Rabi Lamichhane’s new populist measures fail viability testLamichhane’s secretariat is unsure how it will manage the monthly rent of the free bus, estimated at Rs130,000.
Rastriya Swatantra Party chair Rabi Lamichhane has yet again made headlines following his recent announcement of some programmes, with political watchers and critics terming them ‘immature’ and ‘populist’.
Lamichhane, on August 2, on what was the 100th day of his win in the Chitwan-2 bypolls, announced programmes ranging from free ‘blue bus’ service for women to jobs for Nepalis living and working abroad.
It’s not just those outside the RSP who are complaining though. Further, multiple office bearers of the party the Post talked to confirmed that the announcement was not discussed in the party. The announcement was prepared by Lamichhane’s secretariat, they said.
But, according to Hemanta Baral, the CEO of Lamichhane’s secretariat, the blue bus initiative is symbolic, and started with the intent of showing how transport can be made safe and tech-friendly. “The idea of a technology-friendly transport system has been limited to speeches. We have used the machine-readable card and GPS system in the blue bus. We can track the vehicle at all times and it also has an announcement system,” he said.
They have initially given ride cards to the women above 65 years of age, said Baral, even though the blue bus will eventually be free for all women.
Lamichhane’s secretariat is as yet unsure how they will manage the monthly rent of the bus, estimated at Rs130,000, and have been seeking financial support. “It is not the party’s initiative. So, we have been trying to manage funds with financial support from our wellwishers. We should be optimistic,” said Baral.
The announcement of vacancies has sparked even more criticism. Baral claims it too is a symbolic gesture to promote job creation in Nepal. According to him, the party will only act as a mediator between job applications and private sector employers. They will accept the applications and forward them to the companies.
Vacancy announcement has been called under the slogan “Job Opportunity for the Nepali Citizens in Nepal” for jobs under six categories. The announcement also mentions the provision of free air tickets for those who want to come back to Nepal.
“We have already arranged the recruiting companies to cover the airfare for 80 percent of such travellers to Nepal. For the rest, we are collecting financial support,” according to Baral.
Observers term the announcement as an immature action lacking any concrete vision.
Political economist Bhim Bhurtel said Lammichhane’s announcements completely ignore the issue of viability. “Budgets worth billions have been failing to create jobs. Why would anyone who is earning well abroad want to return to work in Nepal, and for such meagre salaries that the RSP has announced?,” he said.
In the vacancy announcement, for example, nursing staff are sought for Rs20,000, account manager for Rs40,000, nurses for Rs 18,000–Rs 45,000 and so on.
They are also unclear on who will pay the bus rent. “The bus service can work only if there is a provision of state subsidy. But then the RSP is not in the government at any level to announce such a scheme.”
The party won seven seats in the first-past-the-post elections and secured 13 seats under the proportional representational category in the polls held last year.
It then registered impressive victories, defeating the candidates of big parties in two of the three constituencies in the byelection in April. The party is now the fourth largest force in the House with 21 seats. It has cashed in on public frustration with traditional parties. But it has time and again been criticised for its immature actions.
Political analyst Pitambar Bhandari said that in a multiparty democracy, a single party cannot do everything. According to him, RSP should focus on the big picture and try to bring policy-level changes for the long term solutions of problems like unemployment. “Nothing will be achieved by creating a handful of jobs.”
“Lamichhane seems to be doing these populist things only to protect the party from having an identity crisis. If such programmes have not been discussed in the party, what are their relevance?,” added Bhandari. “It is a move to lure votes for what they have been claiming as Mission 84 [the next general elections of 2084 BS].”