By Maila Baje
Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli returned home from Davos to what is becoming a bleakly familiar reception. Oli’s rivals – especially within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) – have a knack for using the premier’s absence to stir the waters. Reporters, then, throng the airport arrival lounge for Oli’s reaction.
This time, Oli tried to play down developments. Yet you could see through his composure. Oli’s trademark allegorical deflections couldn’t contain his underlying exasperation. The joint statement issued by the United Nations Office and nine embassies in Kathmandu on the need to accelerate transitional justice had irked Oli so bad that he felt compelled to lash out in Switzerland.
Insisting that Nepal’s peace process was moving in the right direction, Oli added: “We managed the conflict and the fight is now over. Some wounds have been left, but we will cure them as well.” Astonished by the emergence of an alliance of sorts, he couldn’t resist adding that the western powerhouses held an ideological bias against the Nepali government because was led by a communist party. Having to remind the world of his government’s communist orientation might have been a net plus at the world’s largest gathering of capitalists. But, alas, not so on the sidelines.
It would be tempting to see ideology as the prime driver of NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s latest outburst of acerbity. The man hasn’t sounded this infuriated since that televised address in 2009 during which he resigned the premiership.
Still, Dahal’s condemnation of an American-instigated ‘imperialist coup’ in Venezuela seemed to be aimed less at President Donald J. Trump. If the Americans were expecting swift reciprocity to their nascent overtures to the Oli government, they now know that Dahal isn’t about to give the prime minister a free hand. Central to the Indo-Pacific or not, Nepal will always be strategically placed in any China containment/encirclement endeavor. If there is a price for Nepal’s participation, the proceeds will have to be distributed equitably.
NCP senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, adept at landing punches at the most convenient moments, used Oli’s absence to voice displeasure at the way the party was being run. With our communist government’s ostensible rightward drift having started making headlines farther afield, Madhav Nepal saw another opening.
Rejecting the notion that the recent – and hugely controversial – Asia-Pacific summit had anything to do with Christianity, Madhav Nepal listed all the dignitaries who arrived to take part and how that heightened Nepal’s international profile. If the event was indeed so great, you would have expected Madhav Nepal to take full credit. But, no, he generously acknowledged that he had convened the summit jointly with Oli. Given the grief the prime minister got for his overtly Hindu public persona during Dasain, Oli might have expected to evade some of the summit splatter.
The opposition Nepali Congress, for its part, is in agitation mode following the passage of the Medical Education Bill through what it considers the government’s underhand means. Congress luminaries have started reminding the NCP not to forget how the Ranas and the monarchy were swept into the dustbin of history.
Our comrades’ grasp of history is certainly no sloppier than anyone else’s. They remember that the Nepali Congress’ two-thirds majority didn’t matter a whit when the axe fell in 1960. More broadly, they also know the Nepali Congress needed the monarchy to oust the Ranas and the Marxist-Leninists to overthrow the partyless Panchayat system. And when it came to the monarchy, the Nepali Congress needed the Maoists as well as the Marxist-Leninists.
It will take Oli much more than mockery of the main opposition party’s swollen sense of significance when the danger he needs to watch against lays within.