The first 100 days of Sher Bahadur Deuba as fifth-time prime minister is not a huge disappointment to Nepalis — most did not expect much from it.
To be sure, it is not all Deuba’s fault, but as prime minister the buck stops with him. He has taken the blame for infighting between and within coalition partners that delayed government formation, for riding roughshod over the Constitution, making controversial appointments. But most of all, the government is seen to be uncaring about citizens ravaged by floods and the pandemic, as well as dismissive about the demand from long-excluded Nepalis for social justice.
Perhaps nothing has driven home government indifference and neglect for the marginalised more than the treatment meted out to activists like Ruby Khan who walked for 20 days from Nepalganj to Kathmandu to highlight their demand for a fair investigation into the death of two women in Banke district for which they were given the runaround by local police and administration.
Nakunni Dhobi, 38, was found dead in her home in July, and foul play was suspected because she had previously faced dowry-related violence. Nirmala Kurmi, 52, has been missing following the passing of her husband and the suspicious deaths of her two sons soon after. Khan had filed a case of kidnapping and murder against 12 people, including NC leader Badshah Kurmi, as part of a plan to take over her property.
When the activists finally arrived in Kathmandu, tired, hungry and with blistered feet, the government arrested the activists. The Supreme Court later freed them, but Ruby Khan went on a hunger strike, until the government finally agreed to investigate the two cases.
Few believe this will result in justice being delivered, as has been the case of previous high-profile cases of violence against women.
“On one hand it is a great achievement that women from a minority community dared to come all the way to Kathmandu for justice and turn this into a national issue,” says journalist Namrata Sharma. “But that they had to resort to this, and were not able to get justice in Banke is a failure of our governance.”
Indeed, the Deuba-led coalition government for the most part in the last three months has been embroiled in a power struggle ahead of the elections in 2023 and the concerns of the public get little importance. Commentators have gone as far as to say that Deuba has committed as many mistakes in three months as that made by K P Oli in three years.
For Deuba’s faction-ridden party and coalition, the Ruby Khan case was just an inconvenient distraction in trying to keep his government intact, and to show the public that it is different than the K P Oli government it replaced in June. But 100 days later, he does not have much to show for it.
In fact, commentators have said Deuba has violated the constitution more often in the past three months than Oli did in the three years he was prime minister. Members of Deuba’s own NC have been most critical of his dissolution of Parliament to pass an ordinance to help Madhav Kumar Nepal split from the UML, and then repeal it after the deed was done.
“Making laws to serve a particular political party or individual violates the Constitution,” said political analyst Shyam Shrestha. “This makes a mockery of the rule of law, and is unimaginable in a democracy.”
And if that was not enough, Deuba allegedly had a pact with Chief Justice Cholendra SJB Rana to nominate two ministers. One of them, Rana’s brother-in-law, Gajendra Bahadur Hamal, was appointed to the Cabinet, but resigned three days later following a public uproar.
Even when the coalition has acted decisively, it is for the wrong reason. The Finance Minister amended the Financial Act scrapping the requirement that investors needed to show source of income. This preceded revelations in the Pandora Papers about Nepali tycoons maintaining offshore shell companies for money laundering.
This week, Human Rights Watch slammed Nepal Police for using excessive force that killed four squatters protesting eviction in Butwal.
All of this while the country is still reeling from what has been a disastrous monsoon season. Moreover, this week parts of western Nepal were hit with unseasonal downpours that dumped 500mm of rain in 24 hours in some places, killing at least 100 people, destroying roads, and wiping out 20% of the country’s ready to harvest rice.
Meanwhile, health experts across the country are on alert for a possible post-Dasain surge in Covid cases as families mingle during the festivals while the contagious Delta variant is still circulating.
Half of Kathmandu’s target population has been vaccinated but the rest of the country is far behind, and as such hospitals and limited medical professionals must be on standby, especially with the onset of the winter season. More than 1,000 ventilators donated during the second wave are just sitting on store-rooms in hospitals across the country.
The coalition government, however, has already set its sight on the 2023 elections but not on the fact that district hospitals have ventilators but no doctor or nurse to operate it, or that Nepal is yet to build a proper storage facility for vaccine for the inoculation of children against Covid-19.
Says pulmonary specialist Raju Pangeni at HAMS Hospital: “Our priority now must be to vaccinate children across Nepal after the holidays, and with only Pfizer and Moderna certified for the younger population, we should already be preparing for the required storage facility.”