Unpopularity index : PM going the King’s way

Is state power so bad that it makes powerful people unpopular? What other impression should we derive, if not this, from what we have been witnessing of late?

The best example is that of King Gyanendra who became the most powerful man wielding sovereign, state and executive powers but who, in 15 months, made himself equally unpopular. Is PM Girija Prasad Koirala not following in the same royal footsteps by acting as the centre of the state and government and alienating one after another section of society as the King did?

PM Koirala exudes great conviction and confidence in whatever he expresses in public on public affairs. He is also well known for not listening to anyone and taking decisions on his own. Is that not exactly the same way the King acted and ran the show by not listening to anybody and deciding on his own during the royal regime? Will this common character lead them to the same fate?

Like the King, PM Koirala has a long list of moves that helped enrage the people one after another. First, he angered the parliament by agreeing to its dismissal under the 8-point understanding with Maoist leader Prachanda. But in the same vein he infuriated the Maoists by dilly-dallying to observe the same commitment under the pressure of his own Nepali Congress and other parliamentary parties. He again annoyed the parliament by claiming that it had approved ceremonial monarchy by consenting to the stripping of royal powers during the historic parliamentary declaration. It is as good as an interpretation that the King forwarded to justify his 4 October 2002 action of invoking Article 127 of the 1990 Constitution. Is it not the uproar in the parliament that prevented the PM from submitting the resolution on the descendants of the Throne, which the cabinet has passed? Did he not show over-enthusiasm in making the eldest girl instead of a boy eligible to succeed to the Throne?

He frustrated the King by stripping him of all his legislative, executive and judicial powers. But again he has infuriated the Maoists, the civil society activists, many parties and his own republican colleagues by refusing to abolish kingship. He added fuel to public anger by advocating ceremonial monarchy and imposing it on the people like the King tried to impose his version of ‘democracy’. He angered some members of the international community, specially US ambassador James F Moriarty and Indian ambassador Shiv Shanker Mukherjee, by pledging to take the Maoists in the interim government. Similarly, he displeased the Maoists by making their induction conditional on controversial arms management.

He incensed the Interim Constitution Drafting Committee by describing its task and product as of secondary importance. Its chairman, Laxman Prasad Aryal, retorted with a strong remark that Koirala was committing the “height of irrationality”. While forming the committee, the PM provoked the women and other deprived

classes to demonstrate against their exclusion despite the parliamentary proclamation of their inclusion in such official committees. The Prime Minister took the civil service by surprise in reinstating the suspended chief secretary who has not only proved to be a problematic official for the royal government but also for the Koirala government. The King paid a price for his fondness for him. Is the PM paying yet another price for it? The civil society is angry with the Prime Minister for taking it easy after whatever changes have happened following the Jana Andolan II. It suspects him of taking business as usual with the parliament restored, his premiership regained and his personal ambitions fulfilled. Is this not the same attitude of indifference and neglect the king adopted towards the civil society during his rule, trying to undermine them? The only difference is that the PM is accessible whereas the King was not.

The biggest blunder the PM committed was the way the fuel prices were hiked. He cannot blame his ministers for mishandling the whole issue and disown his personal responsibility for it. The King could have claimed the same for mishandling of public affairs during the royal administration. The spontaneous public protest for two days against the fuel crisis is the biggest and glaring testimony of the vulnerable position the Prime Minister is in.

The PM is also driving his alliance partners to their wits’ end. The top leaders of the seven parties are feeling very uneasy at the sight of the failure of the government in maintaining law and order, for which they have to bear the consequences as CPN-UML leader Madhav Nepal had to during the demonstrations against the oil price hikes. Does not this sequence of events resemble that of the royal moves that drove the people into mass demonstrations against him? What makes the PM believe that the people who turned against their king won’t do so against their PM? It is high time to ask who is with him and who is not against him?

Shrestha is a freelance journalist