Following the news that Fatema Z Sumar, the vice-president of Department of Compact Operations at the Millennium Challenge Corporation and her deputy Jonathan Brooks are visiting Nepal, the MCC opponents in Nepal have upped their street demonstrations, mass meetings, graffiti writings and op-eds in the social media. “No MCC” writings on the wall appear everywhere in the streets of Kathmandu, giving an impression of some organized effort behind. As a counter move, the MCC proponents too have increased their activities to a visible extent.
To be honest, if not a bad PR exercise, it is shameful to see some MCC officials, probably native US citizens, resorting to Nepali language with their American accent, advocating for MCC in the social media. Even a Chinese journalist was writing in an online news portal “Why Nepal must say no to MCC?” equating MCC with the 1816 Sugauli Treaty of Nepal with British India and 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship with India that have considerably undermined Nepal’s sovereignty.
Propagation of MCC in the local TV channels too is going to leave negative rather than positive impacts to a sarcastic Nepali audience. It is difficult to understand why a rich country is pushing so hard to hand over alms to a poor country when everybody knows that the beggars are not the choosers and they are losers everywhere.
K P Sharma Oli has shown his Janus, if not an ugly, face with regards to MCC. When he was in power, he openly advocated for parliamentary ratification of MCC without making any changes in the agreement when, in fact, his own party men have suggested introducing amendments. Now, in opposition, he is challenging the government for not speaking anything about MCC in the Common Minimum Program plus seeking to ratify through deception. Clearly, MCC is being turned into a political hot cake in Nepal. MCC—USD 500 million grant money spread over a five year period for construction of electricity transmission lines and road maintenance with further $130 million as a counterpart funding—is not a big deal for an economy with annual GDP of $34 billion (2020). But given the hue and cry over for and against MCC, it gives an impression that the whole sky is going to fall upon Nepali people.
True to its eleventh hour management style, the Ministry of Finance last week forwarded nearly a dozen queries seeking clarifications from the US, written in a clumsy, undiplomatic language. When the President’s Secretariat cannot differentiate between the words “congratulate” and “condolence”, there is no point in commenting on the clumsy English of our bureaucrats and politicians. The MCC has responded to those queries and written to the Ministry of Finance.
Resorting to a simple “stakeholder analysis” technique from management textbooks could have produced a carefully designed MCC PR strategy. Televised advertisements are not just a waste of money, time and efforts, it will leave negative impacts. There is no point in going to the “apathetic crowds” that neither have power nor interest in MCC. Instead, one needs to focus on the people with power and/or interest. That is what MCC proponents have failed to grasp. Even Ram Sharan Mahat recently sought to justify MCC by simply claiming the opponents were making “false criticisms”.
Going by the social media, it is the pro-royalists who are dead against MCC. These include ex-army officials, ex-bureaucrats, pro-Hindu supporters, former panchas, ultra-nationalists and socio-economic elites. If one distributes MCC opponents in a continuum, starting from the left with a dark colour gradation to the right with lightening of the shade, then definitely the MCC opponents mentioned above fall at the extreme left. Why are pro-royalists dead against Americans? Have not the Americans supported corrupt kings and autocratic heads everywhere? It will be amazing to find pro-monarchists dead against Americans here. One plausible reason could be they are not happy because they see Americans behind in the abolition of Nepal’s monarchy. In a way, there is a score to settle.
The radical communists will come next after the pro-royalists. They are dead against anything that is American because their ideology is rooted in communist ideology and they have unfailing support for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). They see MCC as the counterweight to BRI.
The third group of opponents consists of pro-India supporters. Their opposition to MCC is mild and they equate MCC with BRI. They are angry with MCC because they believe it may replace Indian influence. They see the MCC component on construction of transmission lines having a direct impact on India.
The MCC opponents have used all sorts of hoaxes like “designed to besiege China”, “capture Nepal’s uranium mines”, “turning Nepal into an American colony”, “proselytization”, “next Afghanistan” and so on. These hoaxes have politicized MCC to such an extent that it is near impossible for an average Nepali to detach from its debate. Such a debate will cease to exist even if Americans decided to pull out MCC from Nepal. The best way to deal with hoaxes is to ignore them.