Murari Sharma: How Could Left Unity Affect Us?

Prime Minister KP Oli said that the united communist party will be like a jet aircraft that has tow pilots, not an auto rickshaw with a single driver. It was his response to a question related to two leaders co-chairing the merged Communist Party of Nepal. This left unity might lift or ruin our lives, depending on what the new, powerful party chooses to do in the days ahead.

The Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) have merged on 17 May 2018 to for the new party. Until the next party convention, the new party will have Mr Oli and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal will be co-chairs.

Communists of Nepal have earned a well-established reputation that they are better at splitting, rather than uniting. The Communist Party of Nepal (CPN), established in 1949, splintered into nearly a dozen and a half parties in the later years. Their mergers have proved less enduring than their splits.

One of the few enduring mergers has been between the CPN (Marxist) and the CPN (Marxist-Leninist) and the CPN (United Marxist-Leninist). Even though the CPN (UML) broke over the Mahakali Treaty with India, the splinter groups came together after a disastrous defeat in the general election. What will be the fate of the newly minted CPN without any adjective, when it has a two-thirds majority in the upper house?

It is hard to say for sure at this point because I don’t have a crucible to the future. No one has for that matter. Therefore, the only way to guess would be to look at the cases elsewhere. There are two examples in our own region: China and West Bengal.

Even though one might be tempted to use the example of China, it does not exactly fit our situation. China is still an authoritarian one-party-state politically, though economically it has embraced capitalism. Therefore, West Bengal is a more appropriate example here, because both Nepal and West Bengal have communist party rule in democratic societies with competitive politics.

Under the communist rule that started in 1977, West Bengal launched a series of land reform and promoted labor militancy. As a result, lost its economic ground considerably. According to Prof. Subba Iyer, West Bengal’s contribution to India’s GDP went down from 7.2 percent in 1980/81 to 6.1 percent in 2000-01 and per capita income from 1.02 times to 0.96 times.  The share of manufacturing slipped from 21 percent to 13 percent.  Infrastructure also suffered under communist rule, while there was some gain in poverty reduction, though less than Tamil Nadu. 

Communist leaders in democratic countries make populist land reform and labor militancy as their first port of call — a quick fix to please the poor and win the election. While land reform and workers’ rights are important to reduce poverty and promote justice, too much of them stifles growth and makes everyone poorer by hollowing out the economy. in the long run. If Nepali leaders also pursue this quick fix, Nepal will suffer the same fate as West Bengal, making Nepal and the Nepali people poorer. 

However, if the left government delivers on what it has promised, Nepal could be a blossoming country in next 10 years.  The promises have indeed been tall. As Prime Minister Oli has pronounced that Nepal will double its per capita income in 10 years, remove the blackout and tuin (single-rope river crossing), and rail connection to Kathmandu from India and China in five years, to name a few.

Policies and pronouncements often come up cheap, while their implementation is expensive and complicated. It requires strategic thinking, commitment, hard work, and perseverance for a prolonged period from government and people and sustained support from development partners. And external assistance depends largely on how major donors perceive the communist government.

India is not pleased with the communist government, even though Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to sooth the wound he had given to Nepal with his undeclared economic blockade in 2015/16 in support of the disagreement with the new constitution shown in the parts of the Terai plains. While India needs to work to slow down the Chinese inroads and continue to engage, Western countries are under skeptical about the Nepali communists’ commitment to democracy.

In this situation, the question now is whether PM Oli and his colleagues follow the path of West Bengal under the Marxists or do something more creative to ensure that the Nepali economy and society avoid the stagnation suffered by the Bengalis. Because the recently unified CPN commands a nearly two-thirds majority in the federal parliament, on the party will depend on the fate of Nepal for the next few years. 

The co-chairmanship of CPN will come with its own additional conflicts and perils. I hope it will be as short as possible and as little damaging as possible.

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Murari Sharma: Nepal needs to regulate transfer of power

The transfer of power has become a major problem in Nepali politics. It has demoralized politics, fueled economic recklessness, and increased unnecessary burden to the people and the country. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has continued that culture. It must be changed.

Have you ever given away something you love voluntarily? Have you ever given up your power at home or in office? I can tell you from my experience that it is incredibly difficult.  Some people stick to power and position forever, going to any extent.

Therefore, democratic societies stipulate specific period and procedure for tranfering power. Some countries have made them more specific than others. For instance, the United States holds its elections on Tuesday after 1 November and requires the transfer of power on 20 January.

Nepal’s constitution lacks such specificities. Therefore, Mr. Deuba has been exploiting the loophole while promising to resign after the elections are finished. I can understand Mr. Deuba’s stand. The federal upper house, indeed, is yet to be elected and obtain its full shape.

However, Mr. Deuba stands on a shaky ground. Even if he had resigned a month ago, he would have continued as the interim prime minister. Mr. Deuba is too smart not to understand it. Then, why has Mr. Deuba not yet resigned resign? While no one can read his mind, we can rationally speculate a range of motivations behind his procrastination.

First, Mr. Deuba expects to become prime minister again during the life of the recently elected federal house of representative if he can break the CPN (UML)-Maoist Center alliance. A coalition of his party, the Maoist Center, the Federal Socialist Forum, and the Rashtriya Janata Party will constitute a majority in the house. Therefore, Mr. Deuba thrown a bait to the Maoist Center leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal by supporting him for prime minister for the next five years. If Mr. Dahal takes the bait, if would be the eighth wonder if Mr. Deuba did not ask him for a roatation and become prime minister again.   

Second, Mr. Deuba has already reaped the benefits by not resigning. If he had resigned, he could not have forced President Bidya Devi Bhandari to sign the upper house election ordinance, which incorporates his choice, the single transferable vote system, not the first-past-the-post favored by the UML. Under the measure, his party will have a respectable representation in the upper house, otherwise impossible. Mr. Deuba might also be able to wangle one or two members to be nominated to it by President Bhandari.

Third, Mr. Deuba has already appointed governors and chief secretaries in the provinces the people of his choice. While there is no guarantee that the government waiting in the wing would keep them all in their positions, some of them may survive, which would be a major gain for Mr. Deuba’s party, which has not won a majority in any of the seven states.

Fourth, Mr. Deuba, by sticking to power,  could announce several populist programs on the fly, without costing them. For instance, he has reduced the eligibility age for the old-age pension from 70 to 65 and for the single or widowed Dalit women to 55.  In addition, he has been spending money from the state coffers to reward his cronies, friends, and supporters in one pretext or another. Even the Finance Ministry and Home Ministry have expressed their concerns about Mr. Deuba’s reckless populism.

However, the left alliance (UML-Maoist Center) is not free from its own shortcomings that have allowed Mr. Deuba to continue in power and take these reckless populist measures. Even though the alliance members have agreed on power-sharing in six states where they would form the government, they are yet to agree on it at the center.

This is not the first time a prime minister has clung to power even though he has lost the majority. Prime Ministers Girija Koirala in 1994 and Man Mohan Adhikari in 1995 dissolved the house and called elections, so they stayed in power until the election as interim. When he lost the majority, Mr. Deuba did the same in 2002, though he knew he could not organize the vote owing to Maoist disturbances. 

After the 2008 elections, Prime Minister Girija Koirala showed no signs of quitting from April to September. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala clung to power by breaking his agreement with the UML until it became untenable for him to do so on the face of the Indian economic embargo and opposition from the UML. K.P. Oli waited for a no-confidence motion to mature and resigned on the eve of the motion hitting the house floor.

Such examples demonstrate that they occur frequently. To prevent such maneuvering and resulting damage to democracy and the treasury, Nepal should introduce specific dates for the election and transfer of power. If the specificity of the United States is impossible to follow for one reason or another, it out to be a limited timefame, so it would not be stretched as an elastic.   

We lock our doors to prevent the well-meaning people to be tempted to steal. Similarly, we should put in place rules for checks and balances, so well-meaning politicians would not be tempted to stretch their power as an elastic. Firm rules and strong institutions are the locks of democratic politics that help secure our democracy and freedoms. 

Murari Sharma: This is what Chanakya would have said

Are you happy with the progress happening in Nepal? Most probably, you are not. I am not happy either. My unhappiness, like yours, is related to the lethargy, instability, lack of direction, corruption, etc. that we witness day in day out in the government. Yet, the country has been moving on spontaneously, with or without government intervention. It would be good if the new government becomes a positive force change. 

The country is on the cusp of having a new government. General elections for the federal and seven provincial legislatures have just been finished, and the left coalition of the CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoist Center) has won shy of a two-thirds majority in the federal parliament and comfortable majority in six out of seven states. Though differences remain among political parties regarding the election of the upper federal chamber, it will be sorted out one way or another. Therefore, it is time to focus on the future.

Already, the contours of the future have been spelled out in the victors’ election manifestos. For the future, the contours have already been drawn. The alliance members have promised heaven in their election manifestos. If the left coalition delivers only on half of its pledges, Nepal will have a successful economic take-off in the next five years. 

As many elements for the take-off are already there, the country is waiting for a big push to launch it. When I was growing up, I had to walk for three days to reach Dharan, the nearest motor head for my village in Bhojpur. My village had no piped water and electricity. My town, Dingla, had no college. Traveling and working abroad was a big deal. Going to the Terai involved the risk of malaria.

Now, those things have changed. You can travel to Dingla by sports utility vehicles (jeep), at least during the dry season. My village has electricity and piped water and my hometown has a college. Malaria has been eradicated in the plains. Now almost every house in my village has someone working or studying overseas.

On the national level, poverty has declined significantly and standards of living have improved. The people living below the poverty line was 41. 5 percent in 1984/85, 49 percent in 1991/92, and 25 percent in 2015. Income, education, and health services have improved, pushing the longevity to 69 years average (WHO, 2015).

Yet, there is wide dissatisfaction among my friends and compatriots about the country’s performance, especially in the post-1990 period. The country has been waiting for the big push for quite some time, but governments one after another have failed to deliver it. While the failure has been apparent in myriad areas of national life, it is nowhere as pronounced as in enduring political instability, rampant corruption, and anemic economic growth. 

In the post-1990 period, Nepal has suffered political instability as never before. Sure, you cannot and should not expect the panchayat era political stability because democracy is a managed chaos. Every few years, you have elections to change the government, but Nepal’s has been chaotic chaos, not organized chaos. 

No majority government has run its full 5-year course. The majority government of the Nepali Congress collapsed due to the factional fights during the first and the third parliament. The second parliament, as well as the first and second constituent assembly, were hung houses with the attendant frequent changes in government. In addition, we had the decade-long bloody insurgency launched by the Maoists in 1996 and the abolition of the monarchy in 2008, both of which rocked the country to its core. No wonder why from 1990 to date, we have had 24 prime ministers, excluding the cabinets presided over by King Gyanendra twice, and 10 from 2006 alone. 

Such political instability has promoted and nurtured a culture of rampant corruption. Corruption had been around during the panchayat era as well, but it had been limited. Only the royal family could engage in corruption without fear. Now it has been institutionalized and accepted as never before. The institutionalization of corruption is so deep that political bosses have been openly auctioning off public posts and contracts to the highest bidders. They have been appointing people, as ministers and members of anti-corruption bodies, who have been publicly known as corrupt. 

Now corruption has evolved as a badge of honor and basis for state reward. Pushpa Kamal Dahal has become prime minister twice despite touting his own corruption publicly in his 2002 video. Khum Bahadur Khadka and Jay Prakash Gupta received hero’s welcome when they were released from jail at the end of their sentence for corruption. 

As a result, Nepal’s best corruption perception index score has been 90 in 2004 and the worst 154 in 2011, while the rest of the years have been around 125. This is shameful.

Both the political instability and the rampant corruption have cursed economic growth. No prime minister has had long enough time to see his vision implemented for five years. Consequently, the growth rate has suffered over time as well as in relation to other countries. According to the CEIC (a Euromoney Institutional Investor Company), from 1965 to 2016, Nepal’s growth has crossed 7.5 percent thrice, twice before 1990 and only once in the post-1990 period, which does not speak well of the success of democratic governments to deliver economic growth. 

Similarly, Nepal’s economic growth has been lackluster in relation to other countries as well in the post-1990 period. China grew by double digits until it has decelerated in the last few years. India grew close to double digits in the same period. Bangladesh, the sick man of South Asia, has grown by around 7 percent a year in the post-1990 period overall and at around 13.7 percent on average in the 2007-17 period. Bhutan has done much better than us as well.

Despite these ailments in the public sector, people have been taking private initiatives to push the country forward when the government has not worked as an obstruction. For instance, after the government relaxed restrictions on passports and foreign exchange, people have been going abroad for employment and studies, sending back remittances, and bringing back skills, which have contributed to Nepal’s growth.

The remittances have mitigated poverty and kept its balance of payment favorable. The skills have contributed to employment and productivity and unlocked entrepreneurship. Private schools, colleges, clinics, and hospitals have cropped across the country. Growing cash crops has come into vogue. Building local feeder roads have become an obsession, and most people have access to mobile phones, and most towns have Internet connections.

In other words, things are happening in Nepal, though the contribution to them from the government is minimal. Everyone in my village now wears shoes and flip-flops, travels by road, and send their children to school. Of course, the condition should have been much better. I only hope the next government, elected under the new constitution, will be a positive force for political stability and economic growth and an impediment to corruption. 

We, ordinary people, should continue expressing our dissatisfaction, so the king (ruler) would, as Chanakya has said, lose no time when the opportunity waited for arrives. The left alliance should seize the opportunity.

Murari Sharma: Deuba’s India Visit that should not have happened

Your real friends are those who tell you the truth, good or bad. In Nepal’s political culture, you take those as friends who flatter you. But they are fake. I will talk about Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s just concluded 5-day India visit as his real friend, not fake.

His fake friends have lauded Deuba’s India visit as a grand success and, wrongly, of the same level of as Girija Prasad Koirala, whom his Indian counterpart Man Mohan Singh had welcomed and sent off. I understand their motivation and sympathize with them.

But my view, as a real friend of Deuba and as a non-partisan individual, Deuba would have been way better off if he had not made this visit. Why?

Deuba’s achievements from this visit were puny. But his mistakes were monumental.

The eight memoranda of understanding, which were signed to allocate the $100 million housing grant that India had committed after the 2015 earthquakes, were insignificant. The bureaucratic or ministerial level could have allocated those funds through mutual understanding.

For starters, four were related to the construction of buildings in the education, health, culture, and housing sectors. The fifth related to the construction of the Mechi Bridge, sharing the cost with the Asian Development Bank.

Other three understandings covered demand reduction and supply prevention of narcotics and precursor chemicals, uniform standardization of products and services, and cooperation between the Institutes of Chartered Accountants.

In other words, Prime Minister Deuba’s routine India visit produced commonplace positive results. At the same time, it resulted in monumental mistakes for Nepal.

Among several of such mistakes, let me cite the main two: The understanding on the Saptakoshi High Dam and the commitment to amend the Constitution.

First the High Dam. US President Donald Trump would have called the understanding a disaster. If the dam is built, districts from Sindhupalchok to Morang will sustain unspeakable damage in two ways.

First, the dam will raise the level of water in the seven Koshi Rivers and their tributaries, submerge millions of hectares of agricultural and forest land, and displace millions of people along the river basins all the way to Sunsari and Morang.

Second, landslides will be more widespread and common, as the water level in the Koshi Rivers and their tributaries will rise and make the already fragile hills even more vulnerable.

India had sought this project for the last 40 years. But all previous government had refused to compromise on this disastrous project until Deuba signed on it. If the old Koshi and Gandaki agreements were sellouts, as many believe they are, then the understanding on the Saptakoshi High Damthey will dwarf them in comparison.

Regarding the Constitution of Nepal, I found one major shortcoming and one major mistake. The shortcoming: Deuba could not win India’s support for the Constitution of Nepal despite doing everything to amend the statute and selling out his soul on the Saptakoshi High Dam.

The major mistake: Deuba allowed India to reflect its reservation on Nepal’s Constitution in the joint statement.

I heard or read some of my wise friends say that nowadays countries do take interest in each other’s affairs and that the November 2005 agreement, brokered by India, has given New Delhi the privilege to interfere in Nepal’s internal matters.

On the first point, Nepal has never raised the issues of Kashmir or Darjeeling and sought to include them in any joint statement. For that matter, Taiwan or Xinjiang. Why should it be OK for Nepal to accept the mention of a purely internal matter to be reflected in a bilateral statement?

On the second, by sending its troops, Nepal had helped India quell the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 and the riots after India’s partition. Can, therefore, Nepal claim that it has the privilege to speak on Kashmir or Darjeeling?

Deuba seems to have forgotten that he was visiting India as head of government and leader of the legislature. It was his duty and obligation to defend the government and the legislature. But he spoke and acted on the issue of the Constitution as the leader of his party, the Nepali Congress.

Both the UML leader KP Oli and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal rightly criticized Deuba for raising an internal issue of Nepal in a foreign country and letting the neighbor call the shots so soon after the legislature had rejected the amendment.

I do not even need to talk about Deuba’s failure to sort out the differences between the two countries on the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project.

Besides, the time of the visit was inappropriate both internally and externally. Internally, Prime Minister Deuba visited India without even appointing the full line of ministers and without adequate preparations. If the new state and assistant ministers had anything to contribute to enriching Nepal-India relations, they had no time to do it.

Externally, Deuba visited India at a time when the Dokhlam Dispute has been burning between India and China. He could have used the India visit to establish Nepal’s neutrality, but he ended up siding with India. It might have long-term negative consequences to Nepal.

In other words, Nepal would have been better off without Prime Minister Deuba’s recent visit to India. The visit produced insignificant benefits and monumental mistakes.