Nepal has remained under lockdown for more than a month, and the aftereffects of the lockdown can be seen almost everywhere. Globally as well, the lockdown has created waves of political, economical, social, psychological, and health complications. Coronavirus has killed more than 210 thousand people across the globe and the number of affected has crossed three million. Still, the fire is raging. The rate seems to have slowed down but it is still too early to say if it will die down or this is a pit stop before the race restarts all over again.
As of May 1, 2020, Nepal has remained comparatively safe from COVID-19, with 59 positive cases, 16 recoveries and no deaths so far. The increase in testing is sure to increase the number of positive patients in the coming days. People are scared and have remained inside their houses, going out only in emergency cases. But how long will people stay is the moot question? With each day of closure, the country is losing millions and we have already closed the country for 40 days.
Nepal underwent lockdown from March 24, with a complete shutdown of transportation. With the transportation shut down, people who had been traveling to different places within the country were unable to go back to their native places. With the lockdown extending not once, twice or thrice, but four times, some of them decided to return on foot, taking perilous journeys for weeks to be with their families. In the village, even if there is poverty, there is a social safety net in their community, in their family and extended family. In the city, they are no more than a working body. There is a chain that connects them to their families in their villages. They were not here earning for themselves. They are here earning because they need to support poor families in their villages.
During the lockdown, the government seems to not to have given a thought to policy preparations, to system preparation, to getting in place the Disaster Management Act to making sure that any kind of human crisis did not happen. Lack of foresight and lack of preparedness is clearly seen in the government when it had ample time to prepare itself for it as Nepal remained with only one COVID-19 positive patient for two months. We did not even have mechanisms to have personal protective equipment for our heroic frontline health workers in place until local people came up front and started production.
The apathy shown by the government towards its citizens in the time of crisis shows that it does not have a right plan in combating the pandemic, which was clearly seen on how the people had to play with their lives to reach their homes. The situation eased only after the Supreme Court ordered the government to. It does not have any communication with other political parties nor with the local and federal governments to assist in relief and operations. No coordination was seen at all. Instead, the local representatives themselves rose to the occasion to educate, monitor, and help people at the grassroot levels with available resources in hand and a few resources they received from the federal government later.
When the government implemented lockdown, there was no clear roadmap as to what they should do after the people were in their homes. The first two weeks were wasted away, with the government unable to procure the necessary medical equipment. Once it did, a huge hole of corruption came out. Even in the time of crisis, there were players who did not hesitate to lynch people off their money. An example is of the Honorary Consul of Kyrgyzstan who was found to be selling thermal guns at record high prices.
The prime minister, instead of focusing on how to deal with the pandemic on hand, played a poltical card, which misfired. His untimed ploy to try to break other parties now has him in a shaky position in the current Nepali politics. Not only has the PM lost the trust of his own party leaders but also of the Nepalis globally, who have been watching him since he took the chair as the most powerful person of the country. Now, many believe that the Prime Minister with his new plan to make Bam Dev Gautam as the next PM of the country, is just extending his premiership because no one knows when the Coronavirus pandemic is going to slow down.
With weak governance and, therefore, a low approval, PM Oli’s search for legitimacy and power turned towards politics. He attempted to divide the Madhes-based parties, particularly the Samajwadi Party Nepal (SPN) and alter the power equation in Province 2 through a new ordinance amending the Political Party Act, which would have allowed any party to split after a 40% support either in the parliamentary party or in its central committee. The SPN did experience the blow first hand; seven of its 17 MPs, led by lawmaker Renu Yadav, seemed to come together to split and form a new political party. In a precautionary move, however, the Rastriya Janata Party (RJP) and the SPN—who had long been in a negotiation for a merger—united to form Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP), which ruined the 40% dream of the Yadav-led faction. On April 23, the new merger beat the Samajwadi-split group and applied in the Election Commission for registration as one political party. This meant that the splinter group could no more make the required 40% of the new JSP to form their own party, and Oli’s Madhes strategy did not just fail but backfire.
Along with the Political Party Act, Oli proposed amendment to the Constitutional Council Act which says that if the first meeting of the council fails to take a decision, the next meeting shall be called within 24 hours and decisions will be taken based on majority votes of the members present in the meeting. This amendment will give Oli the upper hand, as he can almost all the time have decisions in his favour. This step by the Prime Minister is a way to control the judiciaries and make the members of the constitutional council redundant, thus closing any impeachment threats , if any. PM Oli does not trust anyone, which has been clear by all his maneuvers.
Bringing these two acts on the amendment table, PM Oli clearly showed that he is not serious on saving people’s lives but on attacking the fundamentals of democracy and parliamentary system.