Updated: Mar 7, 2021
-Prof. Jeevan Gurung, SUNY Adirondack, New York
Exclusive: Nepal’s manufactured political crisis has been carried out at the worst moment when the nation is in the grip of a major pandemic. The current political crisis in Nepal is one of the most irresponsible and selfish acts of Nepal’s self-centered political leaders- Prime Minister K. P. Oli and former Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal. The political tussle for power between these two leaders of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) couldn’t have been carried out at a time when the country should have been focused like a laser in making sure that the vaccination process against the deadly virus is carried out efficiently, it is now in the grip of a political crisis that could be a harbinger of more long-term instability and catastrophic consequences.
Obviously, a large part of the blame goes to Prime Minister K. P. Oli. He dissolved the Parliament and called for a snap election, a step that went beyond anything mandated by the constitution.
Fortunately, the February 23rd ruling by the Constitutional Bench of Nepal’s Supreme Court seems to have halted Oli’s attempt to usurp his unconstitutional attempt, for the Court ruled that a Prime Minister with a majority in Parliament did not have the authority to dissolve it and that the dissolved House should be restored by March 8th.
But that ruling doesn’t mean the end of the crisis. The uncertainty remains because of the bad blood between the NCP leaders. With Oli unwilling to resign, the coming days will test his political fortune. The mistrust and divide between the two groups, one led by Oli and the other by Dahal, within the NCP is so vast that the uncertainty and political turmoil will probably continue for days and months to come and have major repercussions.
What is most alarming and outrageous about this manufactured crisis is the reaction of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who came to power by leading the Maoist movement. In the war that he waged from 1996 and continued until 2006, seventeen thousand people died and thousands were disappeared and maimed. After the war, he signed a peace deal, entered politics, and has ever since demonstrated his self-centeredness beyond any party or national interest. Far from behaving as a leader of a movement, Dahal has always acted like a self-centered politician always aiming for power and nothing else. And more often than not his fiery rhetoric verges dangerously on calling for violence if things do not go his way.
After being forced to resign as prime minister in 2010, he famously asked students at a program to turn all colleges into barracks. And he hasn’t hesitated to brand other parties, especially Nepali Congress and then CPN-UML, as reactionaries and conspirators.
More recently, when Oli refused to honor their musical chair agreement -that both take turns to lead the government - Dahal took to the streets and was back at wielding his fiery rhetoric. During a rally organized by All Nepal National Independent Students Union, a wing of Dahal-Nepal faction on February 13, Dahal called for a violent movement to overthrow Oli. Urging his supporters, he said: “A vegetarian struggle is not going to work now.” He even claimed, “We have anger and hatred for the counter-revolutionaries and we are eager to attack.”
Dahal’s resorting to provocative rhetoric shows his total disregard of the pain and trauma that he led the nation through. More importantly, it demonstrates how far he can go to have his way. He is willing to lead the nation to another proxy war just for the sake of securing the chair of prime ministership for himself.
It is, however, heartening to learn that there are some who seem to be aware of the dangerous path Dahal is treading. Charan Prasain, a human rights defender and civil society activist, said it best: “Dahal has tried to provoke students and youths for a violent movement which is not just wrong but unacceptable.” Furthermore, Prasain said, “It’s concerning … it also reflects that Dahal has yet to internalize the fact that there are peaceful means of struggle also available to achieve the goal.”
Prasian’s concern is accurately captured by Dahal himself. When he was asked about his incendiary rhetoric, he had this to say, “We have already expressed our commitment to peaceful politics, multi-party competition and rule of law. And this commitment is our conviction, not any tactical rhetoric. But if anyone tries to push the nation toward autocracy, it will be Nepali people’s duty to stop it at all cost.” Even in this seeming disavowal of violence and commitment to peaceful politics, we can see Dahal’s threat to the nation and to his opponents embedded in the statement. He seems to be giving an ultimatum to the Nepali people that they should resort to any means possible to grab power away from Oli and put him back to power.
What‘s next ?
Now, the Nepali people may think that they can take some respite from the fact that the Supreme Court has spoken. That, however, doesn’t mean that the issue has been resolved. Dahal and Oli seem to be on a path of destroying each other. Their language may get more heated by the day, and the instability could remain for days and months to come. That could mean there would be a lack of proper government entity to manage the Covid-19 crisis. We would be taking our eye off the health crisis that is enveloping Nepal. The advantage that the country has secured by being able to provide “450,000 Nepalis … the first dose of Covishield, reaching 85% of the target group in the first phase of the country’s Covid vaccination drive” is in danger of being upended because with the current turmoil in the political front, the question is whether the government will be in a position to negotiate the availability of more vaccines as the nation moves on to the next stage of the vaccination campaign.
Banned Radical outfit’s reign of terror
And with the government getting more distracted, there is an opening for Netra Bikram Chand ‘Biplav,’ Dahal’s one-time disciple, to launch an armed struggle, which he has been aiming to do. Last October, the outfit led by Chand had announced protest programs against the government citing the government’s poor response to the Covid-19 crisis and its involvement in corruption. Despite being a banned outfit, the Chand group has been engaged in various violent activities such as calling for a general strike in Gandaki Province in December 2020; kidnapping and brutally killing a teacher, Rajendra Kumar Shrestha, in Morang in December 2020; bombing in Kathmandu in January of 2020; kidnapping Dhir Bahadur Shahi, the chairman of Thatikadh village council of Dailekh District in December of 2019; engaging in gun fight with the police in Sankhuwasabha district in July of 2019; and multiple bombing in Kathmandu in May of 2019, which led to the group being banned by the Oli government. The more distracted the government is and the more Dahal resorts to incendiary language, the more opening the Chand group will get to spread its reign of terror.
Uncertain Future: What people can do?
Nepal as a nation cannot rely on either Oli or Dahal as its leaders. Both of them are too self-centered, narcissistic, and hungry for power. They have the least interest in looking after the welfare of the Nepali people. All they want is to feed their own hunger for power.
Dahal in particular is ready to incite and engage in violence if he doesn’t get his way. And the greed of these two leaders has led Nepal on the verge of serious trouble. The Covid-19 vaccination process could fail and the virus could have a resurgence leading to thousands of deaths. Furthermore, the continued political instability and fiery rhetoric could lead the nation into another catastrophic spiral of violence and trauma that it can barely afford.
Nepalis have to reject this kind of politics. They cannot be held hostage by the greed of either Oli or Dahal. They have to look toward having a fresh crop of young and dynamic leaders who will look beyond their immediate self-interests. The party elders determining whom to give party ticket to run for elections is a big hurdle for young, dynamic, and talented individuals from engaging in politics. We need to do away with that system. But that will need time and major rethinking in the way things are done. What Nepalis can do in the immediate future is that they can reject Oli and Dahal at the ballot box whenever the election is called for. That will be a good start.
Note: Mr. Jeevan Gurung is professor of English at SUNY Adirondack, New York. He holds a PhD in English Literature from Drew University, NJ and is originally from Pokhara, Nepal.