Straight Talk About Self-Image And Identity


The Indians seem divided over the import of and implications from Oli’s Chinese sojourn.

By Maila Baje

Regularly mocked for what many consider his craven jocularity in the midst of epic trials, Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli hardly gets credit for how deftly he often deploys trivialization as a tool of political tradecraft.

Consider this example from just the other day. His government was ready to open talks with the agitating Madhesi parties on their long-standing demand for re-delineating federal provinces, the prime minister said. But those parties should also consider that the non-Madhesi population could begin demanding the redrawing of provincial boundaries along a north-south axis.

Before that latter suggestion could take on the form of pre-emption, Oli conceded that the raw emotions triggered by the recent months-long protests would take some time to settle. However, he was at a loss to explain why concerns over Nepal’s Constitution was more pronounced outside the country than within.

Oli wanted the top job so bad that the gods, too, seemed a little vexed last year. Days after he stood atop Dharahara to usher in a new national spirit in the new year, the fabled edifice collapsed into the rubble of the Great Earthquake of 2072 Bikram Sambat. That calamity should have cast a dark shadow on Oli’s political aspirations.

But the aftershocks produced enough political consensus for the promulgation of the Constitution, assuring Oli’s ascension to the premiership. The Indian ‘blockade’ stymied his next steps. A man who once seemed to bask in a pro-India label as long as it advanced his career turned out to be one of the few Nepalis to stand up steadfastly to the ultimatums of our southern neighbor.

What’s more, he brought in two inveterate critics of India as deputy premiers. Ultimately the Indians gave him a red-carpet treatment in New Delhi to let him subsequently visit Beijing. Any shift in Nepal’s geopolitical locus could be measured later and dealt with accordingly.

The Indians seem divided over the import of and implications from Oli’s Chinese sojourn. His party rivals, too, have chosen to moderate their positions vis-à-vis the premier. Former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who until a week ago was moping over the monopoly Oli was wielding as chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist, has climbed down a bit. He now stresses the need for consensus among the three major political parties on implementing the Constitution, preferably by roping in the Nepali Congress into the government.

In public comments made in Dhankuta the other day, Madhav Nepal said the country had witnessed many aberrations and anomalies due to political instability, but was quick to assert that the government’s spirit was being dampened by some unfavorable remarks made by a few leaders from coalition partners.

The prime minister’s warning that his government would not hesitate to confront forces that were taking unconstitutional measures has the ability to enflame the situation, especially amid forebodings of gloom percolating from across our borders. Yet Oli’s straight talk might also force some of us to sit back and assess the deeper roots of our malaise.