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In Pursuit Of Publicity Trips

BY P. KHAREL
pkharel1In a clearly a transparent leak to the press by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s office in connection with President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s visit to a meet in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last week, Deuba was stung by the head of state’s rebuff to the suggestion that she not make make the trip on the eve of the impending general elections and that the host state was in the team of Gulf nations involved in imposing sanctions against Qatar on charge of sponsoring “terrorism”.
Quite a few papers carried the story without naming the news sources, which spoke loudly and clearly that Deuba was highly displeased by the president’s insistence against the background that she has only a few weeks to leave Shital Niwas for good.
For that matter, Ram Baran Yadav, too, as the occupant of Shital Niwas for nearly eight years, starved of foreign visits. Other heads of state rarely paid visits to Nepal because their ambassadors or INGOs had regular and easy access to the prime minister’s office for the asking. They do not bother to waste their time and tax payers’ money for something avoidable and not detrimental to their national interests.
TOO TEMPTING: In Nepal, the lure of “faren trips” is so excruciatingly irresistible to not just the bureaucrats but ministers and members of parliament as well that any offer is accepted to ridiculous extent when opportunities for foreign jaunts are dangled at them. Hence most foreign trips are a farce as far as quality participation from the Nepali side is concerned. The purpose is to boast to folks back home of having attended an “international” meet and also to pocket monetary allowances inflated by outrageous taxi fare reimbursement claims.
An artificial hallow is vainly sought to be created whenever autumn arrives and the prime minister of the day grabs the opportunity to meet “world leaders” at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Leading a national team to the UN at normal times is to be taken a normal exercise. But Deuba, who has in past attended such sessions, could not resist attending this year’s general assembly even when the multi-phase local elections, were being held after 20 years.
Not that Deuba’s trip to New York made any difference to Nepal’s overall international status and stand. On the other hand, if he had skipped it, the resultant message might have added a much-needed few positive points to stemming his steeply dipping political credibility.
Here, let it be recalled that King Mahendra is the only Nepali to have addressed the joint session of the United States Congress. Others dreamed about similar opportunities but were never offered the same. Mahendra paid two trips to the US—the first during the first elected government’s time and the second when Lyndon Johnson’s was at the White House and Nepal had the Panchayat constitution. Such events might have led noted commentator Dr. Sundar Mani Dixit, in a newspaper interview the other week, to conclude that politicians like Deuba and K.P. Oli came nowhere Mahendra [“Kaha(n) Mahendra, kaha(n) Deuba/Oli”] !
In fact, King Gyanendra in 2005 abandoned a plan to address the UN meet when he saw that his purpose of not only addressing the UNGA but also an exclusive meeting with the US president would not be completed, as George W. Bush, highly unpopular among Americans because of the invasion of Iraq, expressed inability to accommodate the Nepali monarch in his busy schedule during that particular time.
HUNGER FOR PUBLICITY: To what absurd extent do politicians in Nepal go for a bit of publicity is indicated by an incident more than 20 years ago. A few weeks after the Man Mohan Adhikary-led minority government fell in 1995, Deuba, as the head of a coalition government, led the Nepali delegation to the UNGA. All heads of state and government are given a less than 30-second photo opportunity for a handshake with the host country’s president. Deuba’s snap with Bill Clinton was not published on time in the government newspapers because of several days’ Dashain holiday.
The Gorkhapatra daily gave it an inside-page treatment, thinking that other events had overtaken issues during the long holiday. When Deuba saw the paper during his stopover in West Asia on his way back home, he vented his anger at the paper’s editor-in-chief Balmukunda Dev Pandey in absentia. Not long after, Pandey was replaced at the helm of the paper’s editorial department.
There is also this case of the Newsweek weekly magazine interview with Madan Bhandari in its May 27, 1991, which gave heartburns to top-notch Nepali Congress leaders. The Rising Nepal’s founding editor who in 1991 was at the head of the Sunday Despatch weekly, Barun Shumsher Rana was quietly asked by the Prime Minister’s Office at Singh Durbar to produce a couple of letters condemning the choice of the communist leader being highlighted so prominently while such champions of democracy like Ganesh Man Singh and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai were ignored.
As far as my memory goes, the international magazine originating in the US did not print those letters, perhaps sensing that they were not “spontaneous” but “manufactured” words of ire inspired by raw politics.

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