Why Swarnim Wagle should win

We need more people like Swarnim Wagle in parliament to speak out against the ‘grand larceny’ perpetuated by political leadership.

Mahabir Paudyal

  • Read Time 6 min.

You will understand this article only if you read until its last word.

I was thinking I would not write it, for two reasons. First, I pinned big hopes on some political leaders in the past and they shattered my hope. In 2010, I wrote that Baburam Bhattarai should become the prime minister. Those were the early days of my column writing and I would look for what attracted more public attention. At the time, Baburam Bhattarai was the talk of the town–he had completed his first stint as the finance minister in the first Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government. The euphoria and expectations from the Maoists were high. As the finance minister, Bhattarai was said to have performed well. 

The second person I relied on was KP Sharma Oli. The way he defended the country and tried to keep the morale of the people high during the 2015 blockade, his attempts to end the sole dependence of Nepal in trade through one single country, and his stand for territorial integrity of the country touched a chord with me. I got totally disillusioned with him after he dissolved the parliament twice in a row—and made the third unsuccessful attempt. There may have been a great geopolitical game behind the scene to dethrone him from power (hopefully the truth will come out one day) but on hindsight only if he had taken Madhav Nepal (whose greed for power has been about nothing more than securing ministerial berths for some three lawmakers from his camp) into confidence, he would probably be able to serve his full term. 

These two incidents have taught me two big lessons. First, in Nepal you should begin by doubting every leader before believing in them. Second, our opinion about certain leaders is true only to the context in which you are making the opinion. The next moment the situation changes and the person you expect so much from either falls into the corruption nexus, or becomes totally inept, or becomes totally non-performing.

So what I write about the person in the title is true for now, for this context.

Reason to endorse

Why do I endorse Swarnim Wagle? Why should he win?

Not because he is a PhD, for there are many other PhDs in Nepal. Not because I know him very well. My knowledge about him is based on his interviews with Nepali press. I know a little about his family history–which is immaterial anyway.  Nor because  he joined the Rastriya Swatantra Party, the RSP still appears to be a political party in the making. The biggest challenge it faces is in becoming different from other political parties in behavior and conduct. Whether the entry of people like Swarnim Wagle and Ramesh Kharel will make any difference is only a matter of guess but thanks to some of its lawmakers, there already is some hope they can be the voice of the people.

Wagle is an economist, a desirable qualification for a prospective lawmaker to have at a time when the alarm bells are ringing about the impending collapse of Nepali economy. Wagle’s test in Nepal parliament, when he wins, will be whether he will be able to forward workable solutions to ameliorate our economy. But Sri Lanka has already recognized his worth. It invited him to the parliament in April last year to speak on what could be done to repair the country’s completely-broken economy. 

Sri Lankan lawmakers relied on the expertise of a Nepali lad who rose to eminence from a humble family background of Gorkha more than his erstwhile colleagues from the erstwhile party–Nepali Congress. 

I want him to win for far more serious reasons.

One, Wagle rebelled against the thoroughly corrupt and immoral leadership within the Nepali Congress and spoke out against the corrupt nexus–something Nepali media and critics have not much cared to take up with urgency.

Prateek Pradhan was an exception. He exposed the corrupt nexus sustained by Congress leadership in December last year. According to him, a son of a Congress leader got 15 ropanis of land in Pokhara registered in his name in return for granting election ticket in Kaski. Extortion in millions for appointments in ambassadorship and other vital positions is a common story in Congress, according to Pradhan.

Wagle spoke out against this ‘grand larceny’ racket thriving in Nepali Congress under the patronage of big bosses. And he  named the names: Sher Bahadur Deuba and his wife Arzu Deuba.  

The way Congress leaders are hounding him including through attacks on his personal life–studying abroad, having lucrative jobs in the UN agencies and so on–is the indication that Budhanilakantha will flex all its muscles–money, propaganda and narrative setting and whatever else works–against Wagle. The battle on April 23 in Tanahu is going to be between all parties in the government (around 10) plus opposition CPN-UML versus an individual and RSP. 

Within Nepali Congress, there is no soul-searching, no worries about the party becoming a patronage of grand larceny.  The immediate reaction from the Congress cadres  was loaded with envy and anger against Wagle’s personality: He speaks English well, he knows politics and economics and international affairs better than us.

We need a man with excellent communication skills and knowledge on geopolitics and geoeconomics at the time of this great geopolitical turbulence.

Congress cadres and apologists are speaking of Wagle joining the RSP as an act of opportunism, a political crime, a betrayal. They only have to look back to the November 2022 elections.

Congress allowed the biggest opportunist to win by guile, deceit and deception.  They allowed the man whose misguided war—which was mainly targeted towards the butchery of Congress cadres—whose political misadventure pushed the country years back, who has blood of hundreds of people, many of them Congress cadres, on his hands, who, ever since he came to power, has only been the cause of instability and who, by trickery, deceit and foul play, has always been a major actor in making and breaking coalitions, who, with just 32 seats in parliament, has been able to make parties with as many as 89 and 78 seats (Congress and CPN-UML respectively) dance to his tune–to stay forever relevant in politics. He is the Prime Minister of the country today precisely because Congress surrendered and sacrificed its principles and ideologies to his whims and wishes.

Swarnim Wagle has done no harm to this country.

Message matters

Wagle may win or may not win. He might or might not be able to deliver as per our expectations after winning the election. But both his victory and loss will have implications and messages far and wide across the political spectrum in Nepal.

The very rise of RSP as the fourth largest national party from November 2022 elections, within the span of six months of its formation, was the loudest alarm bells to the old parties such as Nepali Congress, UML and Maoist Center. The message of votes for RSP was clear: For the last several decades you misruled the country. We don’t trust you any more.

These political parties should have taken this message as a warning, which it was, for them to make amends to their modus operandi. Instead, they jeered at the members of the new force, tried to dismiss RSP as a bubble and waited for it to fade away. They still believe they will be relevant without accountability.

Top leadership in nearly all the established political parties show no respect for those who hold different opinions. Those who challenge the leadership are either cornered or situations are created in such a way they do not feel welcomed in the party any more or they are forced to make an unceremonious exit. Wagle’s electoral victory will challenge this age-old assumption with the leadership that they are the masters and cadres are their vassals. 

We want political parties which are accommodative, which recognize the merits, expertise and credentials of leaders rather than considering who is close to which particular ringleader of grand larceny and for how long.

Swarnim’s victory will give a message that a capable candidate can rebel, quit and rise to a dignified space by contesting elections from another party. 

If Wagle wins, it will be  a blessing in disguise for those Congress leaders who speak of ideologies, reforms and leadership change. Well-meaning Congress reformists who speak about the malpractices and wrongdoings of the leadership will be able to speak more loudly.  Swarnim’s victory will give a message that a capable candidate does not have to stick to the same party by suffering humiliation and insults. S/he can secure a dignified space by contesting elections from outside the party too. 

It will also boost the morale of those Congress leaders who have been persecuted (denied election tickets, deprived of dignified positions in the district and central committees for example) or who have not been allowed to rise in politics simply because they have no money to pay to the party bosses. 

Such a message will hopefully resonate across the political parties.

His loss will have an opposite effect. It will further embolden the party leadership to be authoritarian, non-accommodative and extractive. The leadership in whose hands Wagle suffered insults and humiliations will further be emboldened to corner and silence the legitimate voice of reforms within the party. 

All eyes  in Nepal are waiting to watch what the conscience keepers of Tanahun-1 will choose.