Off-the-cuff remarks of top leaders court trouble. Dahal’s is latest caseOpposition disrupts House meeting over his insinuation of Delhi’s influence in selecting Nepal’s prime ministers.
On Monday, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, while addressing a function to launch the book ‘Roads to the Valley: The Legacy of Sardar Pritam Singh in Nepal’, had said that Sardar Pritam Singh, referred to as the pioneer trucking entrepreneur in Nepal, has played a special and historic role in enhancing Nepal-India relations.
“He [Singh] had once made efforts to make me the prime minister,” Dahal added. “He reached Delhi several times and held multiple rounds of talks with political leaders in Kathmandu to make me the prime minister.”
The remarks have stirred up a storm and drawn criticism from several quarters.
The main opposition party CPN-UML disrupted the National Assembly meeting on Wednesday, demanding the prime minister’s resignation. The meeting has been postponed for 1 pm Thursday.
Similarly, the House of Representatives meeting has been postponed until 3 pm Friday, following the disruption by opposition parties—the UML, the Rastriya Swatantra Party, and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party—over Dahal’s remarks.
Speaking in the lower house meeting, UML lawmaker Raghuji Pant said, “The prime minister should resign on moral ground. We don’t need a prime minister appointed by Delhi.”
Not only the opposition, the ruling parties have also expressed their dissatisfaction at his statement. “The prime minister’s remarks are worthy of criticism. His remarks are wrong,” said Bishwa Prakash Sharma speaking to journalists after the House meeting on Wednesday.
This is not the first time Nepal’s top leaders have courted controversy for their imprudent remarks over sensitive issues such as geopolitics, bilateral relations and other national issues.
In February 2021, Dahal, as the chairman of the then ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), had said in a television interview that the alliance between the NCP’s dissident faction he led, the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party would be ‘comfortable for India’.
Similarly, on January 15, 2020, while addressing a Maghi festival event in Kathmandu, Dahal had said that as the leader of the party that led the decade-long insurgency, if asked to own up insurgency-era deaths, he would own up 5,000 deaths and the state should take responsibility for the rest.
The social media is now flooded with expressions of disenchantment over and criticisms of Dahal’s recent remarks.
“What is our prime minister saying? Wasn’t the prime minister elected by the House of Representatives? But according to the prime minister, Delhi has been buying and selling the HoR members! Otherwise, how would the lower house elect a prime minister? Why is the Parliament doing nothing even as the Nepali people have been badly insulted?” constitutional expert Bipin Adhikari wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli has been no different when it comes to creating controversies.
In July 2020, Oli, as the then prime minister, accused India of conspiring with his political rivals in Nepal to oust him. A month later, Oli claimed that Ayodhya lies in Nepal and Ram was born in Thori in southern Nepal, creating ripples in the southern neighbour. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he had also said the Indian virus was more lethal than the virus from China. In a Parliament speech, he made a mockery of the declaration in India's state emblem that reads “Satyameva Jayate [truth will prevail] by misreading it as saying “Singhameva Jayate” [lion will prevail], referring to the supremacy of force.
Inaugurating the laying of optical fibre in Dhading in May 2019, Oli said that provincial and local governments were not separate entities, but units under the federal government. Constitutional experts had criticised the anti-constitutional remark.
Political analyst Krishna Khanal said the frequent controversial remarks of top UML and Maoist Centre leaders show the incompatibility between their political orientation and the current system. In a parliamentary system, even if a wrong word is uttered, the leaders concerned should apologise and be ready to face the consequences, Khanal said, adding, “The UML that entered the system after 1990 is comparatively more experienced in the parliamentary system but the Maoist Centre is new. Dahal has not been able to internalise the system until now.”
Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba has waded into controversy a few times.
The then prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, while addressing at a joint press conference with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi during his India visit in August 2017, had said that he would continue to push for constitution amendment. The main opposition UML and the ruling Maoist Centre criticised the statement saying that the constitution amendment is Nepal’s internal matter.
The leaders of all political parties including the Congress, according to Khanal, tend to speak more than what is necessary. “There is also a perception that if a leader can give an impromptu speech, he or she is skillful and intelligent. This is true of leaders of all political parties.”
Experts blame leaders for the lack of sensitivity towards the coveted positions they hold, and say their remarks are a reflection of their irresponsibility.
Hari Sharma, who served as advisor to former President Ram Baran Yadav and former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, said “irresponsible remarks by top politicians holding senior state positions will not only weaken the individuals themselves but also whole institutions.”
Former chair of the Press Council Nepal, Rajendra Dahal, who also served as press advisor to President Yadav, said such remarks like Prime Minister Dahal’s were an insult to the public.
Speeches of national leaders have led to wars, toppled governments, and changed power equations not only in Nepal but the world over. This is why the secretariat of the top leaders generally prepare the speech and suggest proper delivery methods. So how are the speeches prepared for the Nepali prime minister?
Manhari Timalsina, media expert to Prime Minister Dahal said, in Nepal too, the prime minister’s secretariat prepares the speech for academic functions and other vital formal events.
But, added Timalsina, no such speeches are prepared for informal functions including the Maoist party’s internal gatherings where the prime minister speaks on topics he is well versed in. “For example, during the recent birth anniversary of Girija Prasad Koirala, we did not prepare any speech as the prime minister himself was well acquainted with Koirala.”