Miserable Failure Of Government – And Much More
Miserable Failure Of Government – And Much More
By M.R. Josse
The furious protests on Saturday and Sunday across the country following the government's announcement on Friday of a drastic across-the-board hike in price of POL products, some as high as 23 percent, led to the government having to eat humble pie soon thereafter.
In the event, by Sunday evening it revoked its instantly unpopular decision bringing the situation on the POL price front to what prevailed before its ill-conceived, ill-timed decision.
Apart from advertising to the world its sad level of competence, anticipation, planning and imagination what was also put on display was the essential fragility of the law and order situation not to talk of how chillingly close the nation seemed to come, once again, to the very edge of the precipice.
Although one had been informed several days in advance that the government was authorizing the Nepal Oil Corporation to raise prices of POL products substantially in order to cope with staggering back payments and a daily loss of some Rs. 20 million, it seems clear in retrospect that scant attention had been paid to what the public reaction to it all might be.
Equally disconcerting was to be reminded that the stalwarts that make up the Council of Ministers apparently had not a clue that they might be providing those who wish to fish in Nepal's still fluid and troubled waters an excellent, heaven-sent opportunity to do so.
Besides, for a government composed of seven parties that, day in and day out, claim to represent the people and to have no higher purpose than to serve their interest, it was a remarkable, if not surprising, eye-opener of the chasm that separates political rhetoric from the mundane realities of life that concern the hoi polloi.
Then, of course, there is no end to the string of absurdities and anomalies that were highlighted, one way or another. Take, for example, the fact that although the decision to so drastically raise POL prices was taken by the SPA government that did not stand in the way of the very same parties protesting it in the shrillest possible terms.
Equally revealing was the sorry spectacle of Industry, Commerce and Supply Minister Hridesh Tripathi attempting to pass on the buck of responsibility to Finance Minister Ram Saran Mahat for supposedly going against an agreement to do away with customs duty on diesel and kerosene – and Mahat's stout rebuttal of the same.
Observers were quick to note that Tripathi had to made a double climb-down having on the first day of mayhem and chaos on the streets promised to revise downwards the announced price schedule. The next day of course he had no choice, after a cabinet decision, but to go back to the status quo ante.
Incidentally, analysts did not fail to note Tripathi's repeated reference to NOC's bills to the Indian Oil Corporation and the latter's hint that it may not be in a position to fulfill future supplies if outstanding dues were not cleared urgently. While that may all be true, it did seem at odds with the prevailing mood across the country. Indeed, there were not a few who wondered if inordinate haste to cater to the interest of the Indian Oil Corporation did not block any sustained search of means other than a cruel price hike to set things right.
Be that as it may, while a good chunk of the demonstrating crowds – at least in Kathmandu – seemed to be composed of students, this time around too there was a visible presence of Maoist cadres that provided much of the muscle and manpower to drive the demonstrations. In many instances, it resulted in destruction of public and private property, not to talk of loss of untold man-hours of productivity and inconvenience with public transportation knocked out of service.
It did not seem as if "civic society" types were much in evidence this time around. One can only wonder why especially against the backdrop of their frequent claims that if it had not been for their efforts the post-24 April transformations would not have taken place.
But not many had any doubts that the threat on Sunday by the Maoists to enforce a two-day bandh if the government did not revoke its decision was one of the tipping points behind the two-day drama in misgovernance and protest demonstrations.
Another eye-opener for all and sundry from the stormy events of Saturday and Sunday, including its denouement, was the widespread perception that there was virtually no visible government worth the name.
Perhaps not surprisingly, too, the custodians of law and order seemed to lack the will to tackle demonstrators. Where a few attempts were made in that direction, their efforts seemed clearly to lack the vim and vigour of the past. Given the abuse that has been heaped upon them in recent times, including but not exclusively by the human rights sector, who can blame them?
Yet, that does raise very serious, even fundamental, problems for the future. Who will ensure that they, and even the Army, will do the needful in the future if that is called upon in the larger national interest? Already, there have been several cases of what seems to be a general breakdown in Army morale and espirit de corps. Can, or will, that be set right in time to avert a future catastrophe?
QUESTIONS FOR FUTURE
Although the House of Representatives joined the revoke-the-price-rise-decision clamour the pace, fury and uncertain direction of the public demonstrations of anger and frustration seemed to rob it of its proud claim to supremacy.
Apparently, it has no hand at all in shaping the government's decision for undertaking such a drastic price rise. All that it could do, in the event, was in the nature of a fire-fighting operation – and that, too, only after the initiative was seized by the public at large though various organised bodies, not all of them clearly identifiable.
In that context, I must confess that I was struck by the illuminating and blunt comment by Lilamani Pokharel, Janamorcha Nepal MP, who, speaking in parliament, warned that the fire on the streets could come into the parliament if the government paid no heed to the voice of the people. (Himalayan Times, 21 August).
Also, as RPP's Pashupati Shumshere Rana stated, if within four months of the formation of a democratic government the country has landed into the hands of the mob, the "fire" from the streets that Pokharel warned against could very well take place in the future.
Those incisive comments, in this analyst's view, clearly suggest the grim possibility that the much-vaunted 'loktantra' may quickly degenerate into a 'mob-tantra' if the requisite amount of caution and foresight on the part of politicians and others is not forthcoming.
While many observers have been intrigued why UML chief Madhav Kumar Nepal's house was targeted for attack by a bunch of yet unidentified hooligans, another question doing the rounds on the political circuit is how far, if at all, Prime Minister Koirala's fragile state of health and his less-than-hands-on-management of the hydra-headed government that he heads has been responsible for the mess that the nation witnessed.
The ad hoc nature of decisions made by the government was also brought into sharp focus when on Monday the Nepal Petroleum Dealers Association (NPDA) decided on a national basis not to sell POL products from NOC for the callous manner in which the government handled the whole affair seeming to place the blame on them for the price rise.
Indeed, it is a fact that Tripathi, in attempting to exonerate himself, had gone to the extent of declaring that the 3 percent commission NPDA dealers enjoy was one of the highest in the world and would be scrapped. No wonder they have thus reacted putting further strains on a public already burdened with day-to-day problems that the government shows no interest in resolving preferring to grandstand, fire people left and right, breast-beat, and spew stale rhetoric.
In short, anyway one looks at the resultant unpleasantness, one sees much more than a simple failure of government reflected the sorry, clumsy episode of the POL price rise and its abrupt revocation.