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The optics are good. Why spoil the atmospherics?

By Maila Baje
A s the going gets tougher for Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, he surely wants to be the toughie who’s getting going. But somewhere things don’t seem to be working.
Sitting atop the government and party with the tightest grip conceivable – at least theoretically – the man is spending an inordinate time in a reactionary mode, i.e., responding to his critics. Not that his parables and allegories have lost any of their characteristic entertainment value. The amusement is getting too addictive.
The optics of Oli’s interfaces with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are quite attractive. If you can still be a lampasarbadi vis-à-vis our Indian neighbors while you’re virtually dragging a Chinese railway extension into Kathmandu, then it is up to Oli’s critics to show how.
Our prime minister doesn’t seem to be thinking or working that way, though. Take his response to the ‘authoritarianism’ smear hurled by the Nepali Congress. The main opposition party is still struggling to recover from its electoral shock to do anything going forward. The senior leadership is filled with people who want party president Sher Bahadur Deuba to go. The district leaders’ conference, however, punted.
Deuba, for his part, insists that he can’t be blamed for losing to a united communist party. (In that light, Deuba’s claim that Congress leaders who lost in the last election seem to be the loudest ones demanding his scalp should resonate better.)
Instead of seeing the Nepali Congress’ turf war for what it is, Oli finds its necessary to respond to every iteration of the A-word. First, he dismisses the allegation as political hallucination. Then he cautions the Nepali Congress not to expect much from such a futile revitalization slogan. Then the premier sends out his minions to mock the main opposition party for a thinly veiled attempt to gain power through the backdoor.
Granted, Oli has his own worries. The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) isn’t as unified as the new organization makes it out to be. Sneak into any limited gathering where leaders are wont to let their guard down. You hear bitterness and resentment in a multiplicity of hues. And we’re only talking about the erstwhile Marxist-Leninists here.
The former Maoists are no less disenchanted by what they see as a wholesale takeover by the ex-Marxist-Leninists. That might work for top leaders still haunted by the possibility of war-crime trials. Those lower on the rung who fought the People’s War firmly believing that the momentary bad they did would ultimately be for the greater good of the country aren’t thrilled.
If anything, Oli should be facing charges of authoritarianism from within the party. Or maybe that’s what peeves him: an inability to make his critics see things the way his party does in public.
Regardless, the prime minister should be focusing on what he has started. Prime Minister Modi and President Xi seem to be quite content with how Oli’s been balancing his geopolitical act – so far.
If Oli has indeed figured out Nepal’s place between the two Asian behemoths, maybe he should zero in on stabilizing the ground to cope with the vagaries of India-China relations. The Nepali people seem to have given the prime minister the benefit of the doubt on the geopolitical front. Why spoil the atmospherics by looking like you’re unsure of what you’re doing?

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