Prime Minister K.P Sharma Oli is habitually hyperbolic. It is evident in his speeches that he enjoys making exaggerated comments without any hesitation. Over the course of two years as prime minister, Oli has made various comments that have been topics of discussion, jokes and memes. While it may sound humorous to hear, one has to acknowledge that the comments he makes are as the head of nation. Parliament is markedly different from speaking before party cadres, Members of Parliament generally have specific queries and require focused, evidence-based discussions rather than political speechmaking. Oli often arrives at Parliament with heaps of notes but he doesn’t read off a script and tends to improvise as he goes along. This can lead to the prime minister getting sidetracked for an hour, rambling about something that struck his head rather than what he came to discuss. PM Oli does not need enemies. He has himself. By making statements that are superficial and insensitive, he rubs everyone the wrong way. The Prime Minister does not seem to care what anyone thinks.
While addressing a function on July 13 to mark the 207th birth anniversary of national poet Bhanubhakta Acharya, PM Oli accused India of cultural aggression and distorting historical facts. Oli said that Lord Rama was born in Ayodhya, which was near Thori in Nepal’s Birgunj—not in India — and that Rama was a Nepali. There was however, no concrete evidence to back his claim. Oli’s statement garnered quite a response, with leaders from his own ruling party describing it as “uncalled for” and absurd. After that farcical remark, the Foreign Ministry hustled to release a press statement that stated Oli’s remarks were not political and not meant to disrespect Ayodhya and its significance. In a situation where the Nepal – India relation is at a historically low point, the Prime Minister’s insensitive claims have percolated down not just to diplomatic arenas but also to the local level. A purported Nepali man based in Varanasi, was forcibly shaved and forced to chant slogans against PM Oli over the latter’s recent controversial statement on the birthplace of Ram. It is a matter of grave concern, the Prime Minister is thoughtless in his approaches that is resulting in problems not just the diplomatic circuit, but also in general public.
Oli’s style of speaking might have been tailor-made for the political circuit, but in Parliament and in a public sphere, it has wasted time and put a damper on the House business. Oli tends to ramble for hours and veer off topic, often resorting to lectures on subjects he personally knows little about. In most cases, Oli is wasting crucial time making unnecessary statements that are baseless. On June 10, Oli got up before the House of Representatives to answer queries on the new budget, but instead, he spent a significant amount of time talking about the coronavirus and the “immunity” of Nepalis. When opposition lawmaker and Nepali Congress leader, Gagan Thapa questioned Oli, asking him for the scientific evidence behind his claims, Oli openly ridiculed Thapa, while other party members laughed. Public health experts have categorically denied any medical or scientific basis for Oli’s claims that Nepalis have stronger immune systems. Again, a week later, when he appeared before the National Assembly on June 16, Oli once again want tangent for over two hours and made more unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of turmeric, ginger and garlic and how their consumption would prevent COVID-19. There is, once again, no evidence that turmeric, ginger or garlic ward off COVID-19.
The prime minister, while speaking, needs to understand that he is not just addressing lawmakers but also the citizens and even international observers. The way Oli speaks in Parliament might suit his personality but it doesn’t suit the executive head of state. Oli seems to be guided by the perception that controversial remarks are necessary to command attention. Although that is believed to be true in the political world, when addressing as Prime Minister, one must focus on what they are trying to say. Prime Minister Oli has already committed three blunders in dealing with India. The first mistake was speaking about India’s symbol Satyamev Jayate in an irritant manner, the second mistake is to blame India for hatching conspiracy to topple his government, which is baseless, and thirdly he committed a mistake by claiming that Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Ram lies near Birgunj of Nepal. Therefore, the Prime Minister must be careful about what he says, as the saying goes, ‘Reap what you sow, and speak what you know.’
Author: Prieyanka Neupane; Neupane was a junior research fellow at CESIF Nepal.