Friday, 3 December, 2021

Leaders, Lackeys And Lapdogs

Leaders, Lackeys And Lapdogs

Yuba Nath Lamsal

A season of political jamborees has started in Nepal. Parties are set to hold mandatory national congresses. All major parties are doing their homework for their gala meetings probably within a couple months. CPN-UML seems to be ahead in this process. The UML is holding its national congress in Chitwan this month in which it expects to pull a crowd of at least half a million people on the bank of Narayani River. Other parties are to follow. Nepali Congress and CPN-Maoist Centre, too, have announced plans to hold their national congress soon.

As a precursor of the mega event, a political jamboree of the UML called the statute convention was held sometimes ago in Godavari, Lalitpur with pomp and fanfare. UML chairman KP Sharma Oli might have been carried away and thrilled by the presence of a large number of diehard loyalists and display of his big cut-outs in the conclave. However, he should not be mistaken by the presence of a few thousand people as a gauge of his popularity. For a party which boasts to have more than 800,000 organised and committed members, the gathering of a half million may not be a big thing. Other major parties, too, are capable of bringing similar number of people. Crowd pulling seems to be a new political game among parties to give the impression that they have strong popular base.

Misleading crowds
However, crowds are often misleading. They do not give true perspective of one’s popularity. Crowd sometimes symbolises popularity and sometimes hatred. Winston Churchill had similar perspective on crowd. After Britain-led Allied forces defeated Hitler’s army in the World War II, British Prime Minister Churchill was a real war hero not only in his own country but in the rest of Europe. When he was to address a mass meeting after the war, a huge crowd had gathered to hear what Churchill had to say. Pointing to the crowd, a diehard loyalist said how popular Churchill was. However, Churchill replied “they would be twice as big if gathered to see him hanged”.
Churchill’s party lost in the parliamentary election held immediately after the World War victory. Similar cases are in many other countries where political parties have lost elections despite the leaders’ high popularity ratings. Thus, there is a marked difference between perceived popularity and real popularity. In politics, popularity testing is often tricky.

Nepali Congress leader Krishna Prasad Bhattarai was a political celebrity nationwide in the immediate aftermath of the 1990 change. The then Prime Minister and NC chief Bhattarai successfully and to the best satisfaction of the people facilitated and coordinated the promulgation of a new democratic constitution and conducted general election in time thereby completing the political transition within the stipulated time frame of one year. NC won majority in the election under Bhattarai’s leadership. But he himself lost to the then UML general secretary Madan Bhandari in the 1991 election.

Similar case is with Maoist supremo Prachanda, who was the centre of attraction after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord between the government and the CPN-Maoist. A huge crowd used to gather to see him speak. As other parliamentary parties had been discredited owing to their misgovernance and misconduct, Maoists had been viewed as a better alternative in national politics. This popular sentiment was reflected in the results of the first Constituent Assembly (CA) elections in 2008. The Maoists emerged as the largest party, although still short of majority to form its single party government. In the first-past the post system, Maoist won 121 of the 240 seats but failed to secure majority due to the proportionate representation system.

However, Maoists, too, failed to live up to people’s expectations. Prachanda’s party fared miserably in the second CA election trailing a distant third behind Nepali Congress and UML. Even Prachanda lost from Kathmandu. Girija Prasad Koirala also fell victim to the hollowed impression of perceived popularity. Koirala dissolved the House of Representatives and declared fresh election in 1994 almost two years earlier than the scheduled one even when Koirala-led Nepali Congress had continued to command comfortable majority in parliament. Koirala, being starkly unable to keep his house in order, chose this gamble to marginalise dissidents within his party and teach them a lesson. The election proved to be suicidal for Koirala as the Nepali Congress lost election.

Ex-King Gyanendra, too, suffered from this syndrome with sponsored crowd and thought that people were with him. This fallacious belief gave him the courage to try to turn the clock of history back to the era of his father- King Mahendra, which proved him costly as the 240 year old monarchy was abolished. KP Oli seems to be following GP Koirala’s footprints and wants to remain unchallenged leader in his party even at the cost of party’s interest. Since senior leaders like Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Bamdev Gautam are already out of the party, there is none in the UML who could challenge his leadership. However, it remains to be seen how the UML under Oli’s leadership will fare in the next general election.

Flawed impression
Oli is under the impression that what UML achieved in the last general election was purely due to his popularity. His firm stance against India’s callous blockade and signing of the transit agreement with China were, of course, courageous acts which have reserved a special place in history. But that alone would not have ensured UML’s impressive achievements in the last election, if the communist parties had not been together.

KP Oli is still under the impression that he continues to enjoy popularity he once had. But that is not the case. In his second innings as Prime Minister, the act of issuing Nepal’s map incorporating Lipulek, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura has definitely added extra feather in his patriotic hat. However, he utterly failed to keep the party united. Lackeys and lapdogs have a greater say whereas honest and committed members have been sidelined. This is not an isolated problem of any particular party but a common phenomenon of all Nepali parties.

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily.