It is wholly in keeping with other contradictions in Nepal Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli’s political career that he should have emerged victorious from one of the country’s most divisive campaigns to lead a rainbow coalition of parties with everyone ranging from Maoists to royalists and Nepal’s hill elite to Madhesi parties in it.
What is his aim?
During the 2017 campaign, he often targeted India, and by extension, the Madhesis who claimed support from India. In March 2017, after the Oli-led Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN- UML) launched its election campaign, several Madhesi activists protested, and at least three were killed in clashes at Rajbiraj. But as Prime Minister, Mr. Oli, whose coalition won two-thirds of the seats, has made India his first visit abroad.
At home, he is trying to build a maximalist government, winning the support of Madhesi parties like the FSFN and the RJNP that he is expected to support in the provincial government in turn. In an interview to The Hindu, Mr. Oli claimed that not only had he won 88% of the votes in the confidence motion in Parliament, “most other members” would have liked to vote for him too, if they had not been bound by party norms. It is an irony that Mr. Oli, often seen as the rebel within his own party, now strives for the mantle of Nepal’s most widely popular leader.
What is his politics?
Called Dhruba as a child, Mr. Oli grew up in eastern Nepal’s Jhapa, brought up by his grandmother after his mother died of smallpox when he was just four. As a teenager, he took part in the ‘Jhapa revolt’ or the peasant uprising against landowners in 1967. At 18, he signed up for the Communist party, and was almost immediately arrested. Now an ultra-nationalist, he was once a part of ultra left-wing plots against Nepal’s elite, inspired by India’s Naxal movement. Although he rarely refers to his time in and out of prison, where he spent more than 14 years, his associates say he was moulded by his experiences there.
“He has learnt to count on himself more than anyone else, even if that makes him a loner,” said one journalist who has known Mr. Oli for decades. He also taught himself in prison, and while he never completed a degree, he made himself conversant with philosophy and history and fluent in English by reading.
Is he pro-India?
Mr. Oli was released in 1987 and formed a front that brought down the Panchayat regime, and later launched the CPN-UML. In the 1990s, Mr. Oli gained administrative experience as Home Minister and also played a major role in supporting the Mahakali water-sharing agreement with India. The CPN-UML split over what it called an unequal agreement, but Mr. Oli remained an outlier. He was seen supporting a pro-India stance, a far cry from his more recent role against India during the promulgation of Nepal’s Constitution, and the four-month economic blockade that followed.
What happens next?
According to supporters, he is the most energetic leader they have seen for years, though the 66-year-old has had several health problems, including a kidney transplant in 2007 in Delhi.
But the most curious contradiction remains one of his faith. Ideologically, Mr. Oli is no more the young radical youth of the 1970s.
But he will preside, according to plan, over the merger of his party with Maoists on April 22 to create a unified Communist Party of Nepal. He balances his communist beliefs with a hearty dose of religiosity, including attending all religious events and frequently quotes Sanskrit slokas. Asked whether he felt he faced more challenges ahead, Mr. Oli said he feared nothing as long as he “had the blessings of Pashupatinath.”
Perhaps as an acknowledgement to his earlier motivators Marx and Lenin, however, Mr. Oli took his oath in the name of the Nepali people, not God as is the norm, when he was sworn in as Prime Minister.
(Adapted from The Hindu)