Besides language and shared history, the glue that binds the Nepali world is Dasain, which this year falls between 23-27 October.
It has traditionally been that joyous time of year when the harvests are in, the clouds part, and icy peaks reappear behind forested ridgelines.
It is the time for people to go home to their home districts, emptying out Kathmandu, and for the diaspora to return to the motherland. It is a time of renewal and hope.
Dasain is the season Nepalis can briefly take their minds off problems, of which there are many. A recent public opinion survey showed that Nepalis continue to worry most about jobs, inflation, health care, education for their children, and crumbling infrastructure.
Strangely, they do not complain about the government, perhaps because they do not expect anything from it. They have stopped grumbling about corruption because that is the way it is.
Politicians? Less said the better.
This Dasain, concerns about health and livelihoods have added to all the other burdens of society.
The pandemic is spreading like wildfire ahead of the festival, and health experts warn that the upcoming Dasain-Tihar-Chhat season will be super-spreader events, since they involve family get-togethers and large gatherings.
Covid-19 is moving from India’s cities to rural areas, Europe is bracing itself for a third wave, and the United States is suffering a sustained peak. Nepal was relatively unscathed for the first four months after the lockdown on 24 March. But Kathmandu squandered that lead, lagged in testing, turned poorly managed quarantine centres into incubators for the virus, and failed to learn from Tarai cities.
Countries around the world that have witnessed the wildest spread are ones with poor leadership and governance. Politicians were either in denial, or dithered. They underestimated a virus that had figured out how to exploit the human need to mingle, travel, connect and to spread through asymptomatic carriers.
In Nepal, the government has now surrendered to the virus. It has left it up to citizens to take their own precautions, and the main priority of the state seems to be keep the economy sputtering along, so that there is tax revenue to pay for government expenses.
Even when their inner circle is infected, leaders have failed to implement policies that would outwit SARS-CoV-2. Politics has become business as usual in many countries, including Nepal. The pandemic has actually created a ‘buffer’ for the Oli administration, masking failures in performance and delivery that were evident even before Covid-19.
At a time when it should be taking emergency measures to defuse the Covid-19 explosion in Kathmandu Valley, the main order of business for the ruling Nepal Communist Party(NCP) is still the one-upmanship between factions led by Prime Minister KP Oli and his rival, co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Even when senior advisers are down with the virus, and some ministers are hospitalised, they are still haggling over political appointees.
On Wednesday, there were some cosmetic changes to fill vacant ministerial posts, including that of the finance minister.
Still, the health minister, under whose watch Nepal bungled and flip-flopped on pandemic response, stays put. The Chair of the Covid-19
Crisis Management Committee is stripped of his defence minister portfolio, but is still calling the shots at the PMO, despite exposes of cronies involved in importing medical equipment and test kits.
All three new ministers inducted on Wednesday were Oli loyalists. In Karnali province, former UML members of the provincial assembly registered a vote of no confidence against the ex-Maoist chief minister.
The attempted ‘coup’ was foiled only after Dahal managed to get his ally Madhav Kumar Nepal to get his loyalists to withdraw support for the vote.
These events clearly show that the fragile ceasefire between Oli and Dahal is not holding, and the NCP is behaving like it is still two parties.
The leadership duo is now going be plotting seriously over the Dasain break to undermine each other. The pandemic be damned.