Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, on the occasion of his first anniversary in office, claimed grand success for his government citing nearly two dozen accomplishments during the period. In the process, he stated three clear white lies. First, he said he didn’t join politics to become Prime Minister, when Nepalis clearly remember him going around the country, telling people how he was entitled to government leadership. Second, he claimed he had no intention of staying in power once there was political consensus.
The fact is that UCPN (Maoist) is the biggest stumbling block for political consensus, obstructing the political process with no other motive than prolonging their stay in government under Bhattarai. Third, he warned there would be a big political vacuum and the country could face a catastrophe in case he leaves office. Does he imply that he is doing the country a big favor just by staying in the post? In other words, the Maoist obstructionist policy is nothing but part of a Maoist ploy to capture state power.
The Prime Minister also claimed that his greatest achievement was bringing the PLA and seven cantonments under government control. True, but the agreement to do so was signed way back in 2006 in the form of Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2006), which, inter alia, included integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants. To the contrary, it has been the Maoists who have been inordinately delaying the process.
Next, the Prime Minister’s claim of success in the sanitation campaign in Kathmandu is laughable given the heaps of garbage seen on the streets of Kathmandu these days. In fact, it is difficult to find a clean patch of road to walk on in Kathmandu. But of course, the Prime Minister wouldn’t know this from inside his Mustang, zooming around the city in tight cavalcades.
The government’s achievement on the ongoing road expansion is significant, but the way the project has been handled, bereft of any long-term plan or program, has made matters worse. Many of the houses and compound walls have been torn down haphazardly. Moreover, instead of clearing the debris and shifting electric poles to widen the roads, the government has left them untouched, making the roads dirty and narrow.
In fact, Prime Minister Bhattarai’s one year in office was marked by a split in his UCPN (Maoist), mudslinging from his deputy Narayan Kaji Shrestha, charges of embezzlement by PLA commanders, unceremonious demise of the Constitutional Assembly, and above all, a horrendous economic situation.
The dreadful economic situation of the country has already hit the people, with average inflation rate hovering around 10 percent, which has been persistently eroding the country’s purchasing power. Basic necessities such as food items and clothes have become terribly expensive to the extent that even middle income groups cannot afford them.
Price of petroleum products have been raised five times in a single year. Consequently, the poor are becoming poorer and rich too are getting poor. Compliance with bureaucratic norms is at an all-time low. Even the secretary-level bureaucrats complain of injustice against them while corruption runs rampant. Unemployment is record high with pervasive under-employment. There isn’t a single program over which the government can be satisfied.
Pervasive corruption and a climate of impunity are eating away at the country; lack of transparency in government machinery has become an enduring feature. Everything from securing admission in good academic institutions to getting promotions or plump postings calls for hefty bribes. As there is not enough room in an already bloated government organizations, youth unemployment is high while service quality is low.
On the face of all these facts, how can Prime Minister Bhattarai evaluate his year in office as grand success? Moreover, PM Bhattarai has been quick to take advantage of the constitutional and political void and has been trying to rule through ordinances. The country has escaped dire consequences thanks to President Ram Baran Yadav who has not given his nod to unlawful ordinances, despite repeated taunts of the ruling parties. Opposition parties have been calling for the caretaker government to work for consensus, but the government so far has shown no willingness on this front. UCPN (Maoist) says opposition parties are not helping them out. Prime Minister Bhattarai says he won’t stay in power even for a day, once political consensus is reached. But reaching political consensus without his party on board is mission impossible. The PM knows this fact all too well.
Simmering dissatisfaction over the political limbo and a tottering economy must be considered a matter of grave concern and solved at the earliest. Moreover, all outstanding disputes should be settled through peaceful means. It is imperative that there is an early resolution to the current crisis. Without it, there is no prospect for political stability and economic upturn.
The people of Nepal have faced enough hardships thanks to the misguided policies of the current government, but still they are bearing with it. But it would be foolish to test their resolve, for this situation cannot continue for long, especially in the context of the growing income gap between the rich and the poor. Let us not forget what happened in Tunisia in 2010. A poor street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, igniting the entire Middle East. He had asked no more form his government than a decent place to carry out business for his survival. Bouazizi had set himself alight because of the harassment by the local officials. If a similar incident were to take place here, it could open another Pandora’s Box; and no one knows what will come out of it.
Prime Minister Bhattarai is not only one of the best educated political leaders of Nepal but also a hard-working person. Given his illustrious educational and political background, Bhattarai, it was hoped, would be able to turn around the country’s political and economic slide. Instead, in his bid to remain at the top at all costs, he has significantly undercut his political capital. In politics, posts come and go, what is more important is the legacy you leave behind.