free society adhering to the basic norms of democracy is holding back Nepal’s pace of democratisation as well as economic progress. Oli’s personal ostentations are adding fuel to the fire.