Every now and then members of public slap the face of politicians venting their anger against them. Some people believe that horoscope has something to do with the recent incidents as the names of both who were slapped – Jhalanath Khanal (JNK) and Jhakku Prasad Subedi – begin with the alphabet ‘jha’. Some even smell a conspiracy. If so, who could have hatched the plot other than Madhav Kumar Nepal (MKN). His enmity with both is no secret. While Subedi from UCPN (Maoist) defeated him in the Constituent Assembly election, JNK is his rival within the party. Nevertheless, MKN is lucky that times are so different from the Dasdhunga-accident days that a slapped JNK, not he, is now on the defensive.
JNK’s election to prime minister in a long drawn parliamentary battle was a mixed result of two variables, chance and design. Maoist Supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal whose game to quell at any cost the possibility of his deputy Baburam Bhattarai becoming prime minister (PM) bestowed windfall to him. JNK’s inter and intra-party rivals were at a loss when Dahal, contrary to their calculation, suddenly withdrew his candidature to support him, hence they couldn’t work out a unified and quick counter measure. An obliged JNK agreed to return the favor by secretly signing a controversial pact known as the 7-point deal with Dahal, which met with fierce opposition from his own party CPN-UML as well as others as soon as it was made public. But the PM wouldn’t repent; on the contrary, ever since, he has chosen to ignore, sometimes even to confront the party directives.
Hostilities are taking nastier turns; now he has fewer supporters in his own party that ranks #3 in the House; most of the opposition parties that include the #2 Nepali Congress (NC) severely mistrust him and even Maoists are divided, like in other issues, over the time and type of allegiance to be rendered to him. Except for the brief, ambiguous and controversial 7-point deal, even a common minimum program could not have been agreed between the ruling parties. PM’s job has confined to attending ceremonial functions and his coalition partner’s job has circumscribed to agree every time, with great difficulty, on new candidate(s) for ministerial berths to represent their parties and/or factions. After four rounds of cabinet expansion that took three months to conclude, his ministerial team is still not complete.
All along, the nearly 100 days old JNK government has been unable to deliver and/or make improvements on every front, whether it is protection of life and property of the citizens, improvement in the state of lawlessness, peace-building, constitution writing, curbing corruption, delivering service to the people, taking the opposition into confidence, managing dissidence in his party, motivating Maoists to transform into a peaceful, democratic and civilian party or safe landing the protracted and painful political transition, you name it. His supporters often argue that he didn’t create those problems. True, he inherited (many of) them. But the same can be argued about every former PM including the immediate past MKN who JNK blamed as being unable to forge national consensus, besides other failures. He, who parroted the need for national consensus 24×7 when MKN was the PM, hardly mentions the word now that he is in the hot-seat.
JNK neither possesses the guts to implement the party decision nor the skills to persuade his party on what he thinks is right. He has a track record of cancelling, halting or postponing party meetings to avoid questions and criticisms.
Now, more people and parties, including his own party men, are angry with him as they were with MKN. And, all of them can’t be dismissed as opportunists whose self-interests haven’t been met; in fact, majority of them are products of his faulty working style. Party bodies at every level have passed or endorsed resolution that the portfolio of home ministry be not given to the Maoists, at least until they demonstrate some genuine efforts toward peace-building. The resolution is not without justification no matter who, supporter or opponent, first proposed it. Just the other day, much like the infamous Shaktikhor video tape of two years back, an audio recording leaked to the media was played by BBC Nepali service in which the hardliner party secretary CP Gajurel can be heard explaining his cadres the reason to take home ministry, which, he says, is to launch rebellion by assuming control of the armed police force.
If, despite all this, there were valid reasons to entrust the Maoists with the portfolio, the PM should have convinced the party seniors. He opted not to do so and instead quietly defied the decision that was made under his own chairmanship. In fact, JNK neither possesses the guts to implement the party decision nor the skills to persuade his party on what he thinks is right. He has a track record of cancelling, halting or postponing party meetings to avoid questions and criticisms. This time he went one step further. As he knew the party will react sharply on this issue, which it is doing, he chose a time when not only his most vocal and powerful party rival KP Oli was abroad but also when he himself was just about to leave for a foreign trip. His assumption is that the reaction will cool by the time he returns. Here flees he, whose favorite catchphrase has nowadays shifted from national consensus to ‘Arjun-drishti’ (intensely focused sight) at peace-building and constitution writing, to chair a week-long international symposium that could have been done by any of his multiple deputy prime ministers.
JNK has failed in managing the political transition by taking opposition forces into confidence without losing the trust of the coalition partner. He has also failed miserably in micro-managing day-to-day governance. Here are some examples: All public utility services are under performing but he doesn’t bother. The biggest and best equipped cancer hospital of the nation remains shut for weeks on account of partisan wrangling but he fears to intervene simply because Maoists are involved in it. The whole nation has been crippled by severe shortage of petroleum since one month, a situation which could have been avoided if the price were revised, but he dares not do lest some people might oppose. Inflation has sky rocketed, and he tries to table a supplementary budget or prepone an annual budget at the behest of the Maoists, aimed at providing quicker relief to tax cheaters and appropriating budget on populist and wasteful programs.
Problems that deserve his attention and actions are just too many, too severe, but he prefers a flight approach to fight on everything. However, make no mistake, he can take a bold decision like giving the home ministry to the Maoists in order to cling on to power. The days ahead are dangerous to say the least.