Sher Bahadur Deuba is back to his noble best. When he first became prime minister in 1995 Deuba had cobbled together, for the realization of his old dream of decentralized development of the country, the biggest cabinet in Nepal’s democratic history: there were 48 enlightened souls in all.
To keep them completely dedicated to public service, he then, as an incentive, bestowed on them swanky SUVs, earning for himself the sobriquet of ‘Prado and Pajero Prime Minister’ in the process. It is not easy to run Nepal; and Deuba had found the perfect formula.
Now, having realized that a federal setup calls for even more decentralization of power and responsibility, the old saint has broken his own record. After his latest cabinet expansions, he now presides over 50 capable ministers. The number could still grow as he reportedly wants to bring even more visionaries into his rainbow coalition.
In the image of that first batch of Deuba’s crusaders, the new ones will also get plenty of incentives to serve the people, including three SUVs each. Makes sense. They have places to develop, people to help, economic goals to meet, and there should be no obstacle in their smooth functioning.
The beneficent SUV culture is catching on. The five Election Commissioners each had two or three vehicles. But since they are government representatives in ‘New Nepal’, they argued, their vehicles should also be brand-new, and something all Nepalis, irrespective of their caste or creed, can aspire to when they see them cruise on Kathmandu’s sleek streets. Ever obliging, the prime minister has given them their due.
But the poor old thing is going blind. He can’t see what is happening right under his nose. Recently, the KP Oli Sharma Brigade of the Opposition Army was able to alter a vital parliamentary healthcare bill, making it easier for the medical mafia to profit from the mushrooming medical colleges in Kathmandu. Deuba, always busy serving the people, not just in his native Dadeldhura but also as far as Doklam and Delhi, was obviously clueless.
Then, more recently, the Tribhuvan University executive committee granted affiliation to one ‘National Medical College’ in Ghattekulo, Kathmandu, again without Deuba’s knowledge. When reporters visited the college a day later, there were exactly zero doctors and as many patients. But how is Deuba to be blamed for something he didn’t do?
The liberal prime minister has also given other important state organs and enterprises free hand to prosper. The boss of Sajha Prakashan, which is tasked with printing textbooks for schools, it turns out, actually funnels part of Sajha proceeds into his private publication. No, it is not as bad as it sounds. His printers are actually better than the old rusty things at Sajha. Students have far less trouble reading those visually enhanced books from his private printers.
He has also conjured up many new Sajha posts so that all his kith and kin, all Nepalis mind you, can find gainful employment. The prime minister, predictably, supports such a worthy cause and is apparently thinking about nominating Mr Sharma for the President’s Entrepreneurial Medal.
Then there is the boss of Nepal Oil Corporation. This is a man who during the border blockade openly challenged journalists to stop him from illegally trading in petroleum products. But why fuss over legality if what he was doing was in public interest, right? Thanks to his good graces, and a heart as big as his pockets, we were able to get a trickle of oil, which was certainly better than nothing that could be had in the legal market.
Deuba would perhaps agree with anthropologist Dor Bahadur Bista that the more things change in Nepal the more they stay the same. Back in 1991, just when Deuba as a politician was getting into his strides, Bista had written about the prevalent culture of fatalism and aafno manche in Nepali society, which had together greatly boosted Nepal’s growth and development. The same culture thankfully characterizes our senior bureaucrats and politicians today: do your squeaky-clean best, for yourself and your near ones, and leave the rest to the almighty in Singha Durbar and Tangal Durbar. But it is not just Sher Bahadur Deuba who puts his country and community first.
Did I accuse Oli of supporting the medical mafia? But he is really trying to reform them. For he has always taken great pride in using his political platform to rehabilitate certified goons so that they, new and reformed, can then be deployed in public service.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his efforts to civilize YCL hoodlums are even more legendary. No wonder Dahal has always been such a champion of radical reforms.
Now our prime minister is in New Delhi and people here are losing sleep over whether he will literally sell the country down the Koshi River. But why would he do that? Since Mahakali in 1996, he has always been adamant about retaining Nepal’s water in the country and putting it to productive use in Tarai during the prodigious monsoon. Wow, all this in just two months in office!
The writer is the op-ed editor at Republica. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org