I recall a conversation with late KP Bhattarai about a quarter century ago. I had asked him: Suppose you become Prime Minister tomorrow, how would you govern? Do you have a plan?
Kisunbabu kept mum for a while, and then replied: “I haven’t thought about this but we will make a plan when we come to power!”
There was nothing in the air then that Nepali Congress (NC) had a chance to challenge Panchayat’s claim on power. The NC was still licking at its wounds from the failed Satyagraha movement launched in 1985; the party leadership was deeply demoralized; and some were so disheartened that they thought of surrendering to panchayat which, Kisunbabu told me, he opposed.
Miraculously and as a matter of sheer chance, panchayat gave way to democracy in 1990 and Kisunbabu became prime minister.
Now what? How would he launch a democratic era for Nepal, after thirty years of living in political wilderness and suffering a serious erosion of political capital?
No, nothing—almost nothing—happened during one year of Bhattarai’s stewardship, which means that business of government remained business as usual. Of course, newer faces appeared on top echelons of government: Zonal administration system was scuttled; and, most importantly, India lifted its trade embargo which, in my view, was the main contributor to government-change in Nepal.
The sad truth, however, was that public had expected much more from a transition to democracy. That the transitional government would investigate conspiracy 30 years ago that led to King’s takeover; that it would seriously consider abolishing the monarchy; that the zealous defenders of panchayat regime would be put on trial for corruption and abuse of power; that illegally amassed properties of high officials would be confiscated; that business interests of the royalty would be nationalized; and that monarchy would be reduced to symbolic existence.
In reality, nothing of this sort happened and, visiting the country some nine months after democracy had been restored, I found very little to suggest that country had passed through a major transition—culminating in the near-abolition of all-powerful monarchy!
LEADERSHIP WITHOUT COMMITMENT
Do-nothing legacy of KP Bhattarai’s government has been continued to this day. What was the difference between KP Bhattarai’s government and Girija Koirala’s, and then Deuba’s? There is almost nothing to distinguish one from another except that each of them brought their own henchmen and loyalists in a way to bestow personal favors and create a sort of mafia politics to fend off opposition.
There was no agenda, no planning, no commitment concerning any item that could improve public life, in terms of jobs, amenities, law and order, and quality of administration—all of which have been on a downhill trend irrespective of whoever has held the reins of government. Judging from the impact of changing regimes and emerging personalities, it is hard to distinguish one from another, in terms of its impact on public life and creation of a hopeful future.
What we have perceived, in most part, is that change of government has focused on a party or an individual but that had nothing to do with what difference this would make for government operations and what public had expected from new administration. Measuring the difference in terms of government efficiency and public perception of regime change, there is unanimity that intense drama accompanying governmental transition in all cases has been furtive and cosmetic, while the underlying precept of do-nothing-government has stayed intact!
For example, what different platform Girija Prasad Koirala provided to insist on replacing KP Bhattarai’s leadership and, then, what has been the intent of long-term dual between Deuba and Koirala camps? Looking at more recent events, while the change of government in 2009 from Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s leadership to Madhav Nepal’s has some degree of theoretical validity, Khanal‘s government leadership emerging from a dog-fight with Ram Chandra Poudel was a meaningless transition, in terms of substantive policy changes and having an impact on government operations.
BEST OF THE WORSE!
The on-going clamor for PM Bhattarai’s resignation initiated by NC-UML coalition and spearheaded by NC President Sushil Koirala should be viewed in the background of what preceded it. It is true that Bhattarai’s performance during his first year in office hasn’t been exemplary by any measure. In the main part, he has failed to assuage the public long harassed by thugs and hooligans—that they will be safe in their homes; that their properties will not be unlawfully seized; that government corruption will be controlled; and that business environment will improve so that people can engage in productive work.
However, in defense of Bhattarai’s leadership, we can say that living situation in the country hadn’t been any better under governments that preceded it. Moreover, during the span of Bhattarai administration, the instances of abductions, disappearance, murders, and law and order situations are much more improved than was the case during previous administrations. We can also credit Bhattarai government for its near completion of army integration, reaching meaningful understanding with India, and keeping the economy steady in the face of receding growth in major partner countries and growing strains in international financial markets.
Overall, we can say that Bhattarai government cannot be faulted for inadequate performance and for pursuing policies that have harmed the national interests. What else then could justify calling for its resignation? Almost nothing that can be termed substantive and credible, including its constitutionality, which is difficult to challenge.
The opposition’s call for Baburam Bhattarai’s resignation would be justified if it had a better agenda to what Prime Minister has had to offer.
Like all caretaker governments, Bhattarai’s has done what is needed for it to remain constitutional, like fixing the date for next election and giving assurances that this will be held in a fair and equitable manner. Of course, the government has to operate without a valid constitution at this time but it cannot be claimed either that the governing party or coalition is responsible for blocking progress in constitution-writing.
Even if we ignore the spurious argument in support of resignation, probably this route of bringing down the government would have held water if the agitating parties had forwarded an agenda that is superior and more promising than what Bhattarai has had to offer. Nothing of this sort has been put forth—for example, in the way of advancing an opposition work plan that provides a clearer vision for the future and how this is going to be realized. There is no such agenda backing up resignation demand; rather, this is driven by arrogance, greed, and selfishness and, in no way does it reflect substantive clash of policies.
Looking at the morality and ethics of resignation demand, this is much weaker than anything else said above in defense of Bhattarai’s leadership. If we believe in electoral politics—which we must in a democracy—then the Bhattarai government and his party carry a much stronger mandate than does any of the other parties that comprised CA and, further, the legitimacy of this mandate hasn’t been eliminated by CA’s dissolution—it is merely suspended and in abeyance, until a better arrangement is made. And that can happen only when the government’s mandate gets tested in a fresh election and only when a new leadership emerges. A change of government leadership at this time wouldn’t bestow more legitimacy on an incoming administration than what Bhattarai government can claim for itself.