False déjà vu

With Mr K. P. Oli elected as the 38th Prime Minister of Nepal, there is a kind of déjà vu in Kathmandu. The celebration has been heightened by the personal call from PM Modi of India congratulating as well as inviting him to visit India at his convenience. The invitation is superfluous as it has become a ritual for all new PMs in Nepal, immediately after their appointment, to make a visit to India and/or China. Now, more news are coming in over relaxation of so called “undeclared nakabandi” with so and so number of fuel tanks and gas bullets making entry into Nepal from so and so entry points in India, indicating a sense of normality in Kathmandu. However, the serpentine queues of vehicles for petrol has not eased a bit in Kathmandu.

There is also a feeling of déjà vu as agitating political parties based in Tarai-Madhes participated in the PM election process. The newly appointed PM Oli is jubilant and has made statements like, “the constitutional and legal hurdles” are over – implying the actions by the agitating political parties implied their implicit acceptance of the new constitution.

However, some others have rebuked their move as having dual moral standards – opposing the constitution and at the same time participating in the election of the PM.

There are two sides of this déjà vu. First one is the electoral victory of in-coming PM K.P. Oli and second, humiliating defeat of outgoing PM Mr Sushil Koirala. This looks a bit tautology but let me remind the readers that K. P. Oli’s victory cannot be taken as the opposite of Koirala’s defeat and vice versa.

It will be more revealing to understand the defeat of Mr Koirala than to look into the victory of Mr Oli. It is not just the opponents of Mr Koirala but even his Congressi supporters are putting the blame on him for bringing humiliation to the Party, to the country and to the people at large. They accuse Mr. Koirala did so by

(1) expressing his greed for power by not allowing some other leaders to contest elections,

(2) breaching “gentlemen’s agreement” to transfer power to CPN-UML after the promulgation of the constitution,

(3) giving an impression of acting as an India stooge, and

(4) his clumsy style of working, right from his inaudible, babbling voice to his old age to his failing health.

He is lucky that he is not blamed for the devastating April earthquake. During his tenure, media dubbed him as a clean man riding on dirty horses though he did try to tame a couple of dirty horses from CPN-UML Party in his coalition Cabinet. It will be totally naïve to write-off Mr Koirala from the political history of Nepal. Definitely, he made one mistake by not informing the public in clear terms on who first breached the gentlemens’ agreement – on bill enactment related to reconstruction authority and on opposing his move to amend the constitution to accommodate the demands of the agitating political parties from Tarai-Madhes. This could be his failure in PR exercise. His other mistake was miscalculation of total vote counts to be garnered in his favour. It is shameful to see three MPs remaining as absentees during the voting; forget about last minute betrayal by predator like opportunistic MPs. Probably, in politics there are no such things like permanent friends and foes.

It will also be too naïve to believe that the participation of the political leaders from Tarai-Madhes in the PM election process is tantamount to their acceptance of the constitution. The press release issued a moment before the elections clearly states that they participated to vote as a show of protest, “to defeat the unholy allegiance between ultra-leftist and anti-democratic fascist characters”. The wordings are pretty harsh and, the issued press release does not mention about support for Mr Koirala’s leadership.

With Mr Gacchhadar now joining the government and some vertical splits in his party along with disunity among other political parties in Tarai-Madhes, this may come as a sweet music to some who fundamentally believe in the concept of divide and rule. But at the end, this does not bode well for the country as a whole.

One should remember the warnings coming from Mr Laxman Lal Karn, most probably hinting at the prowling of guys like CK Raut, “if the current demands of madhesibadis are not fulfilled no one can stop them from joining secessionist movement.” This is the single reason why the current conflict in southern tarai plains is far more dangerous than a decade long Maoist war in the mountains. The cause of the Maoist war was never for a separate state.

It will be unjustifiable to pass judgement on the government headed by Mr Oli as it has just made a start. There is no morning to show the day. Wide rifts can be already observed over inter-party and intra-party power sharing exercises. There is a rumour and which is not unfounded – he will be supported by, not two, but four deputy PMs. Imagine, the accommodation of so many hungry (Maoists) and angry (Monarchists) politicians in the Oli-garchy Cabinet, it will probably leave us the largest Cabinet than what former PM Baburam or Deuba did previously.

In the days to come, there will be a kind of free-for-all looting of national coffer. As a blogger has commented, Mr Lok Man Singh Karki from the Commission on Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) will be virtually reduced to Mr Joke Man Singh Karki. He has already been defanged by appointment of four new members in the CIAA. Similarly, his authority has been curtailed by the new constitution that took away the power to investigate “improper conduct”. Now he can be fired with the recommendation by the Constitutional Council on his “physical and mental incapacity to perform”. Physical incapacity is well understood but how is one going to measure mental incapacity?

PM Oli has to deal with both bhadra and abhadra sahamatis (gentlemen’s as well as non-gentlemen’s agreements) he signed with his wobbling cabinet supporters. Sooner but not later, he will find himself sitting over a burning pan and draggers pointing at him from all directions. Demagogy and charlatanism will be of little use to rescue him. In a way, I say, history has saved Mr Sushil Koirala. His modus operandi may be slow and clumsy but his style is, definitely, a la Koirala.

Narayan Manandhar

Narayan Manandhar is a freelance consultant with an interest in corruption and governance issues.