Kathmandu streets look tired these days. Tired of battering, as the houses have been, or being taken down, in the road expansion drive. Roadside pavements muddied, while some unsuspecting walkers stumble upon the chunks of concrete that has fallen down from the felled buildings.
Tired look the people too, as they try to find their way through little walking space they get, as the pavements are almost covered by the houses that are being brought down. Tired of mundane lives; tired of being yelled at by microbus drivers and conductors; tired of being treated like nobodies; tired of being taken for granted; tired of existence; tired under the weight of their own unfulfilled expectations; and, tired of politics going nowhere.
Yes, the stalemate continues. Roughly a year ago, there was a buzz in the market, in office canteens, in public vehicles, in television and radio talk shows, in the tea stalls, in facebook updates, in twitter announcements. Baburam Bhattarai was about to become the Prime Minister. Dr Bhattarai, the one who had a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, was coming to the helm. The former Finance Minister, who had done a creditable job during his party president’s rein, was actually going to lead the nation. While everybody had filled social media with welcome messages and good luck wishes (and also their expectations from him), yours truly had tweeted, saying: ‘After all, BRB is Maoist first!’.
In all honesty, that remark was neither anti-Maoist, nor an attempt to tarnish his image. This only meant that he would hardly get a chance to go beyond the limits that his party sets for him. And in reality, we’ve seen that it turned out to be true.
A year later, it’s not only the people that are tired. It is him, the Prime Minister himself, who gives a worn look. Excuses are heard from him. He says, he tried his best others did not let him succeed. He talks of consensus, but hardly has been able to forge it. He talks of passing the baton of PM to someone else, but his critics say, he stuck to the seat of power.
When he became the PM, almost everyone (especially the media) was talking about the car he was going to take to office. It was a home assembled Mustang, and no fancy multi-million gas guzzling SUV. While a few criticized him for playing to the gallery, most people saw an honest politician and a nationalist in that. Incidentally, yours truly was interviewed (over phone) on a radio show in Australia. He had said, “I’d rather judge my Prime Minister from what he does, and not what car he rides on.”
When BRB came to the hot seat, his priority list read: 1) Peace & Constitution, and 2) Good governance. The former Maoist combatants are not happy with their integration process, as murmurs are heard within rank and files over being given a raw deal. Constitution was not completed, as the Constituent Assembly crossed its expiry date. Good governance can hardly be claimed as the capital faced two days of complete halt in public transport, some top civil servants resigned over promotion, and a murder convict Bal Krishna Dhungel (from PM’s party) is seen at public gatherings with top police officials and not behind bars.
Baburam Bhattarai has often said in past few months, of not wanting to stay on the seat. Perhaps he means it. Perhaps he’s not interested in that power anymore. Perhaps being in the seat of power is corrosive; corrosive to character and perhaps corrosive to the charm, demeanor. For, he knows that his charm has worn off. He’s not the driver to prosperity that he was once projected to be. The economy has not taken off like Usain Bolt. Rather, it is sluggish. More people want to leave the country for greener pastures than stay here create one here.
A lot has happened in past one year and most of it has not gone Bhattarai’s way. Also, because he’s not been able to convince his party to back him to the hilt. Following the recent division of CPN – Unified Maoists, most aren’t sure if he will have the backing of Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal anymore. His comrades have started questioning his ties with India, his loyalty (referring to BIPPA with India). A year ago, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind.
In 1970, he topped the SLC exams, appearing from a school in Gorkha, a rare achievement then. Now he’s at the head of the government, the top Executive post of the country. What has changed? Then he was the blue eyed boy whose future held a lot of promises. Now, the same man is under the weight of his own promises. The unfulfilled promises…
It is only natural that Prime Minister Bhattarai knows of his shortcomings. Of not having achieved what he promised. Of maybe, having promised too much. In a recent television interview, he appeared harangued, to the extent of dismissing every claim the interviewer was making. Worse, he was dismissive of the interviewer himself. At best, he looked irritated, not keen to answer.
A prime minister not wanting to answer his own people?
That’s a sight that keeps us disappointed…
PS: The write-up appeared in a fortnightly published from Australia – The Kantipur Times – on 15 August 2012