Murari Sharma: Prime Minister Koirala Should Learn, Not Lament

Prime Minister Koirala needs single-minded devotion to national interest, open mindedness, and the willingness to listen and appoint good advisors to learn on the job quickly and become an effective and successful prime minister.


Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s supporters, competitors and opponents alike have dubbed him as inexperienced and undermined him. He has taken it with grace, which must be commended. Recently, he conceded to his party workers that he did not have time to consult with them on the common minimum program and increase in petroleum prices. It was his humility, which ought to be appreciated.

But he should not let his inexperience ruin his tenure as prime minister. Neither should others interpret his grace and humility as his weakness and underestimate as to what he could do. With a few intelligent measures, he could prove to be a robust and successful prime minister.  

History suggests that a lack of experience could actually be a source of strength, not an impediment. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, did not have prior executive experience. US President Barack Obama and British prime ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron were in the same category. All of them learned on the job to make themselves good chief executives.  

In Nepal, several prime ministers in the last 25 years did not have prior executive experience — as a minister or as the chief of a public or private organization. Girija Prasad Koirala, Manmohan Adhikari, and Pushpa Kamal Dahal come to mind immediately. The lack of experience when they acquired the top post did not prevent Mr. Koirala and Mr. Dahal from becoming strong and Mr. Adhikari from becoming popular.   

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala should use the lack of experience as an opportunity. He can do so by pursuing the right approach – single-minded devotion to national interest and open mindedness — and the right help – from good advisors – to learn on the job quite quickly and become an effective and successful chief executive. 

An “Arjun dristi” on advancing national interest will never fail him. Even when he deviates for a second, the goal will pull him back to the pivot. Punya Prasad Dahal, my mentor and friend, who retired as Secretary of Industry and Commerce, used to say: Anything you do putting your country at your heart will never go wrong.   

No one is ever experienced as prime minister before he/she becomes one. One who comes to the job with an open mind tends to do better or vice versa. Prior experience could even be a drag for the top post. Baburam Bhattarai, a successful finance minister but a flopped prime minister, is a good example. His pre-programming as a minister significantly contributed to his failure as prime minister by giving him false confidence and closing his mind to new ideas and experience.

That brings me to securing the right help. Those who do not stand up for their principles may last but they do not enjoy respect and esteem. So Mr. Koirala should reach out to opponents whenever possible but must not compromise his principle for their support at any cost. He should listen to a cross section of people before making up his mind. And he must have a right pool of advisors to help him do his job.

Since the first two points are self-explanatory, let me focus on the third — building the right team of advisors.  Prime ministers often appoint their party colleagues and supporters as advisors to buy or entrench support. But such advisors do not add value by bringing a different perspective, one the prime minister does not already have, which is essential to succeed.

To get a wider perspective, the premier must appoint as advisors not only his supporters but also independents and opponents. US presidents consistently do it. So do UK prime ministers to a lesser extent. Jawaharlal Nehru of India had retained the British loyalist Foreign Secretary to reshape the foreign service, even though he knew the other guy was not his friend or supporter. 

Besides, Mr. Koirala ought to appoint those experts as advisors who have no other personal agenda – profit or post – to pursue by exploiting their access to him. Those who have such an agenda tend to provide advice or rig the system and information in their favor. And it will work against the premier, his party and the country at large. 

Prime Minister Koirala has already appointed some advisors. We know who they are and what they want. But in the remaining appointments, he should keep these considerations in mind.  

Some may argue that finding people not seeking personal profit or post beyond the advisory role might be difficult. I agree. But Mr. Koirala can overcome this difficulty easily. He should make it clear to the candidates that they would not get any additional reward for their work with him. It should be like barring the Auditor-General from doing private audit for the next six years after retirement. This measure will motivate the advisors to offer the premier an honest and sincere opinion, free of narrow personal interest.   

Girija Prasad Koirala followed this approach during his first stint (1991-1994) as prime minister. For instance, he appointed people like Dirgha Raj Koirala, a retired civil servant with no further ambition, and Krishna Khanal, a professor with no interest in executive positions to provide unbiased advice. His government proved to be  one of the most effective, efficient and forward-looking governments in Nepal’s history.   

There is no reason for Sushil Koirala not to succeed. He, like Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, is unmarried and free from the urge or pressure to build a prosperous future for his wife and children. He, unlike Mr. Bhattarai, is also his party’s president. He has won the leadership of his parliamentary party in a contest, fair and square. The main coalition partner – CPN (UML) – shares his views on major issues such as federalism and democratic governance. And the main opposition party, UCPN (Maoist), is quite weak in the house. 

These are unprecedented strengths for a prime minister. By using them, Mr. Koirala can easily become one of the most successful prime ministers of the democratic Nepal. He should take a page from the late US President Ronald Reagan, a somnolent and mediocre guy, who turned himself into one of the most popular and effective presidents of his country by keeping his mind open and by appointing the best people to advise him. 

Leftists say you should try to turn sorrow into power. By the same token, Mr. Koirala can convert his inexperience into strength by becoming a quick study, stopping lamenting about inexperience, and preventing his competitors and opponents turning him into a mat to his and to the country’s disadvantage.


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