Hundred Days Of Disturbed Honeymoon: Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
Prime Minister KP Oli’s government has completed its hundred days, often romanticised as the honeymoon period. But in view of the formidable problems this government was called upon to confront, it may have hardly experienced the luxury of freedom which this period is generally ascribed with. Truly speaking, no other peace-time government ever formed in Nepal in the past was required to tackle the type of complex problems that this government had to in the initial months of coming to power.
Privilege of ruling party
A government’s first hundred days are considered as a privilege of a ruling party to dedicate its activities to preparing the structural framework, formulating policies and taking initiatives to win external recognition and garner support for its plans of action. However, Oli’s government, formed as it was in a very adverse situation, hardly had that privilege. When Oli formed the government, the Nepali Congress had broken off alliance with the CPN (UML), the Madhesi Front had intensified its violence and India had imposed a blockade on the supply of petroleum products and other goods to Nepal, synchronising its move with those of the Madhesi agitators.
The strained relation with India - and the impact brought about by her unofficial blockade of essential consumer goods to Nepal - was the greatest hurdle on the way of the newly formed government. On the basis of the magnitude of the challenge, political observers openly said that the days of Oli’s government were numbered, and it would not last even the first hundred days of its existence.
The NC had deserted the CPN (UML) at the implementation stage of the constitution. As a section of the Madhesi political forces and some ethnic groups had burned the copies of the constitution, a serious question had arisen about the possibility of establishing the legitimacy of the constitution itself
Making matters worse, media criticism about the inefficient delivery of relief to the victims of the devastating April 25 earthquake, delay in the formation of the Reconstruction Authority to initiate reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure and poor diplomatic mobilisation for properly informing the international community on the unfolding situation in Nepal was creating considerable public resentment.
People’s expectations were high. Their aspirations for a better life, employment, availability of essential commodities, infrastructural development and control of corruption were genuine, but the government resources were inadequate to meet these demands. In the midst of all this, the government was required to focus its attention and resources on maintaining law and order in the Terai as the Madhesi Front had started to stage picketing at the no-man’s land at the Nepal-India border, giving an excuse for India to tighten the blockade, citing insecurity on the Nepalese side of the border.
In such an overwhelming national and international situation, it was difficult to expect a fragile coalition of multiple parties to survive for long. But surprisingly, the Oli government not only survived, it also instilled hope and confidence among the people. The unjustified interference of India in the internal matters of Nepal had made the Nepalese people indignant. Prime Minister Oli’s stand against external interference, his categorical refusal to compromise national interest, independence of the country and the people’s sovereignty greatly contributed in uplifting the sagging morale of the whole nation.
In a political milieu in which almost all the political forces and their leaders think it impossible to gain and sustain power without the support of this or that external power, Prime Minister Oli’s self-confidence and assertiveness helped generate optimism among the patriotic people. The Oli government also adequately tried to accommodate the concerns of the Madhesi people by initiating the process of constitutional amendment to address their demand for provincial demarcation.
The Oli government’s unremitting efforts to defend the democratic features of the newly promulgated constitution helped garner international support to the constitution. The initial misunderstanding that the Indian government harboured about the content of the constitution also diminished with growing interactions and diplomatic initiatives at the highest political levels. The increased flow of cross-border transport and resumption of supply from other border points except Birgunj indicate a gradual relaxation of tension in Nepal-India relation.
Similarly, credit should be given to the Oli government for initiating a process of ending the trade dependence on India by taking initiatives towards opening the border points with China, signing an agreement with it for the long-term import of petroleum products and initiating dialogue for signing a trade and transit treaty with the northern neighbour. These initiatives constitute important achievements of the Oli government during its honeymoon period.
Despite the achievements recounted above, it has some critical issues to pay attention to. The ongoing Madhes movement and the Indian embargo have created an acute scarcity of fuel and other products in the country, pushing the government and private service providers on the verge of stopping services. The alarm which the Ncell mobile service provider has raised about the impending risk of suspending its services due to scarcity of fuel and energy indicates the severity of the crisis.
Worse still, the failure of the legitimate agencies for distributing fuel to the consumers has yielded space to a black market to monopolise on the supply of fuel. Media reports say that there is ample stock of fuel with the NOC, but the private vehicle owners are compelled to buy it from black marketeers at an exorbitant price. The price of other essential commodities, being contingent upon the transportation factor, is skyrocketing, making it difficult for people to cope with their kitchen. This rampant black marketing is threatening to overwhelm the formal economy, and the government should be alert about this.
The Oli government also needs to devise a strong mechanism to monitor the implementation progress of projects aimed at self-reliance. The government has announced its objective of opening a two-lane road from Galchhi to Rasuwagadi in two years. It has announced the ending of load shedding in one year. It has also expressed commitment to replace twines with suspension bridges in two years. It should monitor the monthly progress of these projects, which must by now be under implementation.
Visions of future
Of late, there is public criticism about some remarks of the prime minister. What he has said about energy generation and gas supply are his visions of the future. The way these remarks have been distorted out of context shows the superficiality of the critics. But it has a message to give to the government. In the vitiated political environment where there is deep distrust against leaders, those who honestly want to do something should call on the people to exercise austerity and give up facilities as surprise gifts. In the present day of scarcity, immobility, price rise and corruption, they are right to expect that whatever their leaders speak or do should have immediate effect in alleviating their difficulties.