Nothing tests a political leader’s mettle more than a national crisis. And without a doubt, this is a time of an unprecedented crisis. The coronavirus has the country firmly in its grip, and is expected to get worse. With its half-hearted response, the government of KP Sharma Oli has, rather predictably, been unable to halt its spread. Instead, he has ordered the construction of a temple dedicated to Lord Ram at Thori, near Birgunj, without a shred of evidence to support his claim that Ram was born there. It’s a curious case of a communist prime minister ordering the building of a Hindu temple.
Our southern neighbor is also being ravaged by the coronavirus, its economy is tanking, and it finds itself helpless against Chinese aggression. So what does its chief executive do? Why, inaugurate a Ram temple in Ayodhya, the ‘real’ birthplace of Ram according to his Hindutva acolytes. Narendra Modi, who became prime minister by peddling an openly anti-Muslim pitch, sure knows how to appeal to people’s religious sentiments. Most devout Hindus are apparently willing to forgive all his other sins if he only covers himself in saffron. Oli is taking a page out of his book.
We hear religious politics has no future in Nepal. Tell that to PM Oli. As he fails on nearly every domestic front, he too is using religion as a political tool in this Hindu-majority country; and if such a move riles Modi’s India, so much the better. He has wasted his two-thirds mandate and is trying to cover his mistakes by using these diversionary tactics.
In doing so, he is undermining the country’s constitutionally protected secular character. Oli is also showing that he won’t stop short of anything to cement his hold on power—and frankly, that is all he seems to care about these days. As people no longer trust his government, they are not ready to heed its otherwise vital anti-corona message. In this time of crisis, Nepal needed a strong and trustworthy leader. But here we have a prime minister who has given up all pretense of governing and who has stooped to openly pander Nepal’s Hindu majority. Unfortunately, Lord Ram is not coming to rescue his country from the dreaded virus and, on current form, neither will the prime minister.