It’s hard to predict how the corona crisis will unfold in Nepal when the extended deadline of the lockdown expires on April 15. Chances are, the lockdown could be further extended as Nepal is yet to widely test people for the virus, and as India is also looking likely to extend its own nationwide lockdown beyond April 21. This could be for everyone’s good, and a much better option than rescinding the lockdown and letting the contagious virus free to follow its natural and potentially deadly course.
Yet the fear that aspiring autocrats could misuse the pandemic to cement their rule, and to undercut civil liberties, also continues to grow. We already see this in Russia and Hungary. Even in India and Nepal, the respective governments have been accused of catering to the whims of the middle and upper classes even as the poorest of the society disproportionately suffer from the near lockdown. There is also a tendency of governments to discredit any voices of opposition to their anti-corona measures. Opposing voices everywhere stand accused of trying to ‘politicize’ the pandemic.
“Around the world, measures to contain the coronavirus are threatening liberal values and basic principles of democracy,” as political analyst Shreekrishna Aniruddh Gautam puts it. In Nepal too the ruling party leaders, from the prime minister down, have been trying to discredit the opposition parties and the media, which have rightly raised their voice against the mismanagement and corruption seen in the government’s anti-corona measures. This, however, has not dispelled doubts that many ruling party leaders will not think twice about enriching themselves on the pretext of controlling the pandemic.
As dangerous have been efforts to tinker with online media content that portrayed senior government officials in a bad light for their involvement in corona-related corruption. This suggests that the government could get more and more draconian as it tries to control the narrative of its fight against the dreaded virus. And the Oli government does look likely to come under some criticism, given its mismanagement of the crisis and given Nepal’s lack of resources to fight the unseen enemy.
Thankfully, PM Oli is slowly regaining his health and is now reportedly leading the corona response, something he had delegated to lower-level government officials till date. This will hopefully open up clear channels of communication and minimize the involvement of unscrupulous middlemen in the import of vital kits and medicines. With him in charge, the government will also be in a better position to track the flow of cash from the center to the provincial and local units. The prime minister doesn’t like the criticism leveled against his government. He now has the chance to prove his critics wrong.