The prime minister regularly cites unproven Covid-19 cures—salt-water gargle, turmeric consumption, various nasal exercises. This has added to people’s sense of complacency. For the more scientifically minded, such antics reduce their trust in his government. KP Oli’s party, CPN-UML, still holds political gatherings in the presence of many unmasked attendees. No wonder government exhortations to the public to take the contagion seriously and adopt safety measures have fallen on deaf ears. They have simply stopped trusting government officials.
The opposition parties should have held the government to account on its criminal neglect of public safety. Yet the leaders of Nepali Congress, CPN (Maoist Center) and Janata Samajbadi Party too have failed to convince their electorates on the virus. Nor have they stopped organizing political gatherings, again in violation of Covid-19 safety norms, even as they harangue the Oli government for its failures on contagion-control.
If our political parties cannot help the country deal with its most pressing problem in generations, it bears asking: what good are they? How can they claim to work in public interest? Moreover, the rulers, across the party lines, are seen as representing the interests of only a small segment of the society. People from other ethnic and class groups thus view those in power with deep suspicion.
I can't think of a single top political leader today who commands broad public support. The main problem is our senior politicians’ sense of entitlement and their failure to see beyond pure power politics.
As the country battles a deadly pandemic, their focus continues to be to either hold on to power or, for others, to get there, which unfortunately is the ultimate goal of their politics—no, no higher purpose to serve for this elderly bunch. The generation of leaders currently at the helm cite the sacrifices they have made—most notably, their long years in prison—for the cause of democracy. They act as if the state ought to repay their dues.
No top Nepali leader is thinking about building a constituency by saving people’s lives from the deadly pandemic. They are either ignoring the pandemic or trying to twist it to their political advantage. PM Oli wanted to use the pandemic to prolong his tenure, Prachanda sought to unseat him citing the government’s failure to tackle Covid-19, and Deuba is now hoping to keep his party presidency by indefinitely putting off vital NC gatherings. Other leaders of big and small parties have acted no better.
People are irrational. It is the duty of political leaders to make them see reason, even when people don’t want to see sense. Yet Nepali leaders who command attention, including the Kumbh-returnee ex-king, have, in this time of national crisis, been busy pandering to people’s basest instincts to boost their public image. The health and wellbeing of the people they claim to represent are really irrelevant. The Covid-19 pandemic has again exposed the narrow horizons of our political leaders who are working for themselves and no one else.