A Leader Who Stands Out From The Crowd : Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
We find very few individuals in world history with the distinction of rising to a dizzying height of eminence from a humble rural background. But the journey of UML chairperson KP Oli from his inconspicuous family farm in Jhapa to the highest office of the prime minister of Nepal sets a bright example of such a unique phenomenon of personality building. Premier Oli is now a leader who has carved a notch for himself at a conspicuous height. His way of approaching problems and his ability to find a way out of seemingly intractable situations with a grace of an expert, has transformed him from an average politician to one of the brightest political luminaries of the country.
The meteoric rise of KP Oli has a legendary aura around it. But the background where he spent his formative years was formidable, adverse and challenging. Son of a farmer of a lower middle class family, Premier Oli lost his mother while he was still very young and was brought up under the care of his grandmother. Living with his grandmother in a family with insufficient means and lacking in strong emotional support, Premier Oli got his initial lesson on social inequality and the exploitative nature of the society.
In his eagerness to find a way out of the social entrapment which his generation had fallen into, he was lured to leftist political ideology while still a teenager. It was then that he took the first step to his destiny and has never since looked back. The correctness of his ideological orientation is well too evident from the illustrious career he has carved for himself.
Prime Minister KP Oli’s political career started from what is now well-known as the Jhapa Movement, which had taken place in eastern Nepal in the early 1970s. The movement had set off in a violent trajectory, but soon enough, Oli launched his political polemic to correct the ideological orientation of the movement, which was then heavily influenced by the Naxalbari Movement of India and Cultural Revolution of China.
Initially, majority of the leadership of the Jhapa Movement opposed him, but after less than two years, the party leadership was convinced into taking steps towards embracing the ideological line of peaceful political mobilisation. It was because of this orientation that the Jhapa Movement was able to become the rallying point for all the splintered communist groups, culminating in the formation of the Communist Party of Nepal (ML), the precursor of present day CPN (UML), in 1978
Premier Oli was in jail from 1973 to 1987, but he remained one of the strongest ideologues of the party even when he was inside the dungeon. Despite being in incarceration, he had strongly advocated for participation in the referendum of 1979 proclaimed by King Birendra to let the people choose between multi-party democracy and the party-less Panchayat system with reforms.
The CPN (ML) leadership disagreed with KP Oli’s views and decided to boycott the referendum. As a result, the monarchy won in the referendum. The CPN (ML) later openly regretted taking the wrong decision which helped bolster the autocratic regime.
In jail, Premier Oli always demonstrated a strong commitment to the ideology he espoused and motivated and inspired his comrades to resist the temptation of winning freedom at the cost of dignity and allegiance to ideology. Though he suffered from constant ill-health due to Cox infection, ulcers and malnutrition, his political will remained unflinching and unshakeable. Even when he was in prison, Premier Oli had evinced a strong capacity for interlocution and negotiation.
In June 1987, he was called from prison to the Prime Minister’s Office for dialogue by the then Prime Minister, Marich Man Singh. There, Premier Oli strongly argued with Marich Man Singh and convinced him that the Jhapali revolutionaries should be released unconditionally. Oli was released that very day, and the remaining colleagues were released some months later in a royal amnesty.
After coming out of prison, Oli’s role remained influential in the party’s hierarchy, and he remained the ideological lynchpin of the party. In the new political context of post 1990 politics, he helped Madan Bhandari formulate a new theory called People’s Multi-party Democracy, which remains the guiding ideology of the CPN (UML) even today, and Premier Oli remains the principal exponent of Bhandari’s theory.
Premier Oli has always stood out from the crowd setting a distinct benchmark for himself. During the Maoist insurgency, when the revolutionary romanticism of Maoism attracted a huge rank and file of the CPN (UML), a sizable number of them even joining the Maoist rank, it was again Premier Oli who exposed the hollowness and futility of the Maoist insurgency and remained at the vanguard of ideological polemics with that force. When all eminent political leaders melted before the Maoists like an iceberg in the sun, it was Oli who stood in the eye of the political storm like a sturdy oak tree on a ridge facing a blizzard.
Had Oli not been there during the intense struggle for the political turf between the Maoists and the seven-party alliance during the transition of the peace process, the Maoists would have been ruling the country today with an iron hand, bludgeoning all political opposition into silence.
KP Oli has often been criticised and excoriated by some mission journalists for his strong views. He has even been ridiculed as a shallow leader who is surviving only on maxims and proverbs. But the sequence of political events where Oli had a part to play has proved that the sharpness of his political acumen has saved the country from falling into anarchy and paving the way for foreign subjugation. He has proved himself through his actions that he is the only leader at present capable of distinguishing the ideological fine lines, beyond which political concessions to the agitating political forces could not be permitted.
During the last eight years after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, almost all the top leaders of the major political parties agreed with the idea of ethnicity-based federalisation of the country. Former president of the Nepali Congress and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala signed an agreement with the Madhes-based political parties, committing to one Madhes, one Pradesh model of federal state. The political brokerage which India indulged in on behalf of the Madhes Movement during the last two weeks showed just how dangerous this model of federal province would have been if implemented.
Premier Oli’s performance during the past decades and especially during the last one-and-a-half years in the Second Constituent Assembly has proved that, had he not been present at the Second CA, the UCPN (Maoist) would not have been weaned away from the 31-party alliance, and the new constitution of Nepal would not have been promulgated. The Nepali Congress had almost knuckled down under the duress of India to postpone the promulgation of the constitution to search for consensus. It was Oli’s iron will and Prachanda’s determination to forge ahead that the country was saved from a catastrophe and the constitution was promulgated.
Statesman in post constitution era
Oli has taken the prime minister’s mantle at a very complex moment of Nepalese history. The country is reeling under the Indian blockade. Its sovereignty and independence are at stake. It is facing a grave economic crisis. Its diplomatic clouts are at their lowest. Premier Oli has an unprecedented challenge to face, but if he succeeds in coping with these difficulties by lifting Nepal onto the path of self-reliance, safeguarding its sovereignty and independence, carrying forward development activities and maintaining political stability by handling the fragile coalition and taming the opposition with visionary policies and programmes, he has every potential to emerge as a great statesman in the post-constitution era.
(The writer had served time in prison together with Premier KP Oli)