Nepal - The People Deserve Better
Need for unity
Since the last general elections in Nepal that brought K.P. Sharma Oli and Pushp Kamal Dahal a.k.a Prachanda to a supposedly rotational Prime Ministership, the people of Nepal have been subjected to the kind of political squabbling, maneuvering, and intrigue that has left little time for the supposed leaders of the democracy to pay much attention to the welfare of the people and the development of the nation.
The onset of the Covid pandemic has done little to change the unhealthy political climate with Oli appearing to be the primary culprit and the cast completed by Dahal ,Madhav Nepal and now last, but certainly not the least, Bamdev Gautam.
The main opposition, the Nepali Congress, with its leader Sher Bahadur Deuba, has behaved no better and it appears that the sole purpose of the political class in power and those outside is to grab as much for themselves as they can. In the process the main sufferers are the people who must be wondering what they gained by becoming a democratic nation.
The primary disease afflicting the Nepalese polity is Oli’s desire to function as an autocrat while paying lip service to the Nepal Communist Party declared ideology of ‘people’s democracy’. His ambition was apparent when despite publicly aired protests by Dahal, he refused to adhere to the agreement that there would be a rotational Prime Ministership.
Oli from the manner of his behaviour seems quite irritated with Dahal sniping at his heels and according to the latest reports he would be prepared to split the party if continuously challenged. He has prepared the ground by firstly getting the President to ratify two ordinances in April including one to amend the Political Party Act, allowing a party to split if 40 percent of the members of its parliamentary party or central committee demanded it. Then, obviously at his behest, a new party calling itself UML registered at the Election Commission in August 2020.
Oli had also been successful in getting the Judiciary to remove a hurdle by a lower court single judge order that stipulated that since Bamdev Gautam had lost in the parliamentary elections in 2017 he could not be given any constitutional responsibilities. President Bidya Devi Bhandari appointed Gautam to the National Assembly on September 17 on the recommendation of the Cabinet. This was before the Supreme Court, in an interim order on September 23 said that he should not be given additional constitutional responsibility since he had lost the elections. But the Constitutional Bench did not issue a stay order, clearing the way for him to join the Cabinet.
This opened the way for Bamdev Gautam to be hoisted onto the National Assembly but reports suggest that at least so far he has not acceded to Oli’s blandishments of making him a minister. Perhaps he is biding his time to see which camp would be willing to help him become Prime Minister. He has publicly made no bones about his ambition and to even have the constitution amended to allow a non-elected NA member to become PM. Gautam’s importance to both factions was evident from the fact that the party amended its own constitution to make him Vice Chairman. For Oli having Gautam in his camp is critical if he is to match and exceed the miniscule majority that Dahal enjoys in the 9 member Secretariat of the Nepal Communist Party. Gautam is also being wooed by Dahal precisely to prevent any such disturbance of the existing power equation in the Party.
Aware that with Dahal enjoyed a majority in the Secretariat, Oli had on one pretext or the other stymied the holding of the 9 member Secretariat’s meeting until last week. Dahal had held informal meetings of the Secretariat attended by most members and objected to by Oli. But rather than exercise his power as Executive Chairperson of the party and convene the formal meeting he had wanted Oli to agree first.
The meeting took place last week finally after Gautam’s new status gave Oli some hope of our-maneuvering Dahal with the possible support of Bishnu Poudel, Ishwar Pokhrel and Ram Bahadur Thapa. There had been, since last year, many private meetings one-on-one between Oli and Dahal with media coverage suggesting that compromises had been worked out.
The party had set up a a six-member task force under General Secretary Bishnu Paudel to resolve the intra-party disputes along with a roadmap to find solutions to the internecine fighting and the media reports suggested that Oli and Dahal and worked out an arrangement on September 11, 2020 to honour the panel’s recommendations which included Oli agreeing to consult the party in making important decisions. But a leopard finds it difficult to change its spots and despite his promises Oli continued to take unilateral decisions. For instance Heads of Missions were appointed by him unilaterally but he pretended that he had discussed the matters with Dahal.
Now Dahal appears to have decided that rather than play along things need to be brought to a head and has made it clear that he does not favour the one on one meetings but wants all issues to be debated, discussed and resolved at party meetings. Oli would hardly want to countenance such procedures as they would short circuit the absolute power that he has so far exercised and has therefore insisted on decisions being agreed upon between the two co-chairpersons before any party meeting.
At a meeting of the Secretariat last week, attended by Oli, Dahal presented a 19-page political document in which he accused the PM of not following the party programme and manifesto while leading the government and failing to control the Covid pandemic. He also accused the government of corruption in the purchase of medical supplies to fight the Covid-19 pandemic in March and Oli turning a blind eye to the corruption charges against Gokul Prasad Baskota, former information minister and an Oli ally, over the purchase of a security printing press.
Dahal in the document presented only one option to Oli--- make the necessary sacrifice i.e. resign, to save party unity, the constitution and the federal democratic republic and the country. While Dahal’s camp lauded the document some leaders of the Oli faction had demanded that Dahal’s document be withdrawn since it went against the the spirit of the decisions of the Standing Committee of the Party which has endorsed the six member task force’s suggestions.
Oli’s response came in a letter dated November 10 which was also presented at a Secretariat meeting last week. In the letter Oli referred to what he said was an agreement with Dahal that he, Oli, would lead the government for the full five-year term while Dahal would be the executive chairperson of the party and important decisions would be made through consultations between the two- suggestion, without spelling it out that he had no intention of making the “sacrifice” that Dahal was seeking and in effect placing the onus for the current impasse on Dahal while clearly rejecting the latter’s demand that issues should be resolved in party meetings.
Meanwhile both sides were seeking to gain or retain the support of Madhav Nepal another heavy weight in the party. Oli had beaten Nepal for the chair of the UML in its convention held in July 2014 before the party merged with the Dahal-led CPN (Maoist-Centre) in May 2018.
According to analysts if Oli could win over Nepal, who is currently in the Dahal camp, with a concrete written proposal that Nepal would be made Chairperson of the party following the unity convention of the Nepal Communist Party scheduled for next year, he could neutralize Dahal effectively in the Secretariat and ensure his own hold over the party. He could then seek to prove his majority in the Secretariat and Standing Committees of the Nepal Communist Party and even in Parliament or as a last resort already hinted at by his spokesperson, split the party.
While the NCP as the ruling party made most headlines, things in the Opposition Nepali Congress were far from tranquil. There too an autocrat Sher Bahadur Thapa was facing a challenge from within. The dissension was likely to affect the holding of the party’s 14th general convention scheduled for February 2021. Senior party leader Ramchandra Poudel had submitted a 16-point memorandum to President Sher Bahadur Deuba.
The issues of primary concern were the 10,000 active memberships distributed at Deuba’s behest to newcomers in some districts to influence the general convention in Deuba’s favour and the failure of the central leadership to set up interim structures of the party in all 77 districts and local levels including at ward committee level. Deuba had also refused to accept Poudel’s demand that the creation of 20 party departments unilaterally by Deuba should be rescinded.
Since Poudel submitted his memorandum in September a number of meetings were held between the factions but they remained unfructuous. In view of the continuing impasse an informal meeting of senior Nepali Congress leaders had decided to hand over the responsibility of resolving the internal party dispute to the two general secretaries—Shashanka Koirala and Purna Bahadur Khadka.
From all reports there appeared to be little likelihood that the Nepali Congress like its namesake the Indian National Congress would be able to get its act together and become a viable alternative to the NCP.
The Covid Pandemic has hitting the country already reeling under a shrinking economy and inadequate health infrastructure. With all time, energy and effort of the leadership being spent on political maneuvering Nepal Covid tally had reached 209,776 infected with 35,125 active cases and 1221 fatalities. Economic analysts believed that the economy would shrink further since it was closely tied to the Indian economy which had regressed and because the international situation would mitigate against the employment of Nepalese abroad and lead to a decline in remittances.
The Asian Development Bank expected the economy to grow by 1.5% in fiscal year 2021 against the estimate of 2.3% in 2020. The current account deficit would widen to 1.9% if imports picked up and the shortfall in remittances and declining tourism continued. A delay in timely procurement of fertilizers could harm agriculture growth while industrial output could reflect a contraction in manufacturing and slowdown in construction. Growth of the services sector was likely to be adversely affected in the current situation.
In dire situations like the one created by the Pandemic there is an imperative need for a nation to pull together and meet the challenges. When politicians put their own fortunes ahead of those of their country and its citizens some degree of upheaval in different forms becomes inevitable. Crime surges; individual and group aggression look for release; and defiance of the norms established to keep the pandemic under check becomes infectious.
Today the richest and most developed countries of the world are facing this situation and the Nepalese politicians need to look around themselves at what could happen if they fail to set aside their personal ambitions and join together for Nepal.