At 2 am on a cold January morning earlier this year, Prime Minister KP Oli woke abruptly in my fictional world drenched in sweat, heartbeat racing, and fists clenched. It wasn’t just that he was not well or that he had been briefed of a potentially deadly virus.
That morning, the prime minister was startled by a sudden realization of the two deadliest mistakes of his life. First, from some 50 years ago: Oli, then only a young firebrand communist, had led the Jhapa Revolt, beheading landowners. Second, three years ago on election-eve: Oli forged an electoral alliance with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), merged the two parties and secured an unprecedented mandate.
That cold morning, the prime minister awoke to a premonition of how the two greatest errors of his life would collide. It unfolded 12 months later, on Sunday, when in defiance of comrades in his own party, he recommended dissolution of a democratically elected parliament (the President complied), and called fresh election, earning himself the moniker of an authoritarian.
From revolution-provocateur beheading landlords to authoritarian-provocateur debasing the constitution, Prime Minister Oli has exhibited through his life and politics what all of us Nepalis have become. For his courage in reflecting our collective cowardice, Prime Minister Oli is my pick for the person of the year.
The odds were always against Oli. He was a rare survivor of the Jhapa Revolt. Most others were summarily rounded up and executed in a forest. He spent 14 years in prison, often in solitary confinement, peddling poems he had written in return for a few favors. Beyond his idealistic youth, his achievements are a story of endurance built on the philosophy of political expediency where the end justifies the means.
This philosophy of political expediency was in display when he responded in a 10-page letter to the charges levelled against him by party’s co-chair. In it, he documents how Prachanda, the co-chair, himself defied the constitution by disrupting the elections when Prachanda’s daughter was losing (party workers tore the ballots during the count, the results were annulled, and a fresh election ordered, which she won). Political expediency required the prime minister to simply ignore such a blatant violation of an election—the core of democracy—simply because the partnership was important at the time. The end justified the means.
The greatest tragedy of Nepal’s democracy was that one party won such an overwhelming majority. A coalition government would have been better, and offered more political stability, in establishing the institutions necessary for Nepal’s young democracy. Oli had put aside many years of bitterness and criticism about the Maoists when he announced the electoral alliance and subsequent merger of the two parties. It was simply political expediency, for he knew, just as almost everyone guessed, the combined party would return with a resounding victory. The end justified the means.
When Prime Minister Oli first took office in 2015, he immediately proclaimed five other revolutionaries of the Jhapa Revolution as national martyrs. Every year, around February, Nepal Communist Party gathers to remember the martyrs of the Maoist uprising and the previous armed movements, like the Jhapa uprising. No one pauses to remember the victims of the conflict.
Almost 50 years after the beheading of landowners, the families of those victims are still waiting for justice and closure. Approximately 2,500 complaints of disappearance and 63,000 cases from the Maoist-era conflict are pending at the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Today, the prime minister’s decision to dissolve parliament is being debated in terms of democratic principles. But can there really be a discussion about democratic principles when thousands of families whose loved ones were killed, tortured, kidnapped, and displaced are still waiting for the justice they were promised? Our constitution and political progress have been written in blood. We have a peace accord but are still at war with each other.
The tragedy of this political turmoil is not that a stable government has fallen. The tragedy is that we, ordinary Nepalis, have simply forgotten the victims who suffered the abuses of conflict. Parliament may fall, a new one may arise. But Nepali democracy is meaningless unless the blood that drips on our consciousness is cleaned—not by the State but by us, the people of Nepal.