Ritu Raj Subedi (30 September 2018) – On domestic front, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli faces criticism from various quarters, including the leaders of his own party for the ‘lackluster performance’ of his administration. When ruling Communist Party of Nepal’s (CPN) leader Madhav Kumar Nepal roasted the Oli government to the applause of opposition lawmakers in parliament Thursday, his leader Oli shone in the United Nations General Assembly with his unscripted yet powerful speech that has drawn praises from cross-cutting sections of people at home and abroad.
One may wonder how PM Oli fluently, correctly and confidently spoke in English. His around half-an-hour long speech was also rich in themes, choice of diction and message. His critics, who have been deriding him for not having university degree, must have been silenced by his flamboyant English speech, vast knowledge of international politics and high confidence that he demonstrated in the gathering of global leaders.
Just look at some sentences of his extempore remark: ‘It is a telling testimony that dialogue triumphs the differences; and ballot triumphs the bullets.’ ‘Nepal has responded to every call, even at the shortest notice, and without national caveats.’ The first sentence is about the country’s successful peace process and second one was made in context of Nepal’s unflinching support to the UN peacekeeping mission. Nepal’s PM utilised the UN forum to highlight the country’s landmark political gains and also to sell its homegrown conflict resolution approach.
With Oli’s rise in Nepal’s politics, the country witnessed significant socio-political changes. He was a catalytic force behind the promulgation of new constitution in 2015. During his first premiership, he stood up to the Indian embargo imposed on the Himalayan nation immediately after the devastating Gorkha earthquake. This transformed him into an influential nationalist statesman after BP Koirala and king Mahendra. He led the historic unification between CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre to pull off resounding victory in the three-tier election held last year. He now leads one of the strongest governments in history with sweeping popular mandate.
Oli has indeed lived up to the country’s independent image in his address to the 73rd UN Assembly. His speech began with illustration of the nation’s iconic symbols: ‘I bring greetings and best wishes from the Land of Buddha and Sagarmatha also known as Mount Everest for the success of this session.’ He told the international community that Nepal has now ‘emerged as a confident nation, capable of sustaining political gains and undertaking a course for economic transformation.’ He sought the international support to realise his vision of ‘Prosperous Nepal and Happy Nepali’. However, he said that foreign support will not be accepted at the cost of national sovereignty and right to self-determination. “……when external support measures respect national ownership and leadership, are aligned with national priorities, come through national system, while they help build productive capacity, job creation and develop human resources.” This reminds us of BP Koirala’s similar speech delivered in the 15th UN Assembly in 1960: “We welcome and we are grateful for the help that is being given to us by friendly governments of India, the United States, the USSR, China, the United Kingdom and others as well as by this world organization, we do not want any other country to tell us how we would think, or how we would conduct our internal affairs.”
Oli’s line of thoughts marks a clear departure from the previous governments that bowed to the conditions that came with foreign aid, loans and grants. While blindly pursuing neo-liberalisation policies, virtually all post-1990 governments compromised on national policies and ignored domestic context and realities to accept foreign financial support. These policies destroyed public enterprises and stalled the industrialization process with the shrinking of the role of government. In a globalised world, it is really challenging to maintain national sovereignty when corporate agencies attempt to limit the governments to managerial role. Against this backdrop, Oli wants to make sure that donors must respect the country’s sovereignty and pay attention to the national needs. But the question is: Can his government walk the talk given that the country is facing economic problems and undue geopolitical pressures?
PM Oli said that the country’s foreign policy is to ‘maintain amity with all and enmity with none, which has shaped its independent outlook on global issues which we consider on merit basis.’ To boost regional cooperation, Oli called for revitalising SAARC as an important regional organisation. According to him, the LDCs are not getting support committed by different government and donors, despite the record performance of global economy. He was critical of those countries responsible for the global climate changes that have hit the poorest and the most vulnerable countries, like Nepal. Nepal has started feeling the heat of climate change with the melting of snow-capped mountains. “It is an unpleasant irony that we have been victim of the catastrophes that we did not contribute for its causality,” said Oli.
PM Oli is for preserving the sanctity of multilateralism and respect for international law, an idea that effectively challenges US president Donald Trump’s problematic foreign policies hell-bent on dismantling the existing multilateralism-guided international order. To the disquiet of world community, Trump, in his UN address, rejected the ‘ideology of globalism’ in favour of the ‘doctrine of patriotism.’ Nepal’s emphasis on inclusive, just and fair international system is laudable at a time when the world is pestered by the Cold War era-like tension, trade war and dangerous impacts of climate change. Still there lies a question: Can the voice of small countries like Nepal be counted in the clamour of Big Powers? The answer is ‘Yes’ if one believes in the logic of BP Koirala. He said the small nations can play a very constructive role in the international affairs. “Our physical strength may be negligible, but our moral strength, if we are true to ourselves and the people for whom we speak, may be great,” Koirala told the world leaders embroiled in nasty Cold War.
This article first appeared in The Rising Nepal.