On the Heap of a Crisis

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On the Heap of a Crisis

How Oli’s government responds to the current situation is very much likely to determine the course for NCP and the Prime Minister himself, in the days to come.

--BY Vishwash Thapa

Crisis does not come knocking at one's door. But it did this time.

While the world was gearing up to celebrate the onset of a new decade, Nepal’s northern neighbour and the world’s second largest economy China was coping with a crisis of ‘an unprecedented scale’.

Coronavirus, which was initially confined within Hubei province of China, started spreading its wings. By now, it has been declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) impacting more than 200 countries, areas or territories. And Nepal isn’t an exception.

Coronavirus (Covid-19) started making global headlines starting December 2019. Nepal government announced a nationwide lockdown from the fourth week of March sensing the severity of the problem which is why it is appropriate to say -- crisis, this time, came knocking on the door.

Given that the superpower United States and major European Union members like Italy, France and Spain, among others, are reeling from the outbreak with fatalities increasing by leaps and bounds, Nepal with its limited resources and capability has a tough task ahead.

And what’s more is that there’s little to seek from the international community and organisations as they continue to work on minimizing the damage at their end. Nepal saw a catastrophic disaster in 2015 when an earthquake measuring 7.8 in the richter scale shook the nation claiming the lives of more than 9,000 people. The unfortunate event showcased the vulnerability of Nepal in every forefront. From rescue operations to damage assessment and renovation works, the international community was visible everywhere. The disaster, however, was an eyeopener for Nepali individuals. Cut to 2020.

Nepal is facing a crisis that has impacted the entire nation at once. And how the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) government handles the situation will have a long term repercussion in its political standing. While the impact of the earthquake was limited to a couple of dozen districts, the impact of coronavirus has brought down the entire nation to a standstill and nobody knows, for how long.

Brewing Conflict
Chaired jointly by Prime Minister KKP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, ruling NCP was in the midst of an internal conflict when coronavirus was spreading its wings. Nomination of a new speaker had become a matter of serious contention between Oli and Dahal which divided the Central Secretariat comprising nine top-leaders including themselves.

It took months to settle the issue with Agni Prasad Sapkota being nominated as house speaker in the last week of January. Then it was the nomination of candidates for the upper house, specially the issue of central secretariat member and prominent leader Bam Dev Gautam.

This caused serious tension within the party with the executive head of the country, who had differences of opinion, being sidelined at the Central Secretariat, the most powerful party committee. Within days, Oli was admitted to the hospital for a kidney transplant. And by the time he was discharged and in dire need of rest, the world was crippled by a severe crisis caused by Coronavirus.

The Prime Minister therefore has remained at the backfoot when the nation is in need of a fierce leadership. The baton of leadership has been, more or less, given to deputy prime minister Ishwor Pokharel.

And, whatever has been done to contain the spread of this virus till date according to observers is not up to the mark. Observers have taken to social media to comment that the government has done little to prepare itself for the circumstances we have been living in today.

Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai’s comment that Nepal could be promoted as a Coronavirus free destination to attract tourists fuelled severe controversy. And Health Minister Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal’s leadership has done little to ignite hope and strength among fellow citizens. Former health minister and member of parliament Gagan Thapa has been vocal on the need of establishing a clear line of protocol for responding to the issue. WHO has time and again stated that the only solution to minimise the damage caused by this pandemic is ‘Test, Test & Test’. By this time, the country of 26 million population has succeeded testing less than 600 people.

Significance
The aspiration of the Nepali people that a strong government with nearly a two-thirds majority in parliament can be instrumental in changing the course of the country is facing a real test, observers say.

First, it has to be seen how the government responds to the current situation and works on limiting the spread of the virus. The lockdown, so far, has been instrumental. However, the failure of suspending international flights on time, many say, might have caused the damage. And unthought of results might be on its way.

From ensuring personal protection equipment (PPEs) to ensuring supplies of essential commodities, the government of landlocked Nepal needs to stand out and be decisive in the decisions and replicate those in action. The other brewing concern will be addressing the issues of migrant workers. Nepal’s economy is dependent significantly on remittance. It will be important to see how the NCP led government responds to hundreds of thousands of Nepali workers on foreign soil.

Finance minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada will have a herculean task while drafting the budget for the upcoming financial year. From prominent businesses to grassroot sectors, budgetary requirements will be huge. The government will also have to work on ensuring economic growth with adequate measures to meet the national demand. Economic measures that are expected to be taken within the near future, experts say, will be a litmus test not just for Khatiwada but the entire government.

In October 2015, when Oli was sworn in as Prime Minister for the first time, Nepal was in an adverse situation following an economic blockade imposed by India. Oli, some say, succeeded seizing this opportunity by holding a trade and transit protocol with China.

He also took the opportunity to establish a nationalist agenda which turned his image into a ‘charismatic and decisive’ leader. Oli’s popularity soared significantly.

And in February 2018, he rose to power for the second time. This time, he became supremely powerful. Unification of the then CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre) brought the Dahal led party on board to become a united front -- the NCP. The move was seen as another decisive decision of Oli in forging a development journey.

Two years down the line, the party has done little to woo its critics. Internal feud continues to persist with not just the co-chairs, but prominent leaders Madhav Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal, Bam Dev Gautam and Ishwar Pokharel among others flexing muscles. And amid this scenario, how Oli’s government responds to the current situation is very much likely to determine the course for NCP and the Prime Minister himself, in the days to come.

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