As parliament is no more, elections extremely unlikely, Covid killing us in hundreds every day, Oli has perfect time to run roughshod over entire system. He might impose state of emergency, attack media and intellectuals and stifle dissent.
I always gave the benefit of doubt to K P Oli because he had taken a firm stand (I would like to believe he had) during the most critical times in the country’s history, because he led the process of remapping the country to realign the territories which historical evidence shows belong to us but which are under India’s occupation. That he sounded like a buffoon, with a rare ability to make joke (about everything) was a common knowledge. But it’s hard to find people without imperfections.
I have defended him in many cases on many occasions. When fellow critics wrote of him as a tyrant in the making, an authoritarian leader without no care for the system and constitution, I said he is not capable of being authoritarian because we are capable of resisting an authoritarian leader. When the fellow critics said remapping of Nepal was populist anti-India antics played to hide his incompetence to govern effectively, I said even if antics that (the remapping) will go down as a historic moment. When they said his was the most corrupt regime, I said we have seen as much corrupt regime in the past too.
Oli gave me (probably many others like me) a shock on December 20, 2020 when he, all of a sudden, dissolved the House of Representatives to settle score against his co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his colleague Madhav Kumar Nepal. After that Sunday afternoon massacre, I lost my respect for him.
Then the Supreme Court reinstated the House and made us feel justice is not dead. Oli was angry about that decision too. The three months—from February 23 when the House was reinstated to May 21 when it was ‘set on fire’ again—were crucial to repair the damage: He only had to manage the dissent within CPN-UML by bringing in his own colleagues onboard, after all it was proved on May 13 that however loud they cried foul, no parties were able to build an alternative coalition. But his target was parliament. He told the parliamentarians he would keep the House alive only if the House members allowed him to remain the PM. On May 21, first he lied that he had the support of 253 lawmakers, then he, in collusion with the President or vice versa, went for the total annihilation of the House.
Election will not take place primarily because the pandemic has engulfed the whole nation. For the elections to take place in November, two things must be ensured.
First, the government should be able to vaccinate at least half of the population for which Nepal will need at least 30 million doses of vaccines. And our public health facilities must be equipped in such way that Covid infected does not have to die due to lack of ICU beds and oxygen support.
The government could be forgiven and sympathized if it had failed to contain the pandemic only because of the weak health infrastructure. The truth is Oli never took Covid-19 seriously, instead he mocked those who took it seriously. He blamed the people for spreading Covid-19 while he himself was participating in and instigating super-spreading events like rallies and demonstrations, encouraging people not to believe in science.
The outpourings of appeals from citizens in Nepal and abroad have now availed us vital supplies of some oxygen, vaccines and medicines. The government was not making any visible and proactive efforts until the people started to sign the petitions themselves, appealing for international support. The government was especially reluctant to seek help from China—the country that has defeated the pandemic, set the record and has enough wherewithal to send for free, or sell, the supplies to Nepal.
Second comes the question of fairness of election. In recent times Election Commission has been seen to work in ways that favor Oli more than his rival camps. Besides, the EC, as Narayan Manandhar recently wrote in Nepal Live Today is “deeply entrenched in partisan interests.”
When a leader appears to work with the sole intention of holding onto power without accountability, we need to fear that leader, watch his every move, doubt everything he does and says.
Oli has used the Office of the President and its occupant to exact revenge against Parliament. He spews venoms if media write anything critical against the occupant of the office of the president. He accuses them of character assassination and even meticulously watches if honorifics have been used while addressing him and the occupant of Sheetal Niwas but he himself has not been much respectful towards the female sex. When lawmakers of his own party demanded fair representation in the party a couple of years ago, he admonished them not to do tyaun tyaun (likening their act in a mocking tone to chirping of birds). He and his advisers mock other leaders by using offensive allusions: Once he compared his rival leaders with chhaudas (evil spirits serving head spirit), recently he gave Madhav Nepal the new epithet of Mir Qasim. Mir Qasim is known for serving as the pawn of British East India Company. According to military historian Prem Singh Basnyat, Qasim was also eying to invade and loot the Kathmandu Valley and his troops had arrived up to Hetauda where they were mercilessly defeated by the Gorkhalis. I wonder if Oli thinks of Nepal as an invader. The most disrespectful show was that swearing-in scene where he denies following after the President the phrase “I solemnly and sincerely pledge” in response to which the President just laughs.
When dissents emerged within NCP, he pointed to India, citing the Indian media reports, and presented his colleagues as India’s agents. At one time his ministers would come to open defense of China in nearly every issue. Now he has alienated China.
As parliament is no more, elections extremely uncertain, Covid-19 killing us in hundreds every day, and we will be locked inside homes for a considerable period of time, Oli has perfect time to run roughshod over entire system. He can impose state of emergency in the name of Covid control, attack media and intellectuals and stifle dissent.
Crime and punishment
However much we resent Oli and his inexcusable political moves, it would still be unfair to put the blame squarely on him and him alone. For his waywardness, opponent political parties—such as Nepali Congress, Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal (JSPN), Maoist Center and to some extent, commentators like me, are also responsible. While Oli was making one after another mistake and even mockery of constitutionalism, Nepali Congress was still acting like Oli’s coalition partner. When the blatant anti-constitutional House dissolution was at face, Sher Bahadur Deuba was toeing Oli’s election agenda, even seeking to share the spoils in appointments in constitutional bodies.
Maoist Center, Nepali Congress and JSPN (at least Baburam Bhattarai and Upendra Yadav faction) should have been able to foresee what was coming.
One probable credible factor behind the helplessness of other leaders and arrogance of Oli could have been India’s role, which needs to be unearthed. So far there have only been speculations and opinions: Oli made secret compromises with India during his meeting with RAW chief Samant Goyal, Oli agreed to forego map issue in exchange for India’s support for him. India wants to completely discredit Oli, make this constitution totally irrelevant, thereby making Nepal’s claim on Kalapani Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura totally invalid by using Oli himself, so on and so forth. Hopefully, truths will be revealed soon.
Past one week Oli has made it clear to us all that politics has to be what he wishes it to be, not what it ought to be, what people want it to be.
When a leader appears to be sincerely working, with whatever limited knowledge and skills, we need to be considerate, even if he makes a mistake we need to give him a chance.
When a leader appears to work with the sole intention of holding onto power without accountability, by subverting constitutionalism, by misusing the public institutions, we need to be really alarmed, we need to fear that leader, for he might push the country toward more dangerous situation, watch his every step, doubt everything he does and says, expose his wrongdoings. He may not care but the people will know, the world will know.