And poor old Ram Baran Yadav was being pilloried for acting hoity-toity on the job! But compared to the excesses of his successor as the country’s president, Bidya Devi Bhandari, the medical doctor is turning out to be rather saintly. It would be stretching it to say that Yadav was attuned to public sentiment. If so, Bhandari is tone-deaf.
From getting sitting Supreme Court judges to kneel down to receive Dashain tika from her blessed hands, to making motorists wait for hours as the police clear the way for her illustrious motorcade, to lavishly spending people’s hard-earned money on luxury cars, the communist president is perhaps the epitome of the kind of crony capitalism that her mother party likes to rail against.
Arguing that the aging fleet of cars belonging to the previous president is unreliable, Shital Niwas now wants to replace the whole fleet, a noble task for which the government has just approved Rs 140 million, on top of the Rs 40 million that had already been disbursed for the same purpose. It is unclear why a ceremonial president needs cars with top security features. Or why she needs different vehicles for ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ use. But the new queen of republican Nepal has asked for it. And my word, she shall have it.
So what if people rain all kinds of curses on her for delaying their travel home, as the roads her majesty will travel on are cleared of all vehicles, nay, even pedestrians, an hour in advance? So what if the only well-oiled academy of national police has to be dismantled to expand her bungalow? So what if she is being heavily criticized even within her own party for supposedly besmirching the name of her husband, Madan Bhandari, the preeminent Nepali communist hero? Her highness does not care. She does not have to care.
The request for new cars has been routed through the Nepal Army, supposedly as the president is their ceremonial head. By doing so she perhaps hopes most of the blame will be deflected off the glistening pillars of the ‘Cool Residence’. And it just might, you know. She will not be the first head of state in Nepal who thinks the country is hers for the taking. On current evidence, she will not be the last.