When strategies don’t work, they backfire

A misconceived strategy always backfires. The Nepali adage ‘one who digs a pit may himself fall into it’ appears to have come true to Prime Minister KP Oli. The merger of two key communist forces two years ago under his leadership put him in the spotlight. With a near two-thirds majority in the Parliament and gradual consolidation of power, his image only heightened among his supporters. For these reasons, he emerged as a great strategist. In retrospect, however, uniting the party in the real sense and using the consolidated power for wider public good were not his motive. Thanks to growing factionalism, worsening relations within the ruling-party leaders and nonchalance in government delivery, his strategies have corroborated to be nothing more than mere fancy.

His decisions to issue two ordinances on splitting a party and constitutional council last month did not only court controversy but also brought him ridicule from all quarters. How does easing a split in a political party become an 'execution of constitutional power' at a time when total effort is needed to ease the spread of the novel coronavirus? How can neutralising the role of the opposition party in the constitutional bodies, beyond the principle of check and balance, become urgent at this time of crisis? May be PM Oli is unable to rationalise these questions aptly.

Also, President Bidya Devi Bhandari, who is expected to play a neutral role, has seen her dignity fall as head of the state by seemingly colluding with the PM. Equipped with constitutional and political advisors, Bhandari, who herself emerged from a political power exercise, failed to uphold moral dignity by hurriedly approving the ordinances and repealing them in the same manner, without holding any consultations about the possible consequences.

Regrettably, a chief executive with a deteriorating image never augurs well for the country's well-being. A leader of his party (NCP), Janardan Sharma, was reported (in The Himalayan Times) as saying the PM's decision to bring the ordinances was "ethically and morally wrong". He went on to say that 'alleged abduction of Samajwadi Party-Nepal lawmaker Surendra Kumar Yadav also put the PM in bad light'. Furthermore, Yadav has publicly revealed the PM’s intention to make him a cabinet minister by splitting the party following the issuance of the ordinance. This ‘well-orchestrated’ drama further dampened Oli’s public image, adding one scandal after another in the spiral of many others since he became the prime minister.

What baffles those expecting some positive outcome from the PM’s tenure is his political maneuvering at a time when he has a wonderful opportunity to present himself as a statesman by working on providing relief to migrant workers and other needy people and devising post-lockdown policies related to our economy and public health, and managing the widening problem of unemployment. He could have held constructive interaction with the leaders within and outside his party. However, he called on main opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba only after the controversy over the ‘ordinance and abduction’ scandal flared. The meeting, however, was not productive in discussing and warding off the national challenges.

A strategy can be both manipulative and constructive. In a democracy, government strategies are expected to be devised and executed for delivering service and achieving development goals. Hence, all strategic actions are deemed to be constructive. In contrast, autocrats and self-serving leaders utilise it for buttressing their power to serve petty interests. Had the PM’s strategies been employed to ease the spread of COVID-19, resolve its repercussions and win the confidence of all the political forces to devise and implement development policies, they would have been celebrated publicly. Instead Oli’s actions have torn apart the aspirations of the people and his well-wishers.

As the PM, his priorities should have been within the limits of delivering the maximum by turning the bane of the coronavirus pandemic into a boon by setting forth some productive initiatives. Unfortunately, he gauged this difficult situation as an opportune time to bring the ordinances and disarm his opponents. These all happened when the parliamentary session was prorogued, and people were locked in self-confinement due to the lockdown and thus with a low possibility of them taking to the streets. Over time, his upended strategy of consolidating power to serve myopic interests at the cost of broader public well-being will prove costly for him, his party and the entire country.

When opportunity turns opportune for self-serving interests, it becomes disastrous. The media is flooded with painful stories about how internal migrants are making long treks over days to be home and how Nepalis stranded in foreign lands are expecting some help from the government. Instead of using this as an opportunity to regain the lost glory and build the nation through constructive politics, PM Oli seems only to be looking for ways to consolidate power.

There is no resilience and humility in his public dealings or even during the internal meetings. Rather, coercive terms, while attacking the media and his opponents, reflect his inherent traits in governance and transparency. Anyone who dares speak against his hollow announcements and claims becomes his enemy. In a recent example, he bashed the media for reporting about the plight faced by those returning migrant workers. No matter how powerful he becomes by securing his grip, the power gained by trampling upon the democratic norms and by going beyond the country’s needs will only backfire on him in the long-run.

Acharya is a lecturer in Journalism and Mass Communication, TU