Nepalis were stunned by the naked display of the battle for power between the Prime Minister and his party colleagues even as the corona crisis was unfolding.
Despite that betrayal, we must retain our faith in the institution of government. It may be the last line of defence against the socialist-communist revolution of Nepal that is marching on.
A health and economic crisis of unimaginable depth and consequence has struck. Instead of devoting every single minute to addressing it, Nepalis were deeply disillusioned to learn that the Prime Minister and party colleagues were consumed in a struggle for who will be prime minister, who will be party chairman, and who will get what other post.
The horse trading, the power struggle, and the shifting alliances were all conducted in full public view, while a lockdown was in force. There was complete disregard for public sentiment and national interest.
Naturally, Nepalis lost faith, not just in the political leadership but also in the institution of government.
When you see a fight in full public display, the display is often far more significant than the fight itself.
That is exactly what the leadership tussle within the ruling communist party was all about. As the leaders traded, negotiated, cajoled and threatened, the outcome in terms of who would be prime minister, party chairman, or get this or that post wasn’t important.
The fact that the power struggle was played out publicly for everyone to see was extremely important.
In good and bad times, politicians all over the world battle one another for power. In that regard, there is nothing unusual about the power struggle between Prime Minister Oli and his colleagues.
The latest power struggle involved some 10 key leaders, all seasoned politicians with decades of experience managing their supporters, media, and the public. The entire thing could easily have been kept under wraps, away from public view.
Why fight in front of everyone, that too in the middle of an unprecedented crisis? Because this was about a fight that was meant to be seen; not a fight about who would win or lose.
Whether the players in the power struggle were aware of their larger role, or whether they were thrust into the cage to fight for the spectators to see, only they and history can know.
The power struggle in the middle of an unprecedented crisis was intended to erode our confidence in the government. We didn’t just lose faith in individual leaders. It did more: it eroded the political legitimacy of the government to lead and the moral authority of the State to govern.
It isn’t just with the executive branch of government. Institutions across the State are failing. Political interference within the judiciary, constitutional bodies, the Presidency, and the police have eroded public confidence in these institutions.
The army has now become the government’s civilian contractor and importer of choice for medical supplies. Its untarnished public image as the institution of last resort is being sullied. Many of its key leaders are under investigation. Several companies, including international firms, have filed suits challenging the army’s decision-making process in the selection of contractors in infrastructure projects.
These moments of failures add up, eroding inch by inch the moral authority of the State to govern.
Recognizing that the socialist-communist takeover of Nepal would not be possible through force, the strategy now seems to be to erode the political legitimacy of the government and the moral authority of the State.
The socialist-communist revolution of Nepal marches on.
We have an opportunity to push back. A fight displayed for public view has no meaning if you don’t look at it.
We must turn away. As political leaders fail us and institutions crumble, we must reduce our reliance on government and draw more from the underlying fabric—us, ordinary citizens.
The only antidote against the government’s eroding political legitimacy and the State’s crumbling moral authority are stronger civil society institutions. We must push back against political encroachment in civil society; we must build and strengthen civil society institutions.
As we emerge from the lockdown, I hope we will return to meaningfully consider and reclaim our space as citizens of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.