Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and his Nepali Congress have improvised an innovative coping mechanism for the party’s dismal electoral performance.
By exhibiting its version of Churchillian magnanimity in defeat, the caretaker government has begun to agitate the incoming leftist administration. The series of populist measures Deuba has taken in recent weeks – including a reduction of the qualification for old-age allowance from 70 years to 65 – promises to saddle the new government with a financial burden on something that wasn’t even part of its electoral platform.
K.P. Oli, our prime minister in waiting, has vowed to reverse all such decisions. Yet the chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) knows the likely perils of doing so. The Nepali Congress, having hit upon this new scope of its caretaker status, remains defiant. A party that has done so much to fatten the public treasury can certainly take care of the people in every way it deems fit, one Nepali Congress luminary was heard arguing the other day.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre, has now joined Oli in equating the Deuba government’s munificence with democratic malfeasance. For most of us, it may not be too hard to remember how the UML ushered in populism as stratagem during its short-lived minority government under Manmohan Adhikary. And it might have helped the UML secure its own majority in the elections Adhikary had called, before the Supreme Court stepped in to thwart him.
Oli, having resigned himself to the reality that the premiership still may be some time away, wasn’t probably too thrilled with the call he got from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Sure, Modi spoke to Oli in the latter’s capacity as the next premier. But the next premier of what kind of government? Of a united communist party? In coalition with other parties should unification fall through? Or one that is too busy undoing its predecessor’s acts to implement its own agenda?
The UML-Maoist Centre unity process doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, despite the hours-long sessions Oli and Dahal have held alone. Both leaders acknowledge that elements within their respective organizations may be working to subvert unification. More than a few Nepali Congress leaders have openly suggested that their mission now was to prevent leftist unity.
When Deuba asserts he had nothing to do with the removal of the monarchy and positions himself as a supporter of Hindu statehood, a private meeting between the former king and the chief minister of a bordering Indian state (albeit a man of cloth heading the largest province down south) is bound to acquire political significance. More so when it subsequently emerges that the former monarch had either sought approval from or merely informed Deuba and Oli of his brief detour across the border.
It looks like Modi made that call to Oli after being satisfied that New Delhi had done enough for now to correct the incoming Nepali government’s perceived northern tilt. The Chinese can continue funneling all the money they want into Nepal as long as the Indians keep calling the political shots.
Our three-tiered elections that were supposed to fully institutionalize the republican, federal and secular constitution have served to expose the document’s fragilities. Oli may well become the next prime minister pretty soon. But can we really be sure about the rest of the deal?