British Prime Minister David Cameron was effectively leading a double-life. In 2005, he assumed the leadership of the traditionally Euro-skeptic Conservative Party. The Conservatives have always been uncomfortable with unelected bosses in Brussels making important decisions on behalf of Britain. The European Union and its jumble of regulations, in their reckoning, were putting fetters on the high ambitions of a business-oriented Britain.
Universal health coverage of all Nepalis is a brilliant idea. It appears realistic too. Since 2012, the government has been piloting the scheme in three districts—Ilam, Kailali and Baglung—to great success. The success of the pilot program is the reason it is being expanded to 25 districts this year, with the goal of covering all 75 districts within three years, as announced by Finance Minister Bishnu Paudel in his recent budget speech. As per the model, each family will have to pay a monthly premium of Rs 2,500 in return for which it will be eligible for treatment worth Rs 50,000 should one of the family members fall sick. Since the state has already heavily subsidized treatments of nine major health aliments—heart disease, kidney-related disease and cancer among them—it means that no Nepali will be deprived of healthcare. This will be the case since the government will also pay the premiums of the families living below the absolute poverty line, the elderly, the disabled and even those who were displaced by last year's earthquakes.
This is terrific news. It, however, does not mean that the road to universal healthcare for all Nepalis will be free of challenges.
Whether or not there was a 'gentleman's agreement' (and we suspect there was one) between CPN-UML and now CPN (Maoist Center) on government change, we don't see any rationale for Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli passing the baton to Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal if Dahal, too, will head a coalition government. A change of government only makes sense if Dahal, or some other political leader, enjoys the support of the three major parties as well as the protesting Federal Alliance and can hence form a government of national unity. For it won't be possible to amend the new constitution to address the concerns of the protesting alliance without the support of either Congress (the largest party in parliament) or UML (the second largest). Which is why rather than getting into an argy-bargy over the gentleman's agreement, the major political forces must urgently work towards a government of national unity. The question of who gets to lead such a government—Oli, Dahal or Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba—will in that case be of academic interest.
Trade unionism in Nepal
The history of trade unions can be traced back to the heydays of the Industrial Revolution at the fag-end of the 18th century. As more and more people came to be employed in machine-driven organized industries—as compared to the earlier times when subsistence farming and small hand-driven cottage industries were the norm—they felt they needed an organization to collectively bargain on their behalf. Indeed, the trade unions thus formed were extremely effective in securing the rights of menial laborers from the unscrupulous robber barons who owned these factories at the time. In the over two-century-long evolution of trade unions since, their basic role—to collectively bargain for the rights of workers—has remained unchanged. But in third world countries like Nepal characterized by continued political instability, the trade unions, rather than speak up for the rights of workers, have come to be handmaidens of political parties. Acing as their proxies, trade unions in Nepal have become notorious for pushing competing political agendas.