NEPAL: Ten days that Shook the Oli Government

Photo: BL

In principle, the K P Oli government was elected to power for a five year term when the country went to the poll in December 2017, and the parliament came into existence in full strength two months later.

But the massive protest in the streets of Kathmandu for over a week now soon after the Prime Minister embarked on a nine-day official trip to Europe-Geneva, United Kingdom and France--over a bill that seeks to bring religious and cultural institutions known as 'Guthi' under the government control, threatening to end an autonomous tradition more than 500 year old, and unique to Nepal.

The Guthis established by peoples contribution not only run many temples and institutions,  they also play a large role in organizing traditional events known as 'jatra', and even in rituals like marriage, cremation  and others. More importantly, they have been giving sustainability to charity under as the funds of these religious cultural units are spent in running old age homes, vedic schools, promoting and maintaining community forests , to list a few. In short, Guthis play a role in the life of an individual from 'womb to tomb', and connects individuals with the society  and its roots. The official bill envisages formation of a government  'Authority' which will be constituted by the government to replace the Guthis and their role.

It is being seen as an attempt by the communist regime to undermine and do away with a rich tradition and their social, cultural, religious, philanthropic bases.

The Hindus constituting over 80 per cent of the total population, and Buddhists who feel pride in practicing a religiom or philosophy originated in Nepal, feel particularly upset and agitated over the proposed bill.

Some of these Guthis also own huge amount of land gifted by their forefathers which act a their  source of revenue. However,  a substantial chunk of them have been under cultivation of people who are connected with those temples on condition that they will pay certain part of the products to the actual owner of the land.

However, cadres of the ruling Party also captured substantial part of these lands during the decade long insurgency ending in 2006. In their struggle to set up communist republic, the Maoists cadre capture huge chunk of government, official, individual and Guthi property and destroyed infrastructures like telecommunication towers, bridges and some historical sites. They also robbed over five dozen banks to collect money for ‘revolution.’

Is the government trying to legitimize the capture of those land by legally transferring it to their cadres?

The natives of the capital valley-Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur-have been holding protest rallies in the street threatening that the failure on the part of the government to withdraw the bill will lead to a major confrontation 'for which the government will be solely responsible."

Government spokesperson and Communication Minister Gokul Baskota said the Guthi system is the continuation of ' Feudalism' which the government is determined to root out in all its forms. What he did not realize was that there are many who are part of the Guthi system as well the Communist  Party that rules the country."I am first part of this culture, and then I belong to the Party. we will protect our culture at any cost but if Prime Minister is not serious about it, he will face the consequences," Rambir Manandhar, a member of Parliament from Kathmandu belonging to the ruling NCP (Nepal Communist Party said.

Prime Minister Oli observed all this from a long distance as  he was away from the country from June 9  to participate in the International Labor Organization conference in Geneva, and from there on a bilateral official visit  to the United Kingdom and France.

He returned home on June 16 worried and mild faced. "If  the bill infringes upon the cultural and religious sensitivity of the people, we are here to review it," but he chose to blame his political rivals for having mobilized people on the street.

 "I hope something good will come out soon now that the Prime Minister is back," tweeted Yogesh Bhattarai, another influential leader of the ruling Party indicating that the government might now start the process of soliciting views of the stake holders and defer the debate and voting on the bill in parliament for some time. But the intent of the Prime Minister and his government have come under serious doubt in the esteem of the people.

His personality, the respect he commanded as a nationalist leader, especially in the wake and aftermath of the  5-month long economic blockade imposed by India beginning September 2015 and the resultant hardships Nepalis faced, are on the wane now. Mega corruption and some favor that the Prime Minister has shown to Particular business family (ies) have tainted the government and the Prime Minister's image.

All this has come at a time when Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, Co-Chairman of the ruling Party, appears to be in a hurry to step into Oli's shoes as the Prime Minister.

When two biggest communist Parties--Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist Leninist headed by Oli and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists led by Prachanda united to form the Nepal Communist Party soon after the parliamentary elections.

The  two had agreed to head the government on rotational basis--first 30 months by Oli who will then pave the way for Prachanda. Will honour this written agreement ? Dahal has been going around publically asking for a firm and clear commitment that Oli will honour this , so far vainly.

But the much larger question is : who has Oli failed? the country, its people or Prachanda ? Apparently all.

The country and the people because he has failed to deliver his promises of a corruption free governance that will see the country on the fast pace and track of development. A failure to respond to the public will may lead to Oli’s downfall sooner than many thought. The crowds in the street makes his ground shaky.