Sceptics discount Lamichhane’s cutbacks as gimmicksSimilar populist programmes have in the past proved to be ineffective and unsustainable.
Although Pushpa Kamal Dahal has taken the office of the prime minister, perhaps more eyes are on former television star Rabi Lamichhane, whose swift rise to deputy prime minister and home minister left everyone flabbergasted.
Now he has come up with back-to-back initiatives and programmes for which he is being widely applauded.
On Friday, Lamichhane announced through social media to cut the number of vehicles from his official convoy. Now he will keep only one vehicle for security purposes. However, added Lamichhane, there will be some exceptions, in special conditions.
Soon after his appointment, the Home Ministry decided to withdraw security forces deployed in many places against the working guidelines. Over 200 security personnel were withdrawn.
Unfortunately, the decision could not stand, even for a week. The Prime Minister's Office has directed sending the drivers who had returned to the Nepal Police back to their former jobs.
While the emergence of the Rastriya Swatantra Party sparked hope in a big chunk of the general public, some recent moves of its chair, not long after he assumed office, have also raised eyebrows as well as questions over their sustainability.
Hari Roka, a political analyst, said what matters is whether what Lamichhane is doing is farsighted and sustainable.
“While making such decisions, you must keep in mind various aspects. It seems Lamichhane is making decisions in haste in pursuit of popularity,” Roka told the Post. “Had he assessed the connection of reducing the number of security forces to the broader economy? Had he thought of creating an environment for job-creation? I doubt it.”
Political watchers’ scepticism largely owes to a bitter history of politicians who have repeatedly betrayed the public with their lofty promises and crowd-pleasing programmes.
Another political analyst Krishna Khanal said the trend of bringing such ‘populist’ programmes without factoring in their sustainability and meaningfulness started right after the restoration of multiparty democracy in Nepal in 1990. Every government, after that, has brought—more or less—populist programmes, but no such programme has been sustainable or born fruit.
“Rabi Lamichhane does not look any different [from others]. He lost his credibility as soon as he bargained and got the Home Ministry, while a serious case against him was pending. Such populist moves have no meaning,” said Khanal.
In 2011, the Mustang Max jeep hit the headlines after then prime minister Baburam Bhattarai’s decision to use the vehicle as his official car, over imported ones. His move was widely praised, as it would promote the domestic automobile industry. Bhattarai was also lauded for spurning a chance to travel in a luxurious vehicle and instead opting for an unglamorous vehicle assembled in Nepal.
But hope faded in no time. Hulas Motors, the manufacturer of Sherpa, Mustang V2 and Mustang Max automobiles, ceased production four years later.
Lal Babu Pandit from the CPN-UML defeated Nepali Congress’ political heavyweight Shekhar Koirala in Morang-6, Nepali Congress’s traditional bastion in the 2017 polls. The fact that he emerged victorious without spending anything, stunned everyone. His humble personality had wooed the masses back then.
In November 2017, Pandit’s autobiography 'Singhadurbar Badalne Sangharsha’ (‘Struggle to change Singhadurbar’) hit the stands. Its cover page showed him riding a bicycle with Nepal’s flag fixed at the front, and Singhadurbar in the background. Pandit used to commute by bicycle and auto-rickshaw.
Pandit soon became one of the most popular leaders in Nepal. When he was general administration minister, the government decided to bar Nepali government officials in possession of PR (permanent residence) and Green Card of other countries from assuming office. Many senior civil servants were affected and many employees abandoned their dual citizenships, some also quit their jobs and settled abroad. With this move, he became a household name.
Pandit also could not hold on for long. He soon started using government vehicles. His wife also misused government vehicles. He also distributed 15 vehicles in Morang-6, his constituency. All of this led to his downfall.
Through the manifesto for the 2017 elections, UML chair KP Sharma Oli unveiled the slogan ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali’. Oli also launched the ‘Prime Minister Employment Programme’. He also started the Digital Nepal Campaign by distributing Apple laptops to the ministers.
Have such campaigns borne fruits yet? They look lost somewhere, with any concrete results out of sight.
The budget brought through an ordinance by the erstwhile Sher Bahadur Deuba government also had some populist programmes such as providing loans without collateral to at least 500 unemployed persons in every local unit. Has that been implemented yet?
Senior Maoist Centre leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha also used public transport. Did he continue to do so?
Governments in Nepal have long been engaging in publicity stunts and crowd pleasing programmes. When a government launches an allowance scheme, the next government launches more and the vicious cycle continues. Each government wants to bring in as many ‘populist’ programmes as they can, in their budgets.
“Neither Baburam’s Mustang Max worked well, nor did other such moves and programmes of other politicians. Politicians have been bringing such programmes even when there are no organisations for implementation. They announce such programmes without any study of the sustainability and the availability and effectiveness of the organisations to carry forward the task,” said Roka.
“The actors have changed. In 1990, there was no Prachanda, there was no Lamichhane. But the appeasement trend continues,” said the political analyst, Khanal.
Khanal said first that leaders should have self belief and confidence. According to him, if politicians are confident enough in their programmes, they should step down as Liz Truss did in the United Kingdom after her programmes boomeranged. “The leaders should make bold decisions. They should be ready to take accountability and step down for failure. Many programmes, moves, and plans have failed in Nepal. None of the politicians has taken responsibility.”
Leaders of the new parties that emerged from last month’s polls, however, claimed that there are many reasons to trust the new leadership.
Kabindra Burlakoti, the Rastriya Swatantra Party joint general secretary, said that in the past, only one or two leaders would come up with unique ideas and programmes that would make a difference and their patrons, in sharp contrast, would have the traditional thinking and did not support such programmes. “Such programmes and moves did not last long, lacking support from party patrons. Currently, all of our team is new and trained in a new spirit. So our motives to do something new and work as per people’s expectations is meaningful and will bear fruits,” Burlakoti told the Post.
“All of us agree that we have not joined the government merely to enjoy power, and we must bring in the changes that the public is seeking,” he added.
According to Burlakoti, there is immense pressure within the party to do more significant work, despite Lamichhane’s efforts. “In the past, leaders used to face pressure in the party not to do such work. If we don’t get space for the execution of our programmes, we will back off from the government,” he added.
Meanwhile, Khanal said it’s after all, the leaders who set precedents, by starting something new and bringing in positive changes. They are also the ones to deliver, as they are in power. “But they are setting bad precedents. If they are able to bring fruitful results, we must appreciate them. If a leader cannot use his position and stay confident in his moves and programmes, sustainability will only be a distant dream,” said Khanal.
In all of this, some key politicians have continued to maintain their simplicity, and do not publicise it. Chitra Bahadur KC and Amrit Bohora are two such names.