How Populist Agendas failed Nepal!!

Nepal’s political landscape has never been absent from political shifts since the abolition of the panchayat in 1990. The shifts created ways for populism to flourish as political leaders took their turns to proclaim the regime. Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli took the regime in 2015 when the country was going through its catastrophic phase with the promises of a better and independent Nepal. But, his supremo stance came crumbling halfway through his regime.

K.P Sharma Oli became the Prime Minister of Nepal for the first time on October 11, 2015, when the country was diving into a federal landscape with new regional demarcations and sub-autonomous governance. Moreover, the undeclared blockade on the southern border by India in the support of Madhes Andolan quickly dragged the country’s economy into a tailspin and even caused what was considered a humanitarian crisis. This revolt brought a strong anti-India sentiment among the general public and evoked a nationalist cascade. PM Oli rode the wave of nationalism and took a strong stand against India’s intrusion of Nepal’s internal affairs, even leading him to strengthen bilateral ties with the northern neighbour. PM Oli at this point emerged as the most popular nationalist leader in modern times.

PM Oli’s second premiership in 2017 came with more grandiose as the merged NCP garnered a two-thirds majority in parliament. He consolidated his position in several of his anti-India statements provoking and sinking Nepal’s relationship with the southern neighbour. The nationalist sentiment took a leap when the Nepal government released a new official political map with Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura as its sovereign territory. The proclamation of the disputed territory was termed as a unilateral gesture and deteriorated the historic alliance between the two countries. In addition to this nationalist/populist notion, PM Oli has recently leveraged on religion factor to strengthen his nationalistic stance even at the expense of communist principle towards atheisms. 

Behind all the shackles and drama in the polity, the real woes of Nepali citizen remain unattended; alarming rate of rape and sexual harassment around the country, an upsurge of corruption and nepotism, the misery of thousands of migrant workers and their journey to home in coffins, forsaken pleas of earthquake victims, and the recent pandemic. The economy is muddled, suffering the worst ever recession due to the pandemic. The feisty plans of Visit Nepal 2020 came crumbling and the tourism sector hit hardest with a 99.9 percent drop in tourist numbers in the month of May 2020. Moreover, most Businesses were shut during the 4 months long lockdown. Despite all the misery, PM Oli shadowed it through various political diversions and swirled the general public around his nonsensical rhetoric that chuckled some outbursts.

The political scenario of our country is the prime example of how ultranationalism shacks the real potential and possibilities of the nation in the whirlpool of diversions. PM Oli came up as a demagogic populist when he rode the tide of anti-India sentiment and Hindu state reinstatement followed by his authoritarian tendency to centralize the power around his residency in Baluwatar. As said by Michael Lind, “the best way to eliminate populism is to incorporate alienated constituencies into mainstream politics and address their legitimate grievances by sophisticated means.” Civil society should counter the ascending ethnocentric patriotism with one’s own speech and condemning the authoritarian trajectory. 

Correction: An earlier version of the blog stated the abolition of the monarchy in Nepal took place in 1990, which was inaccurate. In 1990, the panchayat was abolished.

Samana Lawati

Samana Lawati is a research intern at Samriddhi Foundation. She is currently pursuing her Bachelors in Business Administration from Shanker Dev Campus.

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