PM Oli has offered many ministerial berths to JSP so as to hold on to power even if the dissolved House is revived

Caretaker Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on Friday reshuffled his cabinet, offering eight ministries and two ministers of state to the Mahantha Thakurled faction of the Janata Samajbadi Dal (JSP). PM Oli has removed all ministers of his party – CPN-UML – except four, including Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel.

Controversial JSP leader Rajendra Mahato has been offered Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Urban Development with third rank in the cabinet hierarchy. Immediately after being sworn in as minister, Mahato stirred yet another controversy by saying that Nepal is a "multi-national" country, and the 'state should be carved out as per its ethnic composition'.

The major political parties had then dumped the idea of restructuring the country on federal lines as it would lead the nation towards disintegration.

PM Oli and his party have kept mum on Mahato's controversial statement although the opposition parties, including UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, who has now sided with the alliance of the Nepali Congress and CPN-Maoist Centre, have condemned Mahato, saying his statement would promote the country's disintegration. Out of the 20 JSP lawmakers who have supported the Thakur-led faction, PM Oli has offered ministerial berths to half of them so that he can continue to hold on to power even if the dissolved parliament is reinstated for the second time by the Supreme Court.

The Thakur-led faction of the JSP decided to join the Oli-led government after the PM agreed to meet some of their key demands, including the citizenship issue that has been on hold in the parliamentary State Affairs Committee for the last three years and withdrawal of cases filed against 120 leaders and cadres of the JSP. As per the recently introduced ordinance on citizenship, children of those who had earlier obtained citizenship certificates by birth will be able to obtain citizenship papers by descent. Earlier in 2018, Upendra Yadav, then leader of the FSP, had also joined the Oli-led cabinet after clinching a two-point deal. But he walked out of the government after the PM refused to amend the constitution.

This is the 16th cabinet reshuffle PM Oli has made since he came to power on February 15, 2018, after his CPN-UML emerged as the largest political force in the general election held in 2017. He has already changed 59 ministers during the three-and-a-half years of his tenure as PM. At one time, his government used to command nearly a two-thirds majority in the parliament. But it has now been reduced to a minority after the CPN-Maoist Centre, which came into existence following the March 7 Supreme Court verdict, withdrew its support to him. Oli, who came to power promising political stability and ushering in development, is now struggling for his own political survival after he engaged in one political adventure after another, alienating the senior leaders of his own party and failing to keep the now-defunct Nepal Communist Party united. After he made the cabinet reshuffle on Friday, opposition and constitution experts have flayed his move, saying it was against the constitutional norms when the parliament has already been dissolved and election dates have been fixed for November 12 and 19.

COVID in villages

The prohibitory orders are showing results, with the number of new coronavirus cases starting to decline in the major cities of the country. However, this might not be the case in the rural areas, where COVID-19 seems to be spreading alarmingly. The situation has been made worse because infected people are wandering freely in the villages, putting entire villages at risk of infection. It is natural for the government to be focusing on the urban centres, given the chances of the virus spreading quickly among a larger population. However, the coronavirus cannot be brought under control as long as someone remains infected somewhere in the country.

It is necessary to have the people in the villages adhere to the prescribed health protocols of wearing a mask while outdoors, washing hands regularly, and maintaining physical distance. The virus does not discriminate between urban and rural people, and when infected, a villager also has no option other than to visit a hospital, which might not be located anywhere near one's home. Thus, in the absence of medical facilities and health personnel, it is urgent that the people in the rural areas take all the precautionary measures to stay safe from the virus.

A version of this article appears in the print on June 7, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.