Nothing perhaps symbolised the waffling and thumb-twiddling in Nepal's present political leadership as much as the answer Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba gave at a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Colin Powell last week. Powell had just finished underlining the importance of improving governance and curbing corruption, when a reporter asked Deuba how he was going to address those issues.
In a classic case of passing-the-buck, our prime minister replied that there was the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). Good thing he didn't use the acronym, otherwise Colin Powell might have thought for a moment that Deuba was seeking help from Langley HQ to apprehend Nepali kleptocrats.
Deuba reminded us of the fox guarding the hencoop saying there is no need to worry because a rabbit is keeping watch. What astounds us is that even at a time like this, when the country is falling to pieces and there is a state of national emergency in full swing, corruption has reached new heights (or is it depths?). There is a renewed sense of desperation to the looting. They're plundering as if there is no tomorrow. At this rate, there won't be a tomorrow.
Our ship of state is like a supertanker that needs ten miles or more to respond to the captain's command. Any intervention made today to address poverty or generate jobs will take ages to show results. It is at times like these that symbolism matters. And what could be more symbolic than cutting the cabinet size to save Rs 50 million. Nothing would be more symbolic than making a concerted push to ensure basic health, education and services reach at least the headquarters of all 75 districts in the next two months.
Symbolism shows there is hope for the future, even if there is no immediate relief. The supertanker begins to turn. Hope is the most potent weapon in the government's arsenal, it is much more potent than helicopter gunships with night-vision. To restore faith in government, and to raise hope that the future has something good in store, Prime Minister Deuba needs to take charge and maybe take the advice of an inmate at Libang jail who told us: "Can the prime minister dare spend a week in Rolpa?" (#77). Without even symbolic actions to back intentions, speeches by our leaders have started sounding hollow.