Five months into his prime ministership, K P Oli has notched a string of foreign policy successes: a state visit to India that Indian PM reciprocated to reset bilateral relations, a subsequent China trip from which he returned with promises of investment in infrastructure.
However, on the domestic front there is growing disquiet over decisions by the ruling Nepal Communist Party over what many say smack of deliberate moves to suppress dissent. Ironically, it is a government that commands more than two-thirds majority in Parliament and is the strongest since 1990, that is insecure about criticism.
Gangamaya Adhikari is in intensive care in Bir Hospital on the 38th day of her latest fast, demanding justice for her son who was murdered in 2004. In faraway Jumla, activist physician Govinda KC is on the sixth day of his latest fast-onto-death to pressure the government on a bill to reform medical education. He has been moved to a local hospital.
Prime Minister Oli’s chief adviser Bishnu Rimal says PM Oli is apprised of the condition of Adhikari and KC and will put in genuine effort to save their lives.
“We must follow the law, and if it is a wartime case it should be resolved politically, and if it is criminal the courts should handle it,” he told Nepali Times. “Although some of KC’s demands are genuine, we think other parties are provoking him.”
He added: “Our detractors have misinterpreted the amended medical education bill, spreading a lie that we revised the document in a way that it will allow four medical colleges to spring up. But it can also be argued that the previous government drafted the bill precisely to stop these colleges from being established.”
On Wednesday, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa took a harder line on the two hunger strikers, saying “there are 17,000 Gangamayas in Nepal” and calling Govinda KC an “authoritarian”. On Thursday morning, several civil society activists were detained by police during a demonstration at the Mandala.
The protests come at a time when the ruling party’s electoral promise of prosperity is being widely ridiculed on social media. Pictures of trucks negotiating flooded roads are being posted with the captions like: ‘Inland Waterway’ or ‘Ferry to Kolkata’.
Rimal says the prime minister is fully committed to realising his dream of connectivity: “We are focused on achieving his goals, and we will not be deterred by criticism. We are not desperate, but we are determined.”
Kedar Bhakta Mathema, who drafted a report for the Medical Education Bill that was ignored, says the government is openly disregarding previous agreements between KC and the government on medical education reform.
“Govinda KC may be too idealistic for our status-quoist bureaucracy, but his demands are genuine, a two-third majority government should show some humility to negotiate with him and save his life,” Mathema says.
He adds: “The government with a two-third majority should be able to make unpopular decisions for the good of the country. It is indeed making unpopular decisions, but only only to serve some interest groups.”
Mathema argues that the government may have a two-third majority, but KC represents a silent majority of people, and ignoring their voices will erode people’s faith in the system and will eventually undermine democracy.
One of the activists detained by police, Charan Prasai, spoke to us from police custody on Thursday: “The Home Minister is defying the Supreme Court order on the Gangamaya case. He is trying to say he is above the law. This government is not just undemocratic, it is autocratic.”
Photo: Gopen Rai