Nepali Times
Opportunities and opportunists


Someone must be keeping count: there was a recent news item that Nepal has had 18 Prime Ministers in 15 years. But that is misleading. What the tally didn't reveal was how many times some of those prime ministers had been prime ministers before, one of them had been PM up to four times already.

The rate at which wannabes are queuing up to be noticed, hoping that the wand will fall on their heads and they'll wake up to be ministers, is getting longer. Goons, activists, journalists, close allies, friends and family members are all ministers-to-be. Businessmen, sportsmen, even ex-cons-anyone is eligible as long as you pass the loyalty test.

The mug shot in the papers looked familiar. Yes, it was him, my next door neighbour. Fearing the worst, I scrutinised the ad expecting this to be a death notice put up by near and dear ones. But this wasn't a condolence message, it was a congratulatory one. My neighbour wasn't dead but had been resurrected as minister.

No one in our neighbourhood understood how and why he should have been chosen. He used to call himself a politician but had more of reputation for being a thug. The NEA and Nepal Telecom had cut off his electricity and phone lines several times for refusing to pay his bill. Now, he doesn't have to pay them at all.

No sooner was the swearing-in at the palace finished things began to change in his life and sadly, in mine as well. He was swamped by the entourage that followed. Along with the flag came a CCTV camera, mobile phones, two blue-and-red plated 4-wheel drives and a black car. A guard quarter for two police guards was quickly built with efficiency and speed that was stunning.

From Day Two, I found no use for my alarm clock. The generous chatter of devotees that would gather to congratulate the minister at dawn would rudely jolt me awake. His son-in-law, now his newly appointed personal assistant, acquired an air of importance as he juggled between cordless and mobile phones, screening calls and accommodating visitors into the minister's diary. When the minister was not busy laughing and spitting into the phone, usually in a foreign tongue, he would be thanking his opportunity-seeking admirers buzzing around him like bees around a hive.

He enjoyed talking about forming a tole sudhar samiti to improve conditions in the area with some neighbours who had suddenly developed newfound respect for the man. They even spent Saturdays playing cards together. Within a week, new street lamps, mostly outside the minister's house, were fixed. The dirt road was quickly asphalted. The neighbourhood drug addicts disappeared, security in the street improved and so did the minister's tarnished image, at least, in our neighbourhood. He entertained in the evenings, and although our narrow lane was always blocked by large SUVs, everything seemed to be going swimmingly for my neighbour.

Then, overnight, there was no more flagged car. No throngs of those seeking favours in the mornings and no evening receptions. The guards vanished. His empty house acquired a haunted look. The big cars were all gone. The opportunists had moved on where opportunity knocked, to new territory, possibly to flatter a new minister.

Our neighbour didn't show his face for a few days. But when he did the change was dramatic: no one bothered to talk to him anymore.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)