Thursday, 6 May, 2021

Embrace The Spirit Of Democracy


Mukti Rijal


The first and foremost democratic change had occurred in Nepal almost nearly eight decades ago when the people had revolted against the century-long hereditary family autocracy of the Ranas during the 1950s.
For the first time in the history of political development, the Nepalese people had been awakened and inspired to resist and rise against the oppression of the family oligarchy. People had not relented and compromised and let their vigil cease till the Rana tyranny was brought to an end to usher in an era of democracy and justice.

How hard and painstaking it would have been for those brave torchbearers and pioneers of democracy, justice and right in those days in Nepal to infuse a spirit of revolt in people when the level of education and consciousness of the ordinary mass was abysmally low and poor.
People had been barred from access to education and there was a saying that to think of education in Nepal during the Rana regime was tantamount to imagining about the snakes in Ireland.
And opportunities to socialize into democratic and progressive thoughts and ideas were scarcely available. When we observe Falgun 7 as the day when the first ray of democracy had shone upon this nation, we should salute those martyrs and fighters who laid down their lives for the sake of democracy and justice.
It was not a small sacrifice made for the collective weal and well-being of the Nepalese people.
We have come a long way since the discourse on democracy and human rights had started in Nepal during the decade of the fifties. Further down the road, we fought several battles and conducted both peaceful and violent struggles for attaining justice and democratic rights.
As a result, we are now a citizen of the democratic republic of Nepal. However, even today, our quest to strengthen democratic institutions and guard against the dangerous designs to jeopardize our rights has not lied low.
As a nation, we are firmly determined to pursue the course to ensure that the democratic rights of the people were realized both in the substantive and procedural sense of the term.
As rightly mentioned by Tony Blair, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, even if we may not be content with the performance of democratic polity in terms of delivery and fulfilling the pledge, the alternative to democracy is more democracy. He further mentioned that the challenge of contemporary times was democratizing democracy. It can be said that democracy is not infallible and it may be fraught with some ills and pitfalls.
Britain has so far remained as the embodiment of the representative democracy labelled as the Westminster model. Moreover, it has offered a model of democracy for developed and developing world including Nepal to draw inspiration from and adapt to one's context for the last three centuries. The British model of democracy is a case of evolution pursued through customs, practices, conventions and precedents.
It indicates that the cure for the ills of democracy should not be sought in any totalitarian or authoritarian recourses but in the evolution and enrichment of the practices and experiences of democracy itself. The need of the day is to take and conduct democracy through a process of reorientation and reform to ensure that it has a living relationship with the needs and interests of the people.
Democracy should therefore not be limited to mere an electoral exercise where people cast vote every four or five years and send their delegates en bloc to indulge in a crash contest for power and self-aggrandizement without any regard to popular interests and aspirations.
However, whether it is in developed or in evolving democracies like Nepal there is a palpable sense of the apathy and indifference of the people to the state power. This is particularly because the politicians wielding state power have lost contact or are far removed from the concerns and aspirations of the people.

Yawning Divide
A yawning divide persists between the state and citizen. The conventional variant of democracy euphemistically termed as liberal or representative democracy is often found being reduced to elite or formal democracy having more focus on the contest for power and personal interest. The democratic institutions have not functioned well.
The democratic norms and values are flouted with impunity. The basic needs of the people are neglected and their basic rights are violated.
The disconnect and disjuncture between the citizens and the state is endemic and entrenched. Though some spaces for citizen participation are provided legally and technically in the constitutional and legal stipulations, they are not properly used and utilized by the citizens mostly due to absence of their awareness and the lack of civic competence, appropriate spaces to engage with the state institutions and systems. There is a vast gap between the constitutional promise and the real state of delivery to the people.
This calls for the new discourses and a renewed emphasis on participatory democracy to democratize democracy through deepening and widening spaces for government-citizen interaction and engagement. This is the clear message of democracy day, we have observed for long but have failed to give concrete shape to make sense for the life of the people.

(Rijal, PhD, writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues.