By P. Kharel
Many in Kathmandu consider Gagan Thapa, of Nepali Congress, to be a “dynamic” leader. I personally am cautious in showering on him such kind unalloyed praise as yet. Over the past three decades, Nepalis have been witness to numerous “dynamic” leaders, who raised great hopes when out of power but, once they were catapulted to the seat of power, their performance has been one of all-rounded disappointment.
Drawing quick conclusions have time and again proved grossly premature. Let us take the case of the 1990-91 Interim Government headed by Nepali Congress leader Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. A majority of the ministers, representing different mainstream political forces, turned to be a damp squib. Their loud rhetoric when in the opposition proved empty when it came to actually translating the same into practice.
Within the first few days in office, Bhattarai talked too tall. At a well-attended press meet, he boasted that prices of essential commodities would fall by 30-35 per cent after his visit to New Delhi that had clamped a crushing trade blockade on Nepal. This sounded good news for consumers who were reeling under the crushing price rise in consumer goods because of severe economic blockade clamped by “friendly” India, with which the two neighbouring countries “enjoyed many common features since time immemorial”. Bhattarai also announced that there were “500” persons had been martyred during the 29 years of the partyless panchayat period.
CASUAL COMMENTS: Bhattarai went on the visit to India and returned. The prices of essential goods never fell. As for the martyrs’ number, the total came to about a tenth of the figure cited by the interim premier. One is not sure whether such statements contributed to Bhattarai’s defeat in his 1991 electoral bid for an elected seat in parliament. But casual comments and cavalier attitude usually results in serious repercussions.
Then there were others like, say, Marshall Julum Shakya who in his teens was jailed for protesting the December 1960 royal takeover. Twelve years later, when he was finally released, the mid-20s had caught him almost unawares. Yet he, as an interim minister, was severely criticised as “corrupt” even by his senior leaders.
Then there are a phalanx of others in Nepali Congress, CPN (UML), Maoists, RPP and other smaller parties, who carry with the burden of unflattering charges of corruption and incompetence, including those having held “maldaar”, or lucrative, ministries. Notwithstanding such serious charges, however, many of these politicians continue to hold important positions in their parties and quite a few of them land themselves in cabinet posts time and again.
After all, it is not any lay talk that Nepal competes with Afghanistan for heading the list of South Asia’s most corrupt nation, that is, if the annual reports released by Transparent International are of any worth.
Since 1990, Nepali Congress has been in power most of the time, often without resisting the temptation to form an alliance with left and right parties professing diametrically opposite ideologies.
WEIGHT & BURDEN: Gagan Thapa the “youth leader” cannot disown the good, the bad and the old in the country’s oldest existing party he is associated with. He has created some stir among the youth in his organisation party and, to some extent, some others not affiliated with any particular political party. Thapa’s supporters have had their hopes reconfirmed when he made his debut in the cabinet headed, ironically, by Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
In his nine-month stint looking after the not-so-maldaar Health Ministry, Thapa did create an impact in reforming and refining the health sector that is in the grip of the health mafia. Primary steps were taken to address the difficulties of patients. In at least government-run hospitals of Kathmandu Valley, some improvement was noticed and the measures taken for patients suffering from terminal or other highly serious diseases.
Yet, he did not find a berth in the current cabinet led by his own party chief Sher Bahadur Deuba. His enemies are within the Congress not outside. They see in him a great threat as an emerging leader who could overtake them in party hierarchy in the next decade or so.
Questions about Thapa may arise. His detractors in NC ask: How did he manage to obtain a hold in money-making manpower companies when he was only a student? Why was he, in particular, picked by a foreign agency for distributing relief goods to the victims of the 2015 Earthquake, as if there were no other senior leaders in the Congress? Some even claim to have seen him distributing Rs 500 notes from bundles of money he carried to pay out members during the 2006 “People’s Movement”.
But then those are charges yet to be properly investigated for substantiation. What is certain is that Thapa speaks forcefully and attracts attention. His trouble is that scores of NC leaders do not consider “the junior and upcoming” youth as an asset, and hence the reason for skipping his name from the Deuba’s government.
Gagan Thapa’s Enemies Within
By P. Kharel