Telling truth to power: How cartoonists in Nepal are articulating people’s outrage against PM Oli and President Bhandari

Nishan Khatiwada

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: Creative artists have made cartoons the mediums to articulate the outrage of the people against Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and President Bidhya Devi Bhandari who are accused of committing a constitutional crime by dissolving the House of Representatives on May 21.

Following the dissolution of the House and declaration of the mid-term polls for November, which are almost certain to not take place because of Covid-19, the creative artists are coming up with cartoons criticizing the moves of the President and the Prime Minister. Social media is flooded with the posts of those cartoons. While people seem to be thanking these creative artists for articulating their feelings, Prime Minister looks visibly distraught. On May 23, he raised the matter of a cartoon published in Kantipur daily. 

But the creative artists have continued poking the PM and President for defying the rule of law and subverting the constitution.

What cartoons show

This one by Rabin Sayami shows PM Oli playing the madal,  a folk musical instrument of Nepal, while president Bhandari dances to the tune of the madal.  Around the two lie the bodies of people who died of Covid-19 due to lack of timely care. The dead bodies are wrapped in white.

This captures the public sentiment of how, while the people are dying, the head of state and head of government have nothing else to care about but frolic after dissolving the House and announcing the polls.

“I am trying to give a message that the recent move of the Prime Minister and President defies the Constitution and against the needs and wishes of people of Nepal,” said Sayami.

According to him, cartoonists are the people with political awareness and they have the responsibility to make other people aware. The country is battered by the deadly pandemic and leaders are into this dirty game of power. “That’s what we are trying to show in our cartoons,” he added.

The other by Abin Shrestha shows President Bhandari tucked in a coat pocket of a giant looking PM Oli. 

Cartoons are made to bring out bad deeds, said Abin Shrestha. “Cartoons always expect improvement in the system. Positive issues are positive, in any way. Cartoons are made about the things which need to be changed and improved,” he added.

Rabi Mishra’s cartoon is equally sharp and blunt. It shows PM KP Oli relaxing on a sofa thinking ‘clear majority’ while the news of 177 deaths on a TV appears. This reflects how the PM is ignorant of the impacts of the deadly pandemic.  

Rabi Mishra said cartoonists and cartoons have, for a long time, raised their voice against the bad governance and wrongdoings. “After the fresh regression, attack on the constitution and the democracy, cartoonists must criticize such moves,” he said.

Like other political experts, commentators, civil society and general public, cartoonists have been drawing the attention of the government towards wrongdoings committed by itself or by others.

A year back, when India claimed the territory of Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura region, many cartoons poked fun at India’s claim.

While people seem to be thanking these creative artists for articulating their feelings, Prime Minister looks visibly distraught. 

Cartoonists have articulated the voice and feelings of people through cartoons in response to House dissolution, reinstatement of the House, NCP split, floor test of PM, corruption and many other issues.

Government objects

But when they thus warn and criticize immoral and illegitimate activities, the government has raised objections. Prime Minister raised an objection about Abin Shrestha’s cartoon on Sunday.

That’s because Oli wants to rule as a dictator, said Sayami. “Those who have a zeal to rule as a dictator can’t take the cartoons positively and they obviously object.” The leaders with democratic opinions and values take cartoons as the reflections of their weaknesses and mistakes and work to correct them, according to him.

“Many leaders know that the cartoons speak the truth yet they object. This is a pity,” added Shrestha. Shrestha said the freedom of expression is the result of sacrifices of people in various political movements. “If we can’t express the truth, what’s the use of freedom of expression? Why do we need democracy then?”, he asked. These creative artists have sensed the difference between this government and its predecessor in terms of its approach to the right to freedom of expression.

When KP Oli came to power, he started treating cartoons as his enemies, according to Mishra. “Since the beginning of his tenure, he and his supporters have been treating cartoons and cartoonists as the enemy of the government,” he rued.

Many ordinances were passed to object and control the whole media. Now, the government has started blaming the cartoonists. “This is a very serious issue cartoonists are facing, and the whole public is going to be restricted from expressing themselves if this continues,” he added.

Shrestha thinks that it is a pity that the leaders, instead of correcting their behaviors, blame the cartoonists, who simply articulate the message of the people through sketches.

But we will do our job, we will continue to expose the wrongdoings, no matter who gets offended, he said.