By Deepak K.C
At a time when far right political parties are on the ascent around the world, the Left Alliance in Nepal has garnered a two-thirds majority in the federal Parliament. The enormity of this opportunity rests on one man, soon-to-be prime minister Khadga Prasad Oli. But this will not be the first time in the country’s short practice of democracy that any political leader has been awarded such a chance.
In 1959, the Nepali Congress swept the national polls, winning 74 seats in the 109-seat Parliament. The man of the hour, BP Koirala, was presented with an opportunity to end the centuries-old social and political status quo. BP had envisioned a socialist democracy and introduced revolutionary land reform. However, his popularity and social democratic ideas put him on a collision course with the elites and the monarch.
It wasn’t long before the ambitious king Mahendra overthrew BP’s democratically elected government in 1960.
Nevertheless, BP’s dreams and ideologies continue to inspire a whole generation of Nepali voters as well as political leaders, including KP Sharma Oli. However, the ground realities that BP faced and those that lie before Oli are different. BP spent his entire life battling the monarch, feudal elites and the unreasonable expectations and interventions of a neighbour. Oli will be exempted from fighting a monarch. However, he will have to tackle the corrupt, feudal, and elitist-patriarchal mindset of his own party comrades and that of his wounded opposition, the Nepali Congress (NC).
The leadership of the once charismatic NC has been reduced to a bunch of ageist, elitist and patriarchal persons. The party has also been repeatedly exploited and mangled by corrupt leaders. The other political parties, including the CPN-UML, are not guiltless on this score either. Moreover, the present geopolitical situation with our two neighbouring states is different than in BP’s day. In his memoir Aatmabrittanta, BP has written how the then Indian premier Nehru was reluctant to recognise Nepal as a sovereign country. BP’s firm stand in favour of the United Nations and his controversial decision to recognise Israel was driven by his passionate desire to earn Nepal sovereign status in the international arena.
The Nepali state has come a long way since then, and Oli’s government will not need to prove Nepal’s sovereignty to the international community. However, he will still confront great expectations and interference in the neighbourhood. As Nepal is set to end its decade-long transition and move towards political stability, it aims to rapidly achieve its development goals. A large portion of that progress will be witnessed in the form of hydropower and infrastructure development. Nepal has initiated plans to develop a rail network. Development projects requiring such enormous expenditure will attract foreign investors; and our two neighbours, India and China, will naturally vie to get involved.
Yam between two boulders
India is one of Nepal’s largest international donors and development partners. It controls many development schemes in the country, including some mega hydroelectricity projects. However, India’s involvement might shrink with the increasing influence of China in Nepali politics. The Deuba government’s recent decision to scrap the $2.5 billion Budhi Gandaki Hydropower Project deal awarded to a Chinese state-owned company has been viewed by many political analysts as part of the ensuing struggle between Indian and Chinese parties. In the last few years, China has increasingly spread its influence in South Asia, especially in the sectors of infrastructure development and financial aid.
In such a tug-of-war between these two rising superpowers, the foreign policy of the Oli administration will not only be a matter of interest to our two neighbours, but it will also be closely watched by the opposition. The Left Alliance’s landslide victory and Oli’s staggering rise has been attributed by some Indian scholars like SD Muni to a surge of nationalism in Nepal. The UML has condemned the NC leadership for not acknowledging the economic blockade imposed on Nepal by our southern neighbour. UML leaders didn’t miss the opportunity to highlight the issue of nationalism as one of the key items on their election agenda. NC leader Gagan Thapa said in an interview that the NC failed to underscore their stand on nationalism which cost them dearly in the elections. Under these circumstances, the NC will certainly scrutinise Oli’s foreign policies, especially his political ties with India.
Oli’s challenges do not end here. While the issue of constitutional amendment as demanded by Madhes-based parties, the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum Nepal (SSFN) and the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN), might have been unique to BP, it will be the toughest test for Oli. The two parties have labelled Oli as ‘anti-Madhesi’ and ‘anti-Madhes’, a tag that he has not been able to get rid of. Oli’s Left Alliance performed abysmally in Province 2, a stronghold of the two parties, winning only three seats in the federal Parliament. The overwhelming victory of the SSFN and the RJPN in Province 2 could mean significant complications for the Oli administration, given their diametrically opposite stands regarding constitutional amendment.
It will only be an exaggeration to say that BP was free from frailties, and that his short-lived democratic government was devoid of errors. In fact, one cannot tell for sure if BP would have succeeded in delivering everything he promised even if the monarch hadn’t intervened. Nepal, as a nation, has come a long way since then. However, Oli will not be exempted from his share of challenges since he will be responsible for steering the country to safer harbours, an opportunity BP was stripped of. Oli is known for his witty and satirical speeches, but it will be interesting to see if he is able to maintain his sense of humour in the face of these monumental challenges. And the future of Nepal, most probably, will rest on whether the entire country will be able to enjoy his jokes.
The Kathmandu Post, January 6, 2018