Saturday, June 07, 2014

Our Indispensable Comrade?

The question is quite overdue. What makes K.P. Oli so indispensable to the success of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML)?
The party, afflicted by an identity crisis since birth, is struggling to maintain its relevance between the Nepali Congress and the Maoists. The eggheads in the party are deploying their entire erudition to craft a coherent party platform conforming to the times. Oli spends half his time in the hospital or in convalescence somewhere here or abroad. Worse, we don’t know what it is that really ails him. Yet, his party – at least a substantial chunk of it – sees in Oli its savior.
Yeah, yeah, he was among the earliest head-hunters in Jhapa, long before the Maoist perfected violence as a means to acquire power. We are also familiar with the legend of how Oli got to live when the Panchayat-era police ran out of bullets right when it was his turn to ‘flee to freedom’.
In the post-Madan Bhandari era, Oli is credited with providing organizational sturdiness to a party suddenly and tragically robbed of a charismatic leader. His tenure as home minister in the first UML government in 1994-95 is remembered as reasonably efficient.
Amid the party split three years later, Oli worked hard to contain the hemorrhage. (We don’t know how true reports were of his more personal involvement in restraining more would-be ship-jumpers.) Despite the war of words between the factions, Oli was instrumental in bringing back a chastened Bam Dev Gautam to the party with some respect.
During the years of royal assertiveness, Oli seemed to have a soft spot for the palace. At one point, party leader Madhav Kumar Nepal had to cut short a visit abroad to restrain Oli from joining the royal cabinet (even as its head).
Once the Maoists entered the mainstream, Oli was one of the few luminaries of the Seven Party Alliance who consistently questioned the former rebels’ commitment to peace and democracy. As deputy prime minister and foreign minister, he pushed that misguided attempt to get Nepal elected to the United Nations Security Council, almost equating it with a vote for peace and democracy.
Once the impossibility of that endeavor dawned upon him, he was palpably humbled. But Oli remained relentless against the Maoists. When Prime Minister Jhal Nath Khanal awarded the home portfolio to Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara while Oli was out of the country, Oli returned home to describe the move as a conspiracy against the party. But, then, others had indulged in far worse demagoguery.
Make no mistake. Oli’s background and experience make him a credible candidate for the party leadership. That he has so energized the rank and file is a tribute to his leadership qualities. But what about the rest of us? Don’t we need to know more on, say, where is he likely to lead from, especially since the premiership couldn’t be far off his sights? At least Girija Prasad Koirala was in his eighties when he wore that oxygen mask.